A program to compensate survivors of state-sponsored forced or involuntary sterilizations is coming to a close at the end of 2023. Survivors and advocates for the program describe the impact of the program and concerns as time is running out for people to file applications.
Moonlight Pulido spent 26 years in prison.
"I used to watch the hawks outside my window," said Pulido. "They would come every day and they would sit outside and it was breathtaking, because they were free and I wanted to be free and just fly just like them."
When she got her freedom in early 2022, she returned to Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park where used to ride a bike and pedal boats as a child.
"It's quiet, you don't hear the gunshots. It's just peaceful," said Pulido.
While Pulido was incarcerated, she witnessed things most people can't imagine, she said.
This is the first of a three-part series. Part 2 can be read here.
I thought I was signing up for a lifesaving procedure.
She lived some of them, too.
She went in for a routine pap smear in 2005 and was told she had two growths that could turn into cancer.
"So I thought I was signing up for a lifesaving procedure," she said.
Instead, she described feeling rushed to sign paperwork just before the procedure. After days of feeling like something was wrong, she asked a nurse which procedure she underwent.
"She looks at me very nonchalantly. She goes, 'You had a full hysterectomy.' And I was like, 'Whoa, wait a minute. I think you're looking at the wrong paperwork,'" said Pulido.
In 2013, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that at least 132 women were sterilized through tubal ligations without the necessary approval in California prisons between 2006 and 2010 and possibly 100 more dating back to the late 1990s.
Advocates stress others were sterilized by different procedures.
Pulido recalled the doctor's response when she questioned him.
"I'm not going to use verbatim what he said 'cause I don't think I can say this on TV. But he said, 'I'm tired of you pretty Native girls, you pretty Mexican girls, and you pretty African American girls, you guys come up in here and you get all hot and bothered. Then you go home and you do the wild thing. You get pregnant again. You come back to prison. Your children end up out there in foster care or wherever they end up, and as taxpayers we're forced to have to pay to take care of your children,'" she said. "My mouth hit the floor."
In 2021, the California state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom approved the Forced or Involuntary Sterilization Compensation Program as part of the budget. Pulido is one of the survivors who was compensated.
"I went in my room and locked the door and sat on the floor and just kind of fanned the money out on the floor. And I just sat there and I was crying looking at it because it was the most money I had ever had legally," said Pulido, who described the moment as bittersweet. "This acknowledgement that yes, something was done to us. It'll never be able to replace what was taken from us," she said.
Two groups of survivors of forced or involuntary sterilizations are eligible for the program: any survivor of state-sponsored sterilization conducted under California's past eugenics laws between 1909 and 1979, and those sterilized in California state prisons or other correctional facilities after 1979 while in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR.)
"This man stole that gift from me, because he didn't ask me. He never even gave me an inclination that he was going to do anything remotely close to that," said Pulido. "I felt robbed. I felt like I had been tied up and stolen from," she said.
Today she works to help people transition into life outside of incarceration. Pulido said the compensation she received helped her get acclimated back into society. "You don't realize how much it costs to start living all over again," she said.
Pulido also teamed up with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners to help find more survivors.
"Because there's so many people still inside that don't even know that the governor had signed a reparations bill." said Pulido.
Pulido and other survivors and advocates have raised concerns over some of the denials issued under the program, which began accepting applications in January 2022. Women who, for example, said they can no longer give birth due to a procedure they underwent in prison without their informed consent, but who the California Victim Compensation Board determined did not undergo a sterilization.
"Why not?" Pulido said. "They still can't give life. They were still sterilized, just in a different way."
Some are continuing to appeal those decisions right now. "I'm hurt and upset because they have a heavier weight to carry," said Pulido.
The last day to send in an application for compensation is Dec. 31, 2023.
This is the first of a three-part series. Part 2 airs Wednesday, Dec. 27 on ABC7.