Latasha Brown testimony for the hearing, Sexual Assault and Harassment in California Women’s Prisons, hosted by the California Women’s Legislative Women’s Caucus
August 23, 2023

Good afternoon and thank you for having me.

Before I give my testimony, I would first like to say that this is one of the best decisions that I have ever made, because I don’t do it for myself. I do it for those that are too afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation. Yet this is one of the hardest things I have ever done for that same fear of retaliation. Because as a lifer, this means that for the rest of my life, the factors of my safety will be challenged by my incarceration. And though I have that fear, I have to make a decision that I can live with, for my silence would be complicity.

So I’m here to amplify the voices of all women — cisgender or trans, inmate or staff — that have been subjected to male violence in penal facilities. Because at the facility where I was previously housed, both inmates and staff suffered from sexual harassment or abuse. I would further like to add that this is not simply a CCWF thing or just a Dublin thing. This is a systemic thing. Also, I’m by no means trying to paint everyone with the same brush by overgeneralizing because not all persons employed by CDCR is a predator. I’m only saying that a uniform or a suit makes for perfect camouflage for one.

And with that, I will share my testimony.

I want to forget, but my body betrays me as a vehicle carrying these memories. I want to forget the time I was taking a shower in county jail only to turn and find an officer watching me. I want to forget being sexually assaulted by that same officer while I was handcuffed in shackles being escorted to the yard. I want to forget having a flashlight shone on me until I flashed my genitals. I want to forget what his hands feel like as they grope me. But my body betrays me as a vehicle carrying these memories. I want to forget the things that have happened to me at CCWF by multiple officers, including one whose name everybody in this room knows.

My name is Latasha Brown, or as I’ve been dead-named, Inmate [#], and I have survived over 20 years of sexual abuse in penal facilities. In the beginning I totally questioned myself. Why didn’t I just tell? But tell who? I am guilty of the worst of human behavior. Perhaps that is why I didn’t tell anyone of these encounters at the time. I even rationalized that my body and my labor were interchangeable commodities because I broke the law. So, I remained silent. But buried feelings don’t die. Intentions will always find a way to surface. All I know how to do is survive yet flying under the radar did not keep me safe. And as my personal circumstances deteriorated, I knew that I needed to confide in someone. And when I confided in a trusted friend about the sexual violence, she insisted that I come forward. And while suffering in silence intensified my feelings of loneliness and self-loathing, coming forward has presented even more challenges which causes me so much mental anguish that I grapple with suicidal ideation. Symptoms of my trauma display as problems concentrating, I react irritably to small provocations, I startle easily, and I am on permanent alert.

Since I am completely at the mercy of my captors, I have a feeling of perpetual uneasiness as I know the lengths they will go to to cover up their misconduct. Like when Senator Romero was sent a threatening letter to back off investigating the green wall. Or how I was stripped of my property, isolated, surveilled, and deprived from communication with my loved ones when I came forward. And what else will they do to me, for I am just a criminal index number.

Prisons were initially built to “reform,” a place of “penance,” but they have become places where societies’ throw-aways suffer a litany of abuses by the ones we hold responsible for our safety and security. Places where a culture of impunity pervades, which is reflected in this institutional abuse and the historical subjugation of all women. And though I live with the constant threat of retaliation because, as a prisoner, I don’t merit protection, I move forward with determination until there is a recognition of the importance of my personhood, the personhood of all survivors of sexual abuse in penal facilities.

I remember the moment I learned that one of my abusers was arrested. No, I did not celebrate because sure, when we experience harm, we want some accountability. Some justice, even. However, I don’t think his punishment should be the final resolution because it’s an amplified response to just one person’s abuse, not a response to the systemic abuse. And until our lives matter, I will not bow down or bow out in the face of unwarranted RVRs, random cell searches, or fear as a means of coercion. Because I — because we — are more than just a criminal index number.

Thank you.

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