CHOWCHILLA, Calif. — My heart begins to pound as I enter the gym at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) on the outskirts of Chowchilla, about 20 miles south of Merced. Within moments memories of my own time behind bars flood my mind.
I can’t help but wonder at my own sense of being so at home after so many years.
I’m here as a volunteer for a health fair co-organized by an advocacy organization and a group of CCWF inmates. The facility is one of three female prisons in the state, and with an inmate population of 3,123 is the largest female-only prison in the world.
Opened in 1990, CCWF has 2,004 beds, and is currently at 155 percent capacity. Twenty inmates are currently on death row.
Niki Martinez, 38, has spent the past 20 years as…
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