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Guards Let California Prisoner Slowly Starve to Death

Guards Let California Prisoner Slowly Starve To Death

Seventy-two year old Khem Singh, who spoke no English and was crippled and wheelchair-bound, died of starvation in his Corcoran State Prison Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (SATF) cell on February 16, 2004, after guards allegedly let him waste away without food or medical care for two months. This occurred in the same facility where another prisoner bled to death only two weeks earlier when his dialysis shunt opened. After his howls for help went unanswered for hours, he died alone in his cell while assigned guards _ whose union motto boasts "the toughest beat in the state" _ watched the Super Bowl on TV instead.

Singh, a former Sikh priest from Modesto, California, had been removed from his position due to internal politics, but continued to teach children religion. During this period, he was charged with and convicted of molestation and sentenced to 27 years-life. He proclaimed his innocence and that he had been framed.

Baljit Kaur, Singh's wife, accused prison guards of brutalizing him in December. She said that they threw beef in his food, knowingly rendering it inedible because of his religious beliefs; that they kicked him when he sat down to eat; that they tore up his two prayer books she had sent; that a check she had mailed him was cashed, but Singh never got the money; and that guards threatened to cut his hair and beard. Sikhs believe it is a sin to cut their hair and beards. Immediately after 9-11, one guard slammed a chair on Singh's head, severely cutting him, Kaur said.

Ultimately, Singh so feared guards that he refused to leave his cell. He did not go to meals for two months _ and no food was brought to him except by fellow prisoners. His weight dropped from 115 to 80 pounds. Although some guards had expressed concern to prison medical staff as to Singh's condition, records show that during his final two months, no medical staff ever followed up and treated him. The guard who was alleged to have assaulted Singh is also reputed to have told a concerned prisoner, "Forget it; he's going to die."

Fellow prisoners filed grievances and wrote to California State Senator Gloria Romero, Chair of the legislative Corrections Oversight Committee, begging her for intervention _ but Singh died a few days before her visit. Romero reviewed files and ordered an investigation. Shortly after Singh's death, his wife suffered a massive heart attack.

The Sikh community remains outraged. The Sikh Media Watch and Research Taskforce will be asking for criminal charges against anyone who is determined to have violated Singh's civil rights. The World Sikh Council, based in Columbus, Ohio, is also demanding justice.

Sources: The India Post; Los Angeles Times; Sacramento Bee.

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