Thursday, June 21, 2018

Daily Corrections Clips

Paradigm Education Solutions
ST. PAUL, Minn., June 21, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Paradigm Education Solutions, one of the nation's leading providers of digital literacy learning solutions, is pleased to announce that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has adopted its courseware to help thousands of incarcerated individuals statewide become highly proficient using Microsoft® Office applications—a key competency for achieving employment in today's labor market.

Paradigm's Benchmark Series and SNAP assessment and training platform will be used within 35 correctional facilities throughout California. Through this adoption, thousands of inmates will achieve the skills and knowledge needed to effectively use Microsoft® Word, Excel and PowerPoint—three applications widely used in hundreds of occupations across a variety of industries.

"Putting inmates on pathways to academic and employment success is critical to reducing recidivism and preparing them for a successful reentry. By adopting Paradigm's courseware, CDCR is investing in a solution that uses in-demand, skills-based training to drive rehabilitation," said Michael Valdez, director of career and technical education at the CDCR Office of Correctional Education.

Throughout the United States, initiatives to improve prison education have gained traction, with policymakers and secondary and postsecondary institutions increasingly partnering to enhance and improve the educational opportunities for individuals who are incarcerated or recently released.

"With the adoption of Paradigm's courseware—which is widely used in community colleges and career schools throughout the United States—CDCR is taking significant steps to ensure its prison population has access to exceptional education and training programs. We applaud their commitment to learning and rehabilitation, and we look forward to supporting the CDCR staff in this innovative and important effort," said Scott Burns, vice president of sales and marketing at Paradigm.

About Paradigm Education Solutions

Paradigm Education Solutions is one of the nation's leading postsecondary providers of courseware in computer technology, health careers, accounting and business technology. Paradigm is committed to providing instructors with solutions for building and delivering successful courses and preparing students with the knowledge and skills needed for academic and career success. Visit for more information.


Behind Prison Walls: Relay for Life

Rachel Zirin, The Folsom Telegraph

There are many programs and events Folsom State Prison (FSP) and Folsom Women’s Facility (FWF) inmates participate in, but one stands out as a group effort – Relay for Life.

Cancer affects everyone in some way, shape or form, whether it’s you, your best friend, family member, or cellmate.

Relay for Life was held at both the FSP and FWF on Friday, June 15 and thousands of dollars was raised to support the American Cancer Society. Inmates produced speeches for all to hear and walked together around the prison grounds to raise as much money as they could for the national organization. Many teams put in the little money they make working in the prison, which shows the true spirit of this cause.

The event originally started at FSP in 2014 and soon after, FWF joined in after seeing much success on the men’s side.

Hundreds of inmates were on the FSP yard during the event as well as dozens on the FWF yard, which speaks to their character, as they dedicated their time, effort and money.

Inmate Ubaldo Cervantes co-organized the event with inmate Ruben Stewart, and this was their first time planning the event together. Cervantes co-organized last year’s event as well.

Cervantes said at the time of the interview on June 15, the inmates had raised $18,570.71. Stewart said they are projecting that number to double, as they haven’t done a final count of funds raised and they will continue to fundraise throughout the year.

Their largest fundraiser was $21,000 in 2015, and since the inaugural event, they have raised more than $100,000.

Stewart said his and Cervantes duties as organizers are to make sure the event goes smoothly as planned and to make sure the inmates get involved and that they contribute anything they can.

“We always want to make each year better than the year before and raise more money so individuals in here, who feel like they may not be worth anything, can do something good at least this one day,” Stewart said. “They see inside themselves that they have the ability to do something positive and that they can do something positive all the time they choose to do so.”

Cervantes said this event also helps the inmates feel like they are a part of society.
“There are a lot of people in here who have cancer, who passed away from cancer, and there are some still fighting cancer, so they really do get involved for the cause,” Cervantes said. “This event gives the inmates an opportunity to be a part of society, so it is a good event for everyone in here.”

Cervantes wanted to thank the band, the color guard, and all of their volunteers, as the event wouldn’t have been the same without them.

“This is a big thing to be able to put together, especially inside the prison walls, so thank you to the staff and volunteers that have helped us,” Stewart said.

Inmate Larry Lawson feels especially grateful for this event, as he is a cancer survivor thanks to early detection.

“I had prostate cancer and started my radiation in 2003. I learned I was cancer free in 2004,” he said. “This day is a celebration that cancer is curable and you don’t have to die from cancer. This day is a great day to give back and to celebrate.

Inmate Flora Smith has been the organizer for the event at FWF for two years now, and she has made sure the event goes off without a hitch. Smith said this day was very special to her, as she lost her favorite uncle in 2014 to lung cancer
“Overall, we have raised more than $100,000, but this year, the women have raised about $1,000,” Smith said. “It’s about giving back for the people who have died of cancer, been diagnosed with cancer and have been affected by someone who has cancer. We are here to show our support that they are not in this fight alone.”

Inmate Tamica Darnas recently became a cancer survivor only two months ago after finding out she had stage two breast cancer in 2011. On June 15, she said that she was going home on Monday, June 18, and this day was a celebration for her.

“It feels excellent to be cancer free. I am going to live, and I have something to live for.” she said. “I never thought for a day that I would have cancer and I didn’t take it seriously. But I went to my appointments and did what I was told. Since I actually listened and went along with it, I get to live.”


‘Evil Twin’ who plotted to kill sister in Irvine is released on parole after 20 years in prison

Kelly Puente, Orange County Register

A woman dubbed the “Evil Twin” for plotting to kill her identical twin sister in Irvine, in a case that made international headlines in the 1990s, has been released on parole after 20 years in prison, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Jeen “Gina” Han was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison in May 1998 for conspiring to kill her estranged sister, Sunny Han, who was bound and gagged in her Irvine apartment along with her then-roommate, Helen Kim, before they were rescued by police.

The state Board of Parole in November recommended release for Han, now in her 40s, after her initial hearing on Oct. 31.

She was released on parole on May 24, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed Wednesday.

Han declined a request for an interview with the Orange County Register while still in prison at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. In a note on a Harley Davidson postcard, she deferred questions to her lawyer, Keith Wattley. Wattley could not be reached for comment.

The case of the Korean-born twins who were co-valedictorians at their San Diego County high school made headlines worldwide and shook the Korean-American community.

Irvine police even referred to Han as the “evil twin,” while they called her sister the “good twin.”

The sisters were once close but had a history of fighting and their relationship further deteriorated after Sunny Han accused her sister of stealing her BMW.
Prosecutors said Gina Han in 1996 plotted to kill her sister and enlisted help from two teenage boys – Archie Bryant, then 16, and John Sayarath, then 15.

Posing as magazine salesmen, the two teenagers forced their way into Sunny Han’s apartment and tied up her roomate with twine as Gina Han waited outside in her car.

Sunny Han heard the commotion and quickly called 911 from the bathroom before the teens restrained her. The two were quickly rescued by police.

Gina Han was later arrested. A recovered sales receipt showed that she had bought Pine Sol and garbage bags the previous day.

Following a high-profile trial, Gina Han and the teens were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other charges.

Bryant was sentenced to 16 years in prison, while Sayarath was sentenced to eight years.

During the trial, Korean-Americans and Koreans rallied in support of Gina Han and generated thousands of signatures asking the court for leniency. She has maintained she never intended to kill her sister.

Under California law, the decision for parole includes a 120-day review period, with Gov. Jerry Brown having the final say on upholding or rejecting parole.

The law presumes that an inmate should be recommended for parole unless there is evidence that they are a current danger to the community.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office had petitioned the governor to reject the parole board’s decision, stating that  Gina Han failed to address her alleged mental disorder and is “still manipulative.”

Deputy District Attorney Nikki Chambers in a letter to the governor last year said Gina Han, as an example of her plans for parole, gave the board letters from male pen pals that offered her money, jobs and lodging. The pen pals, from abroad and across the country, included one man from England who gave her $100,000 after corresponding for a year, the prosecutor said.

A forensic psychologist in a report for the parole board noted that Gina Han has a positive disciplinary history and educational accomplishments, but has “never participated in mental-health treatment,” the prosecutor said.



California Poised To Expand Access To Hepatitis C Drugs

Pauline Bartolone, California Healthline

Patrick Garcia wasn’t completely surprised when he learned recently he had hepatitis C. Until a few years ago, he had experimented with numerous drugs, injecting heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine — you name it.

“I haven’t lived exactly a perfect life,” said Garcia, 43, whose mouth, hand and back were injured in a motorcycle wreck last year.

Medi-Cal, California’s public health program for the poor, paid for his post-accident care and the bloodwork that led to his hepatitis C diagnosis. But it wouldn’t pay for the pricey new medications that cure the disease.

“I got denied twice,” said the Sacramento-area resident, who was told he didn’t meet the criteria for treatment. “It’s frustrating, to say the least.”

For at least four years, Medi-Cal has limited coverage of medications such as Harvoni and Sovaldi. Under current guidelines, only people with liver scarring or HIV, women of childbearing age, active injection-drug users, and patients who fall into other high-risk categories can get these drugs.

Still, many Medi-Cal patients who need the drugs have been able to get them.

Starting next month, Medi-Cal is expected to loosen its restrictions and begin providing the drugs to hepatitis C patients, like Garcia, who currently don’t have access.

Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers have set aside $70 million in next year’s budget — which starts July 1 — so that almost all Medi-Cal recipients with hepatitis C will become eligible for the medications, as long as they are at least 13 and have more than one year to live.

The agency expects to treat 2,090 Medi-Cal patients with that extra money in the next fiscal year. In 2017, about 7,800 Medi-Cal recipients received the drugs under the current guidelines.

Brown, who proposed this funding, is likely to approve it by the end of the month.

“We are really glad to see California … ensuring that everybody gets hepatitis C treatment, particularly the most vulnerable in the state,” said Anne Donnelly, health care policy director at Project Inform, which advocates for patients with hepatitis C and HIV.

Hepatitis C, the most deadly infectious disease in the United States, was responsible for 18,153 deaths in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus is primarily transmitted through intravenous drug use and, less frequently, through sexual contact.

California’s Department of Public Health tallied 33,748 newly reported cases of chronic hepatitis C in 2015, the last year for which data are available.

In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Sovaldi, one of the first new hepatitis C drugs known as “direct-acting antivirals.” At that time, its list price was $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment. Public health programs such as Medi-Cal often negotiate prices down.

Sovaldi and similar drugs, including Harvoni and Viekira Pak, have fewer side effects, work faster and are more likely than older medications to cure the disease.

In the past few years, newer direct-acting antivirals have come to market at lower list prices. Merck’s Zepatier lists at $54,600 for a course of treatment, and Mavyret is $26,400.

Compared with other states, California’s current restrictions are moderate, according to, a Harvard University-affiliated research project. The website gives California a “B+,” docking its grade for the requirement that a patient have liver damage.

Montana, Arkansas and South Dakota received “F” grades for requiring Medicaid patients to have severe liver damage and six months of sobriety, and to choose from a limited list of providers to obtain a prescription.

Patient advocates and researchers believe the high cost of the newer hep C drugs has led some state Medicaid programs to ration them to the sickest patients. The state of Washington was sued over the matter.

“[Medi-Cal] plans were being very restrictive,” Donnelly said. “It did seem to hinge on money.”

California’s Department of Health Care Services, which manages Medi-Cal, has previously denied that drug costs determine coverage.

Agency spokesman Tony Cava said the impending changes are based on recommendations from the federal government and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

“Evidence suggests that when people with chronic hepatitis C are treated early in the course of the disease, outcomes improve and the spread of disease decreases significantly,” Cava said in a written statement.

State officials also have allocated $106 million in next year’s budget to treat inmates with hepatitis C in California’s prisons. The officials plan to allocate the same amount in each of the two following years.

About 22,000 prisoners with the disease started benefiting from expanded access to the lifesaving drugs in December. The new guidelines in prisons essentially mirror the new Medi-Cal rules.

The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has treated about 2,300 inmates this fiscal year at a cost of $60 million, according to recent budget documents.

Dr. Aaron Cleveland, medical director at the Sacramento Native American Health Center, which serves mostly Medi-Cal recipients, said his patients experience long delays and bureaucratic hurdles trying to obtain the groundbreaking hepatitis C drugs.

“It has taken us over a year to get approval for some patients,” he said. “But we keep fighting. And we fight, and we fight and we fight” until the patients receive the medication.

Cleveland said the change will streamline the treatment process and make patients happier.

Patrick Garcia said he’ll try again to obtain the medications under the new rules. He doesn’t want his condition to deteriorate into liver cancer or make him unemployable, he said.

Garcia said he just wants to live a “long, fruitful life. Isn’t that what anybody wants?”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Daily Corrections Clips


Governor Brown Announces Appointments

Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.

SACRAMENTO – Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced the following appointments:
Terrence O’Brien, 68, of Sacramento, has been appointed senior advisor for forests in the Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. O’Brien served in several positions at the California Energy Commission from 1979 to 2011, including deputy director of siting, transmission and environmental protection from 2002 to 2011. He was a senior consultant at Environmental Resources Management from 2012 to 2015 and a renewable energy consultant for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from 2012 to 2014. He is chair of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Governing Board. O’Brien earned a Master of Arts degree in geography from the University of California, Davis. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $119,868. O’Brien is a Democrat.
Jonathan Yip, 36, of Elk Grove, has been appointed associate director of mental health at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice, where he has been acting in the position since 2017. He was chief psychologist at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice from 2016 to 2017, senior psychologist specialist at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Health Care Services from 2015 to 2016 and served in several positions at North Kern State Prison from 2010 to 2015, including senior psychologist supervisor, senior psychologist specialist and clinical psychologist. Yip earned Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Arts degrees in psychology from the University of Notre Dame. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $173,592. Yip is a Democrat.


CDCR searching for offender who walked away from Bakersfield Reentry Program

Monica Dattage, ABC 23 News


BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) are searching for a man they say walked away from their Bakersfield Reentry Program Tuesday. 

CDCR says they began an emergency search for 20-year-old Deontrey Johnson around 2:00 p.m. Tuesday after they were notified that his electric monitoring device had been tampered with. 

After failing to locate Johnson, CDCR says they quickly notified local law enforcement and agents from CDCR's Office of Correctional Safety were dispatched to help in the search. By end of the day Tuesday, Johnson had not been located. 

Johnson is 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs 147 pounds with black hair. CDCR says Johnson was received by the department on December 1, 2016, to serve a three-year sentence for second-degree robbery. He has been participating in the reentry program since March 2018 and was scheduled to be released December 2018. 

The program allows for eligible offenders to serve no more of than the last 11 months of their sentence at reentry centers; providing them programs and tools to transition back to the community. 

If you see Johnson or have knowledge of his whereabouts, contact local law enforcement or call 911. 


Inside California’s Prisons: At the end of the sentence

As prisoners across America are aging behind bars, the penal system, along with other inmates, are evolving to help them serve out their last days.
Lucy Nicholson, Reuters
The prison population in the United States is getting older. In California alone, more than 18,400 inmates are over the age of 55 as of June 2017, a population that has swelled in recent years due to improved medical care, long sentences from tougher crime laws, and a steady increase of older adults entering prison. Even though the overall incarceration rate has waned in recent years, the United States still has the world’s highest prison rates, with approximately 2.2 million people behind bars in 2016 according to the Pew Research Center.

Reuters visited two California prisons — the California Medical Facility in Vacaville and the California Health Care Facility in Stockton — recently to look at the challenges states face. These facilities have relied on inmate volunteers and a modest staff to care for elderly prisoners.

High incarceration rates

Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi have the highest incarceration rates in the country among adults ages 18 and older, where there are more than 1,200 prisoners per 100,000 people. In 2016, the nationwide incarceration rate was 860 inmates per 100,000 U.S. adults based on figures from the Pew Research Center.

Greying population

In California, seven percent of the state’s 130,000 prisoners were over the age of 60 in 2017, compared to just one percent 20 years earlier.

In California, hospice units within medium-security prisons such as the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, houses terminally ill inmates. To be admitted to the hospice, a prisoner must have six months or less to live and sign a do-not-resuscitate order, instructing medical staff not to use life-prolonging treatment if his heart stops beating or he stops breathing.

Younger able-bodied inmates like Fernando Murillo, a 38-year-old former gang member, serving a sentence of 41 years to life for second-degree murder when he was 16, works at the 17-bed hospice. His job includes helping dying prisoners take a shower or go to the bathroom and comforting them when they are dying.

“I listen to people’s regrets, their stories, their happiness, their joy. I listen to their confessions,” Murillo says.

California, Utah and Louisiana have the highest percentage of prison population serving life or virtual life sentences, according to The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group for criminal justice reform. In a study released by the group in 2017, more than three out of ten prisoners in those states are facing long-term imprisonment.

High costs

Throughout the United States, states are grappling with similar challenges as prisoners age. Inmate medical costs amount to about $3 billion per year nationwide, according to a recent report by the state of Georgia, where medical care for inmates over the age of 65 costs $8,500 per year, compared to $950 for those who are younger.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Daily Corrections Clips


California deals with dementia among aging inmates
Sharon Bernstein, Reuters


STOCKTON, Calif. (Reuters) - California prison inmate Richard Arriola does not remember the digestion problems that drove him to the doctor on a recent morning, or details of the conviction for child molestation that sent him to prison at age 88.
Arriola is one of about 18,400 inmates over the age of 55 in California prisons, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

It is a swelling population that has led authorities to take the first steps toward creating a dementia unit at the state’s main prison medical facility in the San Joaquin Valley city of Stockton, Reuters has learned.

“We have identified a specific need for a specialized unit for our dementia population and are in the very early phases of concept development,” said Elizabeth Gransee, spokeswoman for California Correctional Health Care Services.
The wing would mark a shift from California’s earlier efforts to treat prisoners with cognitive decline, relying on inmate volunteers and a modest staff to help them rather than a more expensive medical unit.

Reuters visited two California prisons recently to look at the challenges states face, as improved medical care, long sentences from tougher crime laws, and a steady increase of older adults entering prison has contributed to an extraordinary rise of elderly inmates.

In California, seven percent of the state’s 130,000 prisoners were over the age of 60 in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, compared to just 1 percent 20 years earlier, according to a report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“We and all of the jails and prisons around the country need to be able to do a better job with individuals who have cognitive impairment,” said Dr. Joseph Bick, chief medical executive at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.

Throughout the United States, states are grappling with similar challenges as prisoners age. Inmate medical costs amount to about $3 billion per year nationwide, according to a recent report by the state of Georgia, where medical care for inmates over the age of 65 costs $8,500 per year, compared to $950 for those who are younger, the report showed.

Nationwide, 44 percent of inmates over the age of 50 have disabilities, compared to 27 percent of prisoners overall, a 2015 report by the Department of Justice shows. About 20 percent have cognitive disabilities, the report showed.


Prisoners with cognitive decline can require round-the-clock care and help with dressing themselves, brushing teeth and going to the restroom. Because prison life - and for many, life on the streets before prison - is so difficult, inmates are considered geriatric after the age of 55 in California and many other states.

Arriola, who is housed with about 2,600 prisoners with chronic conditions at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton, came on a Thursday morning in May for a follow-up visit with a gastroenterologist. But he talked distractedly to the doctor, and said he did not recall having stomach problems.

It is not an uncommon situation at the Stockton facility, where physicians and nurses are trained to work with an increasing number of patients experiencing cognitive decline, said Dr. Anise Adams, the chief medical officer.

About 500 prisoners are being treated for dementia or Parkinson’s Disease in California prisons, including 200 at Stockton, officials said.

“It’s hard for them to explain to the nurses what they want or how they feel,” said inmate Scottie Glenn, 47, who participates in a program in which able-bodied inmates help those who are ill.

On a recent May morning, Glenn, who is serving 25 years to life for murder, was assisting a wheelchair-bound inmate who needed to see a doctor. Sometimes, he writes letters for inmates, or helps them to communicate.


Older inmates’ needs have led the state to build a large dialysis center, stock hundreds of wheelchairs and offer assistance with hearing and declining vision. Stockton’s medical facility has a physical therapy center, and a palliative care unit is set to open in the next few weeks.

The California Medical Facility in Vacaville set up a hospice decades ago during the AIDS crisis, which now houses more inmates dying of old age diseases, officials said. The state expects to spend about $26,000 per inmate on health care next year.
Once a dementia unit is set up, California would follow New York, which opened one for its much smaller prison population in 2006. New York spends about $2.7 million annually to care for 29 patients in the unit, the state corrections department said.
California officials say it is too soon to know how much the unit they hope to create will cost, but it would not be difficult to re-purpose an existing ward for use by dementia patients.

Such patients wake up in the middle of the night not knowing where they are, requiring trained staff to comfort them. Others behave in ways that normally get an inmate in trouble, such as batting away a doctor’s hand during an injection.

In a normal prison ward, that is considered assault, said Captain Paul Vasquez, whose job includes reviewing behavioral issues at the Stockton facility.

Inmates can be handcuffed, lose privileges and even be sent to the Security Housing Unit, where prisoners are kept in near-isolation, he said.

“We need to learn to respond to them a different way - and not in a regular mainline type of prison,” Vasquez said.

Berkeley-based Insight Garden Program offers healing, rehab for the incarcerated
Hailey Johnson, Berkeleyside


The tragic events of 9/11 left Beth Waitkus looking to restore her faith in humanity. Not finding a greater purpose while working in the corporate world, Waitkus sought out career counseling and the practice of Buddhism. Her soul-searching journey culminated when a friend offered to take her on a tour of San Quentin State Prison in 2001.

This initial tour inspired Waitkus to get involved at the prison on a deeper level. She underwent volunteer training at San Quentin and was soon asked to grow a garden inside. She realized that this project would perfectly combine her love of nature and her interest in social and environmental justice, and it would give her a meaningful purpose that she was searching for. Ultimately for Waitkus, bringing nature into the lives of incarcerated individuals became more than just an afternoon activity — it became an opportunity to change the prison system as a whole. Thus, Insight Garden Program (IGP) was born.

“I started the program 15 years ago at San Quentin with just the goal of starting a garden in a prison to see what would happen,” said Waitkus about the Berkeley-based organization where she serves as its executive director.

Initially, Waitkus started IGP with a simple goal to reconnect people who are incarcerated with nature. Today, as it spans 12 institutions including prisons, juvenile facilities, healthcare facilities and reentry programs in California, Indiana and New York, it has a larger aim to end the cycles of mass incarceration through healing and rehabilitation opportunities.

The curriculum consists of classes for 25 to 30 participants at a time, focused on environmental education, sustainable landscaping and gardening training, personal growth, and reentry and career preparation. All facets of the curriculum work to reconnect individuals to nature, but also develop important personal skills crucial for life upon release. As Waitkus put it, “People are learning the skills they need to save their own lives.”

In the first part of the program, individuals learn about ecological principles, soil and food systems, consumer systems and climate change. Then, they get hands-on experience through the cultivation and maintenance of plants and gardens on prison grounds. They learn first-hand about permaculture and water conservation, but more importantly, it gives them marketable gardening skills.

Through the program, participants grow a variety of plants, including edible crops. Most of the produce grown is ultimately donated to local community organizations, as participants in the program are only able to eat what they grow once per semester. The reason for this rule, Waitkus explained, is that it would not be equitable for IGP participants to enjoy crops from the garden while everyone else can only eat what they were given from the prison’s kitchen. On the bright side, she said, “conversations are starting at San Quentin, like what if [the food] went to the kitchen.”

In addition to learning how to grow plants, participants learn to grow as individuals, what the program calls “inner gardening.” They participate in practices like meditation and eco-therapy to better understand their inner selves and achieve personal transformation. This part of the program focuses on communication, leadership and community-building skills.

The last part of the program focuses on reentry training. IGP readies participants for their lives outside of prison walls and educates them on continued engagement with environmental stewardship and green collar career choices.

Waitkus has seen the long-term effects that IGP can have on participants’ lives. It “stays with people,” she said. “A lot of men and women talk about wanting to create gardens with their families when they leave and a number of people who have left our program have become environmental stewards.”

One formerly incarcerated individual was so inspired by the program that he started Healthy Hearts Institutes, a Pittsburg-based nonprofit that provides nutritional education and starts community gardens in food deserts. He started by growing a community garden in the projects where he grew up.

“We need to send people out to be contributing members of society,” said Waitkus. “I hear lots of people who just say ‘Lock ‘em up and throw away the key. Why do you care?’ To that I say, ‘Look, most people who are in prison are leaving. Would you rather them come out and commit a crime or not commit a crime?’ That usually stops them in their tracks.”

Because of overpopulation and the high costs of operating prisons (approximately $80 billion per year, to run federal and state prisons and local jails), many incarcerated individuals are eventually released. But, recidivism rates are very high; about 60% of formerly incarcerated individuals in California will ultimately return to prison. Meanwhile, those who participate in IGP are much less likely to return. The program boasts a 10% recidivism rate.

Waitkus credits IGP’s success to “a system shift away from punishment,” instead focusing on rehabilitation. Rather than continuously penalizing incarcerated individuals, IGP works to build their skills and their sense of self for a successful transition in their new lives outside of prison. “We need to build on the wisdom and the skills that they already have,” said Waitkus.

“It’s a ripple effect. We aren’t just doing prison work, we are changing the whole system.”

Inside the prison hospice where no inmate dies alone
Jane Ross, Reuters


VACAVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) - One of Fernando Murillo’s greatest fears is dying in prison.

The 38-year-old former gang member, serving a sentence of 41 years to life for second-degree murder when he was 16, says it is that fear which helps him empathize with the terminally ill inmates he looks after at a California prison hospice.

Murillo’s work in the 17-bed hospice unit at the medium-security California Medical Facility in Vacaville, about 55 miles (88.51 km) northeast of San Francisco, includes helping dying prisoners take a shower or go to the bathroom. But there is another, more important element to the job, he says.

“I listen to people’s regrets, their stories, their happiness, their joy. I listen to their confessions,” Murillo says.

“I befriend somebody when they’re perfectly healthy, walking around, I’ll take care of them when they’re unable to talk and eventually hold their hands when they’re taking their last breaths.”

He and his fellow inmate workers take that work seriously. When someone under their care has 72 hours left to live, they never leave his side. “No prisoner dies alone” is their motto.

The hospice, set up during the height of the AIDS crisis in the early 90s, was the nation’s first licensed prison hospice. It now houses more inmates who are dying because of old age diseases, as the over-60 population swells in U.S. prisons, mirroring the aging of the general population.

Reuters visited two California prisons recently to look at the challenges states face, as improved medical care, long sentences from tougher crime laws, and a steady increase of older adults entering prison has contributed to an extraordinary rise of elderly inmates.

In contrast to the rest of the prison of concrete slab jail cells, hospice patients have beds with colorful quilts in individual rooms or curtained-off cubicles, many with private televisions and radios. The walls of the common areas are decorated with pictures and completed jigsaw puzzles, and a tropical fish tank sits next to a row of wheelchairs and walkers. A sparse concrete outdoor area known to inmates as the ‘dog run’ was recently turned into a garden, with a wooden gazebo, grass and swing chairs for inmates to use.


To be admitted to the hospice, a prisoner must have six months or less to live and sign a do-not-resuscitate order, instructing medical staff not to use life-prolonging treatment if his heart stops beating or he stops breathing.

The 25 inmate workers and volunteers, who are known as Pastoral Care Workers, received 70 hours of training, mostly in video form, in a curriculum directed by the prison’s chaplain, Keith Knauf. He says the videos cover everything from how to lift patients to how to comfort them when they are dying.

Knauf also recently arranged for a social worker to talk to the workers about compassion fatigue, a type of overload that can arise from experiencing serial death and result in having less concern or empathy for others.

That is something 29-year-old Kao Saephanh, whose nickname is Cowboy, knows to guard against. Serving a 21-year sentence for murdering a man when he was 17, he is the hospice’s barber, in addition to his regular duties. He spends up to 16 hours a day in the hospice, only returning to his cell to sleep.

Visits from his family give him time to decompress when it all gets too much, he says, like it did when a friend he knew from cutting hair outside the hospice unit died after suffering from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

“When he passed, that was really difficult for me. I mean I felt numb for like a week or two,” he says. “But most of the time, I mean, we learn that death is a part of life.”


Napa County's female firefighters prove they can do the job
Kirk Kirkpatrick, Napa Valley Register


Young women can grow up to be pretty much anything they want to be these days, so why not a firefighter? Or even better, a fire chief?

Six local women have proven it’s more than possible, and they’d like nothing better than to see more able-bodied young women in the area join their ranks.
According to the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services, females account for only 11,000 of the nation’s 350,000 firefighters, a number that has jumped from near zero 40 years ago. Access to the career is opening up gradually, however. And in the most open departments, the number can reach as high as 17 percent for women.

Although local departments aren’t that high, the women in the ranks say they see the picture getting better in Napa County.

Here are the stories of three women from the city of Napa Fire Department and three from the district Cal Fire team out of St. Helena.

Capt. Sharon Quick (City of Napa)

Now celebrating 30 years as a firefighter, Capt. Sharon Quick of the Napa Fire Department remembers when it all began.

“I was a lifeguard and ranch-hand for Gil Pridmore when I was a senior in high school,” she recalled. “He was a fire captain at the Gordon Valley Station and I would often go down to the station with him. He told me one time ‘you need to be a firefighter,’ and I told him I didn’t know anything about it.”

“He wanted me to get on with the California Department of Forestry (as Cal Fire was known then) because he knew I would be a good fit.”

Pridmore helped Quick fill out the paperwork, and before long she was going to her first fire with him.
“We went all the way from Gordon Valley to Mt. Diablo and there were big flames and helicopters, I helped fight the fire and I was hooked. I thought it was the greatest thing ever.”

“At the end of that first season, Gil sent me down to the city of Napa, which was hiring reserves. There weren’t many women in the fire service back then. They gave me an application and then I got on with the reserves here in Napa in 1987 … I was Napa’s only female firefighter for the majority of my career.”

Quick said she and other women felt they had to prove something back in the ‘80s when she joined.

“I came in the ‘affirmative action’ era where there was a push to hire women whether they could do the job or not,” she said. “I didn’t realize there would be resentment towards me and I really didn’t understand it. But I quickly proved I could do the job physically and that set me apart. I was even dominant in some of the things I could do, and that made the guys put their prejudices aside.”

“The truth is, I felt early in my career I had to do more than the men,” she said. “So, whatever they did, I would have to do twice as much. Now that I’m a captain, those days are over.”

“I knew early on in my career that I stood out. When I would get off the rig, take off my mask and helmet and I would hear people say: ‘Look, it’s a girl. Look, it’s a girl!’ I might be in uniform in the grocery store people would say: ‘Do they make you cook?’ or ‘Do they let you drive the big fire engine?’”

It’s not for everyone, Quick said, because you must pass tests that measure your ability to do the difficult tasks firefighters are asked to do.

“You do have to be physically strong,” she pointed out. “There are a lot of women who come through with a lot of heart, and can mentally do the job, but you have to be stronger than the average girl. I would hate for the standards to be any less, and I have always prided myself on the fact that Napa doesn’t have a different standard for women. The standard is the standard.”

“I’ve had times when I thought my life was in danger,” Quick said. “There was a gas leak at a gas station in the Napa earthquake of 2000, which was very scary. And there have been several instances in a structure fire where the ceiling has come down, and I was lucky to get out. There was a Taco Bell fire 20-25 years ago where the air conditioner fell through the roof and we got out just in time.”

Capt. Stephine Cardwell (Cal Fire)

Proving you can rise quickly in the ranks of Cal Fire, Capt. Stephine Cardwell, a born and bred Napan, is entering her 13th fire season at the tender age of 30.
Cardwell works out of Cal Fire’s Delta Conservation Camp in Suisun City, which is run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“It’s not a fire station, it’s an inmate camp, essentially a prison,” Cardwell said. “So I work with and supervise inmates who fight fires. Typically, 12 inmates make a unit and we can take them anywhere in the state. We hike these male inmates into some of the most rugged terrain that bulldozers and fire engines can’t get to and we cut a fire line around the fire’s perimeter.”

“I feel there is a little more pressure on women to succeed,” she said. “If we don’t, it stands out more than if it’s one of 30 other men. So, when I don’t do something well, I think people tend to remember that instead of all the good things I’ve done.”
She said people still haven’t come to grips with the idea that women can be just as effective as men at firefighting.

“When people I don’t know see me in my uniform, they think I work in the office or something,” she said. “They have no idea I’m driving inmates around who are in prison for assault, not to mention supervising them during fires.”

Firefighter Hattie Borg (City of Napa)

At 30, Hattie Borg is the newest and youngest female Napa firefighter.

“I don’t think of myself as a female doing a man’s job,” she said. “I see myself as doing a job that I am very capable of. In this department, I have never been treated as anything less than an equal and I’m very grateful for that.”

Borg got interested in firefighting early — at age of 13.

“My mom worked as a dispatcher for the city of Napa Fire Department and told me about the ‘Explorer Program’ and I thought that sounded like fun.” Explorer programs, Borg said, are designed to train teenage firefighters and are a great opportunity for experience and to show a department what you are made of.

“I fell in love with it,” she said. “It was very physical and very team oriented, and I knew right away I would love to do this sort of work in the future so I pursued it. I was born and raised here, so the city of Napa Fire Department made the most sense. I applied last year.”

Before you even apply, you have to pass a CPAT test (California Physical Ability) to make sure you are physically fit to do the job based on things you do as a firefighter.
“Then there is an online component, any mistakes and you are immediately eliminated,” Borg said. “After that, you have a phone interview, and if you pass that, you move on to a panel interview with a three-person panel. You get scored, and ranked, and you have to fill out a background packet.”

Borg recalled the next step was an interview with the chief, where they go through the packet together.

“Then there’s a polygraph test, a psych evaluation, followed by a thorough medical examination. If you make it through all of that, then you get an offer. Even though the process was long, it was totally worth it,” she said. “I knew a big part of the job was becoming an EMT and a paramedic, I was certified as a paramedic last year.

Being a firefighter is not a 9-5 job by any means. “My shifts are 48 hours straight,” Borg said, “and then I have four days off. We sleep at the station in quarters that are like a small bedroom with a curtain that can be drawn. But you can be awakened and sent out at any time when there’s a call.”

“There’s a lot I like about this job, but my favorite thing is working as a team,” Borg said. “This is a field where you are depending on other people constantly. It’s a rare community of people who believe in the concept of ‘we have your back.’ It’s like working with a family. I’m never on my own, I always have my team with me.”

Chief Gabrielle Avila (Cal Fire)

Known as “Gabby” to her associates, Chief Gabrielle Avila is the highest ranking female in the Napa area.

“When I was close to graduating high school I thought I wanted to become an attorney. Family legend has it my grandfather was the first Hispanic firefighter in the San Francisco Fire Department. He suggested I use the fire department as a means to pay my way through law school.”

“So while taking classes at Chabot College, I applied to a number of units at what was then California Department of Forestry,” she recalled. “I got hired in 1991 in the St. Helena Cal Fire unit and was initially a firefighter at Spanish Flat station.”

Avila is glad she’s been able to stay close to home her entire career, but admits there were challenges when she began in 1991. “Being a female firefighter, I certainly felt like I had to prove myself and earn respect.

The Cal Fire chief said that a firefighter’s schedule might rule a lot of women out.
“Our schedules are pretty demanding, I spent a lot of time gone on assignments and I think that sometimes, for women who want a family, it appears to be a difficult career path to navigate.”

She is now the division chief overseeing administration in her unit, which encompasses personnel, finance and Human Resources with a $55 million annual budget for more than 500 people.

Capt. Laurel Chamness (City of Napa)

Laurel Chamness grew up in Glen Ellen in a firefighting family.

“I wasn’t planning to be a firefighter, but my six brothers had all worked for the volunteer fire department in Glen Ellen and my dad was a battalion chief there. So when I turned 18, I volunteered also.

“While going to college, I later became an EMT,” she recalled, “and worked on an ambulance before moving on to paramedic school, which is the next higher level above EMT. After I became a medic and finished college, I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’

Chamness became the city of Napa’s second female captain and couldn’t be happier.

“I love this job and I’m very happy in my position. I like training the new people and trying to teach them the ropes. I’m now at Station 4, which is great because it’s my favorite station in Napa. I’m still learning after three years in the job.”

What she likes best is being able to go in and establish order in a chaotic situation, while helping people in their worst-case scenario.

“Being able to provide some comfort and direction to people at those times is very rewarding. I have a degree in psychology from Sonoma State, and I like that I am able to use that knowledge I gained in these difficult situations.”

Firefighters have to always be on their toes, Chamness said, because any situation can turn dangerous in a heartbeat.

Firefighter Emily Agnew (Cal Fire)
Emily Agnew is the youngest woman involved in firefighting in the area, and she wears many hats.

“I have a closet full of uniforms,” she said: “American Medical Response, county firefighting volunteer, city of Napa reserve, and Cal Fire. In addition to city of Napa reserve, I’m in my third season as a seasonal firefighter for Cal Fire. As a seasonal, you begin when fire season starts and end when fire season is declared over. It can be as few as four months or as long as nine, but usually goes from spring until fall.”

“I was always involved with sports growing up, but I tore my ACL my freshman year at Vintage and that ended my basketball career, but I always liked that sense of family, of being on a team and pushing myself for the benefit of others.”

Like city of Napa firefighter Hattie Borg, Agnew was introduced to firefighting through the local Explorers program, at age 14.

“From Day 1, I knew this was what I wanted to do,” she said. “It felt like home right away so I knew this was it.”

“After I aged out of the Explorer’s at 21, I spent the next couple of years volunteering in the Carneros district and working on an ambulance crew. Then an application opened up for a reserve firefighter position with the City of Napa. So I applied and I’ve been doing that for five years now, which has been pretty exciting,” she said.


Fire crews use thermal imaging technology to search Wasco home destroyed by fire
Monica Dattage, ABC 23


WASCO, Calif. - The Kern County Fire Department battled a house fire in Wasco early Monday morning. 

Crews were called out to 7th Place across from Broadway and Adams Streets around 12:30 a.m. KCFD worked along side the Wasco State Prison Fire crew, putting out the fire in no time. 

KCFD shared images on their Twitter and Instagram pages showcasing their use of a Thermal Imaging Camera to search the house for people. No one was found during that search. 

KCFD has utilized the thermal imaging cameras for several years to guide firefighters through smokey conditions, as well as search for people trapped in buildings. 


Test the DNA of Kevin Cooper, Says Kim Kardashian West to Jerry Brown
Narda Zacchino, Truth Dig

Kim Kardashian West, coming off her ​recent ​success in getting President Trump to pardon a grandmother serving a life sentence, has taken to Twitter to ask California Gov. Jerry Brown to give San Quentin death row inmate Kevin Cooper the DNA tests he has been denied, tests that could prove his innocence.

​Cooper has been imprisoned for 34 years for a ​savage crime he insists he did not commit—the 1983 slaughter of chiropractors and Arabian horse breeders Doug and Peggy Ryen, both 47, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica, and 11-year-old Christopher Hughes. Christopher was a friend of Joshua Ryen, 8 years old at the time, who was attacked and left for dead.

Though Cooper has lost all his appeals, in 2009 five judges from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals asserted he was framed by the San Bernardino, Calif., Sheriff’s Department. The judges were joined by six colleagues in asking for a hearing to prove his innocence. ​Cooper’s attorneys continue to gather new evidence that he did not commit the crime.

What separates execution and exoneration in the case are modern DNA tests that Cooper’s attorneys claim could prove he was framed. They are being fought by the San Bernardino district attorney’s office and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who say enough DNA testing has been done and no more is needed. The tests could be ordered by the governor, but he has made no public move to do so. Brown has been sitting on Cooper’s clemency petition, which details numerous examples of law enforcement misconduct in the case, for almost two and a half years.

Following a recent New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof about Cooper, California Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein urged Brown to let the tests proceed. The tests could clear Cooper or confirm his guilt and could possibly identify the actual killers, initially described by the sole eyewitness, Joshua Ryen, as three white men. Cooper is African-American.

Cooper’s attorneys have focused attention for years on a white man who was implicated in the murders by his girlfriend, who called deputies after he came home the night of the murders wearing bloody coveralls, which she handed over to a deputy sheriff. She told the deputy her boyfriend was a convicted murderer of a 17-year-old girl and he had been out of prison less than a year. She also reported that the tan T-shirt he was wearing the day of the murders exactly matched a bloody shirt that was found and his missing hatchet resembled the bloody hatchet found near the crime scene.

No one from the sheriff’s homicide division ever called her, as she requested, or picked up the coveralls from the deputy. They were never tested for the victims’ blood, and they were thrown into a dumpster on the order of a sheriff’s department supervisor six months later, at the start of Cooper’s preliminary hearing. Eleven months after the murders, when the girlfriend called the sheriff’s department to find out why she had never been interviewed, the boyfriend was interviewed by two homicide detectives. He denied owning the coveralls and said his girlfriend thought the killers had stopped by her house during their escape and dropped off the coveralls, which were left in his bedroom closet. When asked if he would take a polygraph test, he said yes. However, the detectives changed their minds and said it would not be necessary.