Pelican Bay is not Enough!! Continuing the Struggle Against Extreme Isolation and Sensory Deprivation

By Victoria Law
November 16, 2011

http://criticalmassprogress.com/2011/11/16/ci-pelican-bay-is-not-enough-continuing-the-struggle-against-extreme-isolation-and-sensory-deprivation/

Last month, prisoners across California ended a nearly three-week hunger strike. The strikers, who numbered 12,000 at the strike’s peak, had five core demands:

1) Eliminate group punishments for individual rules violations;
2) Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria;
3) Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long term solitary confinement;
4) Provide adequate food;
5) Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

The strike, the second three-week hunger strike to rock California’s prison system this year alone, was called by men in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. The SHU is explicitly designed to keep prisoners in long-term solitary confinement under conditions of extreme sensory deprivation. Men are locked into their cells for at least 22 hours a day. Food is delivered twice a day through a slot in the cell door.

Prison administrators place men in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term because they were “validated” as prison gang members. Prisoners who have been “validated” as gang members are released from the SHU into the general prison population only if they “debrief” or provide information incriminating other prisoners. Debriefing can be dangerous to both the prisoner who debriefs and his family on the outside. In addition, prisoners are often falsely identified as gang members by others who debrief in order to escape the SHU. One does not necessarily need to be a gang member to be sent to the SHU: jailhouse lawyers and others who challenge inhumane prison conditions are disproportionately sent to the SHU.

Nearly three weeks after the strike began, the CDCR promised both the hunger strikers and members of the outside mediation team to review every single SHU placement under new criteria. In response, the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay ended their strike on October 13th. Two days later, hunger strikers at Calipatria State Prison halted their strike, stating that they were enabling prisoners to regain their strength.

But the struggle over the SHU is only the beginning.

Laura Magnani is the regional director of the American Friends Service Committee and served as a mediator during negotiations between the hunger strikers and the CDCR. She points out that, in 2008, 14,500 people in California’s state prisons were held in some form of solitary confinement. Of those, only 3,500 were in Security Housing Units. The remaining 11,000 are held in other forms of isolation, such as Administrative Segregation. The promised changes to SHU policy will do little to ameliorate their own torture. Once the changes have been drafted, reviewed and approved, she said, advocates and supporters need to work to expand these new policies to non-SHU isolation units. (1)

Conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation are not unique to California. Over the last 25 to 30 years, the use of extended solitary confinement has become more routine in U.S. prisons.

In 1986, the federal prison at Lexington, Kentucky, opened a control unit specifically for women political prisoners in 1986. It was built underground and entirely white. Women were prohibited from hanging anything on the white walls, causing them to begin hallucinating black spots and strings on the walls and floors. Their sole contact with prison staff came in the form of voices addressing them over loudspeakers. The unit was shut down in 1988 after an outside campaign and a court decision that determined their placement unconstitutional. The practice of solitary confinement continues today, however, with jailhouse lawyers and other incarcerated activists often targeted. (2)

Today, there are 20,000 people held in supermax prisons, institutions designed to permanently isolate each prisoner for the duration of his or her sentence. Supermax prisoners are confined to small cells 24 hours a day. Many of the cells have no windows and are soundproof. Visits, phone calls and mail from family and friends are severely restricted; reading material is censored. Exercise is a solitary pursuit in a small cage in a yard.(3)

Approximately 80,000 people are in some form of solitary confinement across the United States. (http://www.alternet.org/rights/146497/torture_at_home_documentary_on_solitary_confinement_in_us_prisons_misses_the_mark?page=entire)

In 1996, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which manages the federal prison system, created the Special Administrative Measures (SAMS). Under SAMS, a prisoner is held in 23 to 24 hour solitary confinement. All of his mail is monitored and censored. He is only allowed contact with immediate family members. Under SAMS, they are not allowed to reveal their loved one’s condition or the conditions of his confinement. SAMs, which are considered “administrative,” not punitive, can be imposed on a prisoner who had been classified as violent for a maximum of four months. After September 11th, the time limit was expanded. The Attorney General can now place a person under SAMS for an entire year. When that year is over, he can renew the prisoner’s SAMS status. Prisoners can be and have been placed under SAMs during their pre-trial detention. Fahad Hashmi, a U.S. citizen accused of providing material support to terrorists, spent three years under SAMs before he even went to trial. At his sentencing, his speech was rapid. When asked to slow down, he apologized, noting that, because of his three years under SAMS, he has not had many occasions to talk to other people.(4)

The impact of extreme solitary confinement is not limited to Fahad Hashmi. Damion Echols was exonerated after spending 18 years in solitary confinement. During those 18 years, he had only walked in full restraints. Upon his release, he had to relearn how to walk. He also had to relearn how to see past a few feet; after 18 years, his eyes had become unused to seeing past the few feet inside his cell.(5)

Even a few weeks in solitary confinement can have drastic repercussions. Sarah Pender, held in solitary confinement in Indiana for three years, recently wrote about another woman on the solitary housing unit: “Just yesterday [she] was writing on the walls with her own blood. Before she cut her arms, she strangled herself with a shoestring until the guards found her purple. Before that, she used her fingernails to rip chunks of flesh out of her face. She had been held here for two months after essentially sassing a guard.” (6)

People in the U.S. are increasingly recognizing the use of solitary as a means of legalized torture. In 1988, continued public pressure and advocacy led to the shutting down of the control unit at FCI Lexington. Today, activists, advocates, family members and community members are fighting to draw attention to these atrocities and publicly pressure authorities to either release individual prisoners into general population or to drastically change procedures around solitary confinement.

The ACLU and Indiana Protection Services Agency filed a class-action lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Corrections on behalf of all prisoners held in solitary housing units that suffered from mental illness. The Federal District Court for Southern Indiana heard the case over the summer and is expected to make a decision at the end of this year.(7) Pender, who notes that her three-year stay in isolation is “one of the longest periods a woman has ever been held in isolation for a single, non-violent act in Indiana history,” filed a civil suit in April 2011 against specific prison officials raising similar claims regarding SHU conditions, lack of appropriate mental health care, and the mental health effects of solitary confinement.

Other tactics have also been used to raise awareness and outrage around solitary confinement: In October 2009, Theaters Against the War, Educators for Civil Liberties and the Muslim Justice Initiative, along with individuals concerned about the human rights atrocities inflicted upon Fahad Hashmi by the SAMS, began holding weekly vigils outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. For seven months, these vigils continued with opera singers, theater artists, human rights and social justice activists supporting Hashmi’s friends, family and immediate community. As Hashmi’s trial neared, a call went out to fill the courtroom with supporters. The government responded by first asking for anonymity and extra security for the jury, thus implying that the jurors had reason to fear Hashmi’s supporters. It then dropped three of its charges, offering a 10 to 15 year sentence instead of a potential 70 year sentence if Hashmi pled guilty to the last remaining count of material support. The number of friends and supporters filled not only the courtroom but three overflow courtrooms on the day of Hashmi’s sentencing.(8)

During the hunger strike started at Pelican Bay, family members, advocates, and concerned community members across the country acted to draw attention to the hunger strike. In Oakland, supporters held a weekly vigil on Thursday evenings. On July 9, 2011, supporters organized demonstrations in cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Nine days later, 200 family members, lawyers, and outside supporters from across California converged upon CDCR headquarters in Sacramento, delivered a petition of over 7,500 signatures in support of the hunger strikers, and then marched to Governor Brown’s office to demand answers. That same day, supporters in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City, and Philadelphia also held solidarity rallies.

Compelled by the hunger strike, its ensuing publicity, and community pressure on legislators, the California Assembly’s Public Safety Commission held a hearing on SHU conditions on August 23. Former SHU prisoners, family members, attorneys, advocates, and psychiatrists testified about the need for substantial changes to SHU policies and practices. When the hunger strike resumed again in September, so too did the actions to keep the strike—and the conditions prompting it—in public consciousness.

On October 13, 2011, the day that the hunger strike ended at Pelican Bay, students, attorneys, civil rights activists, and family members convened at Brooklyn College for a one-day conference that connected the human rights atrocities in the federal prison system with the struggles of the prison justice movement. Attendees learned from each other’s struggles and experiences and built bridges between movements that often work separately.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, 60 people braved the November rain to rally outside the NC Division of Prisons. The protest was co-organized by anti-prison activists and members of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, a group whose imprisoned members have been harassed and segregated within the NC prison system. Outraged by this harassment, the continued targeting of politically-active North Carolina prisoners, and the recent hunger strike in California, the rally focused on solitary confinement with banners stating, “Against Solitary—Love for All Prison Rebels,” “Solitary is Torture” and “Against Prisons.”

Protesters marched form the Division of Prisons to the rear of the men’s Central Prison. Although police prevented the march from reaching the prison fence, the prisoners could see the protest from the windows and, in response, banged on the glass.

Concerns about solitary confinement are not limited to activists, advocates and family members. The European Convention on Human Rights holds that the extreme isolation in ADX Florence amounts to torture, stating that “complete sensory isolation, coupled with total social isolation, can destroy the personality and constitutes a form of inhuman treatment which cannot be justified by the requirements of security or any other reason.” On October 18, 2011, Juan Mendez, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, presented a written report on solitary confinement in the U.S. to the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee. He stated that solitary confinement “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles. Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, supermax, the hole, secure housing unit…whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by states as a punishment or extortion (of information) technique.” He called for a ban on any type of solitary confinement exceeding 15 days.

What does all this mean for the 80,000 people isolated in extreme solitary confinement right now?
“It’s nearing the end of 2011,” wrote Todd Ashker, one of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay. “How is it that thousands of prisoners in SHU-type units across the country are being subject to conditions the International Courts have condemned as torture?” (10)

On the day that the Pelican Bay hunger strike ended, Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights exhorted the audience at Brooklyn College: “We need to build on the momentum of Pelican Bay, Bradley Manning and other cases.” (11)

Let us take these words—and the organizing of those both in and out of prison—as a call to action.

End Notes

(1) Laura Magnani, telephone interview with author, October 14, 2011.
(2) Cassandra Shaylor, “ ‘It’s Like Living in a Black Hole’: Women of Color and Solitary Confinement in the Prison-Industrial Complex” in Feminist Legal Theory: An Anti-Essentialist Reader, ed. Nancy E. Dowd and Michelle S. Jacobs (New York: NYU Press, 2003), 320. The court determined the women’s placement unconstitutional since they were housed in the control unit because of their political beliefs. It did NOT rule that control units constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. Court of Appeals then ruled that prisons are free to use political associations and beliefs to justify different and harsher treatment.
(3) Rachael Kamel and Bonnie Kerness, The Prison Inside the Prison: Control Units, Supermax Prisons, and Devices of Torture: A Justice Visions Briefing Paper. Philadelphia, PA: American Friends Service Committee, 2003. 2.
(4) Fahad Hashmi allowed a visiting acquaintance to store waterproof socks, ponchos and raincoats in his London apartment. Prosecutors argued that these socks, ponchos and raincoats later ended up in the hands of Al-Qaeda. Hashmi was sentenced to 15 years in ADX Florence. His SAMS status remains.
(5)David Fathi, Roundtable: Conditions of Confinement, The Civil Rights Crisis in the Federal System Post 9/11, Brooklyn College, October 13, 2011.
(6)Sarah Jo Pender, “The Annals of Solitary Confinement,” Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison 24, Fall/Winter 2011.
(7) Pender, “The Annals of Solitary Confinement.”http://chronicle.com/article/My-Student-the-Terrorist/126937/
(8) Fahad Hashmi was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College. Only weeks before the conference, it was revealed that the NYPD had been monitoring Muslim students and student groups at Brooklyn College.
(9) Letter from Todd Ashker to author, dated September 25, 2011.
(10) Pardiss Kebriaei, Roundtable: Conditions of Confinement. The Civil Rights Crisis in the Federal System Post 9/11, Brooklyn College, October 13, 2011. For more about Bradley Manning’s case, see http://www.bradleymanning.org

Victoria Law is a writer, photographer and mother. She is the author of “Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women” (PM Press 2009), the editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and a co-founder of Books Through Bars – NYC. She is currently working on transforming “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind,” a zine series on how radical movements can support the families in their midst, into a book.

We dare to win: The reality and impact of SHU torture units

A discussion in the wake of the Aug. 23 legislative hearing

From: SF Bay View, November 11, 2011

by J. Heshima Denham, Zaharibu Dorrough and Kambui Robinson of the NCTT Corcoran Security Housing Unit (SHU)

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. … We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Written Oct. 12, 2011 – These sage words by Dr. King are both appropriate to the discussion we’d like to have on indeterminate SHU confinement and cautionary as to who we are and what we allow as a society in these troubled times. This second point is very relevant to this discussion and we hope you’ll stick with us, as the subject matter is both broad and disturbing; it requires us to share some inconvenient truths.
[1]
At the rally in support of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s historic hearing on the hunger strike against SHU torture Aug. 23, Amber, the sister of a SHU prisoner told the crowd: “My brother has been in Pelican Bay SHU for the last 10 years. I’m here today to be the voice, not only for him, but for all of the prisoners who are suffering in the SHU and for all of the prisons in California. There are a lot of questions that I want answered. I want to know what our elected officials are going to do to change what’s being done? Why is it 30 days later (since the end of the first round of the hunger strike) and still nothing has been done when the CDC agreed to part of the prisoners’ demands? I want to know why my brother is tortured on a daily basis year after year. Why is he not fed correctly and why is he so pale and skinny? Why does my mom have to cry every time she goes to see him? Seeing everybody that has come out today just lights my fire, because I know that I am not alone and I can let him know that he is not alone.” – Photo and quote: Revolution Newspaper

Security Housing Units (SHUs) like those in Pelican Bay, Tehachapi and this one here in Corcoran are torture units. They are used to indefinitely house human beings in solitary confinement based on an administrative determination that they are “gang members” with impetus towards breaking their minds in hopes of eliciting information and coercing them into becoming informants or active agents in the state.

These units are the tombs of not only alleged “gang members” but political and politicized prisoners, imprisoned human rights activists and jailhouse lawyers alike, most anyone who, in the sole determination of institutional gang investigators and administrators, is not content to submit passively to his role as a commodity in the prison industrial complex.
These units are the tombs of not only alleged “gang members” but political and politicized prisoners, imprisoned human rights activists and jailhouse lawyers.

The U.S. and many of its media outlets, such as The New York Times and San Diego Union Tribune, prior to the U.S. War on Terror, routinely criticized China, Turkey, Syria and other nations for holding prisoners in indefinite solitary confinement under conditions of constant illumination, sensory deprivation etc. for expressing contrary political views. They universally condemned the practices as torture, citing the United Nations Human Rights Commission Treaty. Their hypocrisy was of course revealed after the policies of U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and numerous CIA blacksite prisons was exposed.

Yet what has been America’s dirty little secret is that years before Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, they were boiling men alive at Pelican Bay SHU, they were holding murderous “blood sport” style bouts here at Corcoran SHU and they had been holding people with left-wing political ideologies as “gang members” for decades in sensory deprivation torture units at Pelican Bay, Corcoran and Tehachapi SHUs. Yes, indefinite solitary confinement and constant illumination is being used right now in California SHU units, in conjunction with a program of systematic isolation and experimental behavior modification to torture prisoners every day, without end.

The California and U.S. Supreme Courts, in blatant indifference to international and constitutional law, have repeatedly refused to intervene in most cases on behalf of prisoners in Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHUs who’ve lived in solitary confinement under constant illumination and daily psychological stressors for 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years straight. This is gross hypocrisy wherein your nation is torturing its citizens in your names.

The “United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment” defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
[2]
Banners at the rally by hunger strikers’ families and supporters held on the capitol steps prior to the Aug. 23 hearing spoke truth to power.
This virtually defines the validation, indeterminate SHU confinement and debriefing processes, which are all interconnected. We are routinely told, quite frankly, at ICC (Institutional Classification Committee) hearings, “You’ll only get out of SHU if you parole, debrief or die”; at parole board hearings the line is no different: The panel of law enforcement officials states, “If you want a parole date, you may want to think about debriefing.”

When, after serving 24 years, most of that in these indeterminate SHU torture units, for a crime where he was simply a 16-year-old bystander and had not had a single rules violation in over a decade, had family and community support and several job offers, Sondai Ellis was told that very thing as he was denied parole again. I was, and continue to be, so furious that it is only through the discipline and adherence to principled conduct instilled in me by brothers like Sondai that I’ve been capable of keeping that fury in check at such bald-faced injustice.

To debrief one must become an informant, an agent of the state, and decades of torture and withholding of freedom are strong state sanctions to compel some of us to make something up or simply parrot what we are told to say to get out of SHU or support a law enforcement agenda. In at least two recent online articles, we see debriefers doing just this: actually advocating the merits of the very torture units that reduced them to broken men and made them thralls of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) and its various units and affiliates. They – the Institutional Gang Investigations (IGI), Investigations Services Unit (ISU), prison guards etc. – are the ones who have an economic and political interest in maintaining the symbolism of these torture units as the final abode of “predatory gang leaders and organized criminals.”

The U.N. Human Rights Commission has stated prolonged solitary confinement for purposes of extracting information is prohibited as torture. SHUs are by definition torture units and specialty, experimental, ultra-supermax isolation units like Pelican Bay SHU’s D-Short Corridor and Corcoran SHU’s 4B1L-C-Section short corridor are specifically engineered to warp reality for purposes of breaking men’s minds.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission has stated prolonged solitary confinement for purposes of extracting information is prohibited as torture. SHUs are by definition torture units.

Torture, no matter the supposed justification, is never an acceptable practice for a humane society. The U.N. Convention Against Torture states, “No exceptionable circumstances whatsoever, whether a state or threat of war or political emergency, may be invoked as a reason for torture.” As it stands, your correctional department, courts, some of your elected officials, and all law enforcement agencies do feel torture is justified as long as it’s applied to those they deem “gang members.”
Your correctional department, courts, some of your elected officials, and all law enforcement agencies do feel torture is justified as long as it’s applied to those they deem “gang members.”

But there is a much more insidious socio-economic and political motivation for the maintenance and expansion of SHU torture units and indeterminate SHU confinement based on “gang” validation. It is sustained by manipulating your perception of truth and humanity and by controlling your perception of these things. The prison industrialists dictate your actions, reactions and inaction to their impact on your lives and communities.

As you may know, we embarked on a historic 24-day hunger strike in July and at this writing are 17 days into a second hunger strike that began on Sept. 26 in solidarity with the Pelican Bay SHU D-Corridor collective and the five core demands recognizing our human rights. We were joined by some 6,600 other prisoners across the state, 12,000 in this second effort and countless others across the nation, and we garnered the support of principled people all over the world.

On Aug. 23, a hearing was held in response to those issues. I want to take this time to use some of the distortions, misrepresentations of fact and outright lies by CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan, a key prison industrialist, to illustrate just what we’re talking about here. There is an articulable basis why state-sanctioned torture units are maintained in California and throughout the U.S. And before we get into Mr. Kernan’s comments, it is necessary for you to have a clear understanding of what they are so you can understand why he would contradict himself and openly lie to a legislative oversight committee.

The purpose of SHU torture units – and “gang” validations resulting in indeterminate SHU confinement – is to ensure your financial and political support for the expansion and maintenance of the prison industrial complex as a viable business model by maximizing your fear and capitalizing on your ignorance. The foundational cornerstone of their success is convincing you that “gang members are depraved, inhuman monsters hell bent on the rape, murder and predation of innocent people,” and only they, the “gang experts,” know who these monsters are and how best to “protect” you from them.

The purpose of SHU torture units – and “gang” validations resulting in indeterminate SHU confinement – is to ensure your financial and political support for the expansion and maintenance of the prison industrial complex as a viable business model by maximizing your fear and capitalizing on your ignorance.

These so-called malevolent, irrationally violent and predatory organized “gangs” are the source of all of society’s ills and the very origins of crime in our communities. By creating these torture units and proclaiming they are the abodes of “the worst of the worst,” they have a symbolic manifestation of the validity of their claims.
[3]

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, chair of Public Safety Committee, speaks at the rally before convening his hearing on prison torture in the SHUs.
No one can refute their accounts or characterizations because transparency is non-existent. Prisoners have no voice. The CCPOA successfully lobbied to ban media interviews with prisoners so the public is left to a unilateral, state-sponsored view of prison conditions and their discontents. This allows them the ability to perpetuate the myth of the inhuman “gang member” unchallenged and, with tacit media support, to dehumanize an ever-growing segment of the underclass.

Have you not noticed how your local news reports on arrestees or incidents in these communities? If someone is arrested for DUI, a drive-by or petty theft, he or she is paraded on the news and the first identification made is “he’s a validated gang member.” When incidents occur in or around our children’s schools, the school is put on “lockdown,” a term derived from the California prison system to denote a prison yard being locked down after a riot or other incident.

These terms, “gang” and “gang member,” automatically conjure images of innocent drive-by shooting victims and prison rapes inspired by “Oz” and cinematic visions, divorcing these men and women from the human condition, dehumanizing them. These people, more often than not, were saddled with these characterizations because of the communities they come from and may well have never committed a violent or predatory act in their lives.

But you don’t know that. All you know is what you’ve been told by the TV anchor, police or CDCR spokesman. They know that because they’ve used millions of your tax dollars to engineer it that way.

The truth of the matter is there are no malevolent, irrationally violent predatory gangs roving the streets of your cities or the prison yards of CDCR, only desperate men and women forced to the bottom rung of society through institutional disparities in economic and race-based distribution of educational, employment and empowerment opportunities at virtually every point of human activity in the U.S.

Do gangs exist? Of course, but that’s not the relevant question. Where are they prevalent and why do they exist? This is what is of note. “Gangs” and, more centrally, gang violence are prevalent primarily in underclass – poor – communities.

The national unemployment rate – not counting the underemployed or those who’ve stopped looking – stands at 9.1 percent, yet in the New Afrikan (Black) community, it’s 17 percent and in the Latino community it’s 14.5 percent. Those without a high school diploma stand at 16 percent unemployed while those with a Bachelor’s Degree a mere 1 percent.

New Afrikans and Latinos make up 90 percent of the prison population but a scant 26 percent of the national population. The origin of crime is not gangs. Gangs are a social symptom of that origin. The origin of all crime is the disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege and opportunity in our society.

The origin of crime is not gangs. Gangs are a social symptom of that origin. The origin of all crime is the disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege and opportunity in our society.

This is not by chance or happenstance. It is by design. Wage-based employment and entrepreneurship are the only ways to “legally” create wealth in this society. When social conditions are such that a community contains a large population of surplus labor – either they are unemployed due to their lack of education or marketable skills, or the market simply cannot sustain that population of workers – the only alternative to survive is the underground economy, be that illicit services such as narcotics, the sex trade and gambling or predatory crimes such as extortion, robbery and identity theft.

There is a corresponding sense of socio-political impotence which accompanies the innate insecurity of poverty. Young men and women who have no power, no hope, no impact on their world form community-based organizations to fill that socio-political void in their existence. Those the state calls “gangs” and has decided to wage “war” on them, only furthering the isolation.

Young men and women who have no power, no hope, no impact on their world form community-based organizations to fill that socio-political void in their existence.

One of the reasons so few people vote in underclass communities is these disparities are institutional and systemic to U.S. capitalist economics. No matter who’s in office, their plight doesn’t change. Because these communities are a marginal constituency, public officials extend a corresponding indifference to their plight. [4]

Families and supporters of prisoners from across California held a rally prior to the Aug. 23 hearing called by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano on the torturous solitary confinement in California SHUs.

Instead of “protecting and serving” those communities, law enforcement, judicial, legislative and correctional officers all too commonly have a containment, suppression and adversarial relationship with those communities and those who come from them. Yet the bell-curve theories and notions that young men and women want to stand on a street corner selling crack or want to risk their lives and freedom by engaging in unprovoked gang violence are simply untrue.

You pick any prisoner in these SHU units validated as a “gang member” and offer him a job making $20 an hour, and I can guarantee you he won’t break the law. But the environment in these communities and most assuredly the environment in CDCR prisons are not structured to produce such success or opportunity, which brings me to my next point:

The California corrections system is an environment designed and maintained by its administrators. Thus, any failures must be attributed to those who have precluded an environment for success. CDCR effectively retards rehabilitation especially among SHU prisoners – those who by the state’s own admission most need rehabilitation – by withdrawing the vital tech-based vocational training and higher educational opportunity needed to compete in today’s high tech world. It was primarily through the successful efforts of the CCPOA that funding through Pell grants for higher education was taken from prisoners.
You pick any prisoner in these SHU units validated as a “gang member” and offer him a job making $20 an hour, and I can guarantee you he won’t break the law.

Of course, what followed this repeal of the inmate bill of rights was an unprecedented boom in prison building and a population expansion by 800 percent in the last 20 years. Racial antagonisms are encouraged so as to preclude broad class cooperation amongst prisoners like the unprecedented unity shown statewide in the recent hunger strike.

Underdevelopment while in prison, coupled with an emphasis on seeking most any impetus for “violation” by parole officers once out of prison, is designed to preclude successful re-integration into society, maximize recidivism rates, and undermine the underclass communities from which those ex-offenders hail – all to maintain the steady social dysfunction and economic desperation in these family units so a consistent flow of bodies is exiting these communities to enter our jails and prisons, court systems and probation departments, ensuring a recession-proof industry of profit and expansion for the prison market and those who depend on your tax dollars to sustain their privilege.

The very structure of CDCR regulations is designed to promote dependency, destroy ingenuity and self-determination and deter unity. They actually have rules which bar prisoners from running a business, which always boggled my mind in an economically depressed recessionary capitalist cycle. If there are prisoners with the insight, talent and entrepreneurial acumen to make a meaningful contribution to this state’s economy and job market, men and women who the courts have determined owe some debt to society, why would you codify a basis for them not doing so?
The very structure of CDCR regulations is designed to promote dependency, destroy ingenuity and self-determination and deter unity.

Outside of the same “potential for impropriety” rhetoric they use to justify accepting unsubstantiated confidential information and mere suspicion as a basis for SHU confinement, there exists no justification for such a regulation. The only basis that follows reason is to prevent independence and promote dependency on the state, thus promoting institutionalization.

If you combine this with the psycho-social decimation of men’s minds resulting from prolonged and, in some cases, endless isolation in conditions such as these, is it any wonder psychologists universally agree this type of torture effectively destroys one’s ability to function in society? Which is the point.

As we’ve stated before, the modern criminal justice system – and correctional departments in particular – are the biggest conflicts of interest in U.S. history. Those entrusted with reducing the number of criminal offenders and protecting public safety have their potential profit margin directly attached to maximizing the number of offenders under their control at any given time.

Those entrusted with reducing the number of criminal offenders and protecting public safety have their potential profit margin directly attached to maximizing the number of offenders under their control at any given time.

This is why the CCPOA fought so hard to stop out-of-state transfers of prisoners to reduce overcrowding. The more prisoners under their control, the larger their budgets, the greater their salaries and benefits, and the more overtime hours they can bill to your tax dollars.

But most vitally, the more prisoners held and for ever greater durations, the more ensured they are of their long-term job security no matter the fragility of the economy in this current crisis. To be sure, an economic downturn to the rest of us is an economic upturn for those in the prison industry. It means an inequitable increase in human commodities: prisoners.
An economic downturn to the rest of us is an economic upturn for those in the prison industry. It means an inequitable increase in human commodities: prisoners.

According to CDCR, they spend an average $78,000 to house us in these torture unit cells each year. Perhaps a little more due to the added isolation features in 4B1L-C-Section and D-Corridor. We assure you it does not cost $78K to feed us the two small trays and sack lunch we receive each day or to keep this light burning 24 hours or power our small 13-inch TVs.

Besides being escorted in chains to the K-9 style dog cages for yard two to three times a week and five minutes in the shower three times a week, we never leave these cells. So I assure you that money is not being spent on prisoners being housed in the SHU. No, it’s spent on guards – on their salaries, benefits, equipment, training, guns and bullets – NOT US. The guard working the SHU makes the most money and with all the overtime they have action at, they can in essence write their own checks on your buck and at the expense of our minds, our bodies and, sometimes it feels, our very souls. [5]

The CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association), the prison guards’ union, considers the California State Capitol in Sacramento its turf. It is the state’s most powerful lobby. No governor has dared challenge its power for decades, but the hunger strikers dared.
During the Aug. 23 legislative hearing, the CDCR panel representative, Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan, made such baseless, overly simplistic and outright false statements concerning prison life and conditions related to SHU and so-called “gangs” that they MUST be debunked with the truth. He stated “gangs” were responsible for “ordering ‘rapes’” in prison and are the primary threat for such heinous acts. This is not only an outright lie, but in fact quite the opposite is true.

For the vast majority of those housed in these SHUs, and virtually ALL those in these indeterminate SHU torture units, the forced sexual subjugation of anyone, not to mention another human in these conditions, is not simply frowned upon by SHU prisoners but forcefully opposed. Mr. Kernan’s assertion that men housed here would even condone such sickness is a testament to the fear and dehumanization-based rhetoric which has become the basis for prison industrialist propaganda over the past 20 years and is an insult to the humanity of all of us housed here.

We in the NCTT Cor-SHU collectively have over 100 years of experience existing in the most violent and reactionary prisons in California and can say with definitive confidence that the vast majority of the “8,000 assaults and stabbings the department has each year” has little to do with gangs, as Mr. Kernan states, and everything to do with overcrowded facilities and limited space.

Be it a dispute on the basketball or handball court, an unpaid gambling or dope debt, a cross word said in frustration at overcrowded conditions taken as disrespect, etc., these things have little to do with “gangs.” And in those instances where a gang member may be involved in a personal dispute – and according to CDCR everyone in CDCR runs with some gang – they report or record it as “gang related” when the “gang” in fact has nothing to do with the initial incident.

He went on to state “millions of tax dollars were ‘wasted’ each year, and ‘gangs’ would be identified as the primary problem.” Mr. Kernan has no factual basis for this statement. I can’t even conceive of the rubric by which he would venture this opinion when targeting educational and economic development programs in underclass communities and amongst criminal offenders has proven an effective means by which to reduce both predatory and market-based crime rates and reduce recidivism amongst prisoners, yet funding for such initiatives, due primarily to lobbying efforts by the CCPOA and their political cabal, has been repeatedly diverted to prison budgets under the auspices of public safety, an oxymoronic application of the term if ever there was one.

Mr. Kernan went on to state it’s “only 3,000 validated SHU prisoners in a population of 165,000 – that’s a very small number.” The Marquis de Sade is said to have tortured some 2,000 prisoners out of the 100,000 that passed through Elba – before honing his skills on women – when he was a gaoler (jailer) there. No one in the French aristocracy minded De Sade’s dalliances with prisoners much either. It’s this type of thinking that led to the use of CIA blacksites in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt and, yes, Libya under Qaddafi to imprison “under special conditions” terror “suspects” and torture them for years, continuing still, in the U.S. “war on terror.”
[6]

SHU survivor Jitu Sadiki speaks at the rally prior to the Ammiano hearing Aug. 23. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
Three thousand torture victims in a population of 165,000 is 3,000 too many. Mr. Kernan went on to state, “We don’t allow media to talk to individual inmates for fear of their sensationalizing their crimes, like Charles Manson or Scott Peterson” – a patently absurd notion he knows full well was untrue. First of all, it was the media that “sensationalized” Manson and Peterson’s cases, not Manson and Peterson themselves.

But, more importantly, no one here wants to “sensationalize” their criminal convictions or past lifestyles. In fact there is a significant segment of the indeterminate SHU population, such as the NCTT, the Freedom, Justice and Human Rights Initiative, George Jackson University etc., who have dedicated their lives to not simply atoning for the damage to our communities as a result of our ignorance and lack of consciousness in the past, but putting forward meaningful programs and initiatives to improve life in those communities, such as those mentioned above.

The only prisoners in SHU that Mr. Kernan allowed the media access to, and the only prisoners such media outlets as the Sacramento Bee seem to be interested in quoting are debriefers, informants and agents of the state. Mr. Kernan did not allow media access to the D-Short Corridor collective, like Sitawa Dewberry, Todd Ashker or Mutope Crawford, or the 4B1L-C-Section collective because he did not want politically and socially conscious prisoners articulating the true basis of SHU and reason for the hunger strikes and the inescapable deteriorating psychological effects of SHU.

This is simply another example of state controlled media in a society that purports itself to be “free and open,” yet another manifestation of CDCR’s successful gambit to monopolize the conversation. I found it ironic that Mr. Kernan attempted to dismiss and redirect the blatant human rights violations which torture units represent by stating “the violence the gangs perpetuate is the human rights violation,” when the vast majority of the “8,000 assaults and stabbings” occurring in the modern CDCR are occurring on “sensitive needs yards” (SNYs) by the very debriefers and protective custody prisoners IGI has relied on, or broken, to manufacture uncorroborated and unsubstantiated “confidential information chronos” to put, and keep other prisoners in indefinite SHU confinement.

To be sure, the most violent “gang” in CDCR is “2-5” – half of “5-0,” the “prison gang” made up of debriefers and informants who directly work for IGI, ISU, SSU (Special Services Unit) and other law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Kernan was adamant that the courts have upheld the validation process and “though harsh, the SHU is not torture.” We’ve established without doubt this IS torture, so that brooks no comment.

But as to the comments on the courts, that’s not entirely true either. California courts, most judges having been elected with the backing of CCPOA lobbying dollars, rarely uphold the Constitution where prisoners, and especially SHU prisoners, are seeking human rights protection. But there are exceptions. For example, in the Koch v. Lewis case that the Supreme Court took up to address the equally harsh SMU II torture unit in Florence, Arizona, the court found that Koch’s solitary confinement violated his right to due process under the 14th Amendment, which is applicable to states because there was no evidence that Koch had committed any overt act to warrant such torture. The claim that he was an Aryan Brotherhood member was insufficient.

Substantive due process requires that evidence used must bear a logical relation to the specific deprivations. As Judge Moran stated, “The labeling of plaintiff Koch as a ‘gang member’ does not itself create legal concerns. Rather it is the placement in SMU II as a result of the alleged association that is constitutionally significant.” After hearing evidence of SMU conditions – identical to California SHU conditions – and the psychological harm Koch and all prisoners faced, the court not only found a significant liberty deprivation but also that the very practice of sending inmates to supermax torture units based on status alone, with no charges or evidence of misconduct, violated due process.

The court concluded that there must be some evidence of misconduct, some overt gang-related act, to justify placing Koch in SMU II for an indefinite – and very likely permanent – term. Yet, as Mr. Kernan stated, virtually lifelong supermax detention for alleged “gang members” in U.S. domestic prisons continues to be judged constitutional here in California despite the ruling in the Griffith case. CDCR still has not released him from SHU despite multiple rulings to do so.

It’s not that they, or he, does not know these torture units violate basic tenets of humaneness; they simply have an overriding interest in their maintenance: money and control. Your money, their control. This assertion by Mr. Kernan that these torture units are not torture units is so outrageous and insulting, it recalls Bush era admonitions that waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, and CIA blacksites in foreign countries weren’t torturous either. It is an absurdity, and a dangerous one.
This assertion by Mr. Kernan that these torture units are not torture units is so outrageous and insulting, it recalls Bush era admonitions that waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, and CIA blacksites in foreign countries weren’t torturous either.

Mr. Kernan’s dogged assertion that “gangs” and more certainly those of us housed in these SHU torture units are the source of perpetual violence in CDCR ignores the inescapable reality of gross overcrowding, intentional underdevelopment and dependency and the structural conditions they’ve created in California prisons, which is the actual origin of prison violence. And until these structural fallacies are addressed, violence in California prisons will continue no matter how many prisoners are consigned to these torture units, and he KNOWS this. [7]

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano leaves the rally to convene his hearing on solitary confinement and related issues raised initially by prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU, whose hunger strike was joined by 12,000 other prisoners simultaneously. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Mr. Kernan stated the process being considered by “all state law enforcement, CCPOA, police, labor unions, national experts and the legislature itself” would allow prisoners to “earn a way out of the system by behavior and require the department to document when we feel it is not the case.” There are four things wrong with this approach:

1) the determining body developing the policy, outside of the legislature, consists exclusively of proponents of the prison industrial complex. Thus, whatever policy is developed will reflect the same draconian, profit-driven inhumanity that’s subjected us to these torture units thus far for decades without end;

2) most of us have not had any rules violations reports in decades. What do we need to “earn” through our “behavior” that’s not already been earned through a years-long proven record of disciplinary free conduct? Or must we subject ourselves to the behavior modification experiments developed in the Marion federal torture unit?

3) indeterminate SHU confinement cannot be allowed to continue to be based on what this department does or does not “feel is the case.” The primary issue here is the arbitrary nature of gang validation and subsequent indeterminate SHU confinement;

4) what Mr. Kernan is suggesting here is no different than the sham six-year inactive review that’s already in place.

Mr. Kernan stated the CDCR gang validation policy is “intended to protect inmates we are charged with and staff,” yet anyone who’s on this side of the door knows that’s a flat out lie. The CDCR gang policy is intended to maintain their control of prison budgets, silence prisoner critics, preclude prisoner unity and continue to scapegoat indeterminate SHU prisoners who’ve not had a single instance of documented misconduct in decades as a basis for extorting billions of taxpayer dollars through over-exaggerating the threat posed by prisoners housed indefinitely in SHU on the basis of gang validations.

The CDCR gang policy is intended to maintain their control of prison budgets, silence prisoner critics, preclude prisoner unity and continue to scapegoat indeterminate SHU prisoners who’ve not had a single instance of documented misconduct in decades.

As I’ve stated previously, if prisoners, staff and public safety were truly CDCR’s motive force, they would have developed a prison environment and programs geared toward true rehabilitation and successful reintegration and performance in society upon release. Such an environment runs contrary to their economic and political interests and unfortunately against a significant number of the peoples’ desire for vengeance against perceived offenders.

Now then, a particularly distressing lie Mr. Kernan relayed to the public safety panel was that “all evidence used to validate is corroborated.” Simply put, this is a flat out lie. There is no corroboration via independent sources of information of confidential informants’ statements or confidential informant chronos known as “1030s.” Why he would utter a lie that is so easily debunked is truly beyond me. [8]

A SHU survivor addresses the Aug. 23 rally outside the capitol in Sacramento.

To give you an example of what Mr.Kernan and the IGI deem corroboration, they have little boxes on the 1030 chrono listed a)-f) which state why they consider such a source reliable. In a 2008 1030 used to deny a validated indeterminate SHU prisoner “inactive status,” a debriefer – who was briefly housed with the brother – told IGI the individual spoke of the merits of socialism, the history of political resistance to racism and socio-economic inequality in Amerika, and of the validity of the political and socio-economic views of Frantz Fanon, Ho Chi Minh and George Lester Jackson. The IGI told the debriefer that the prisoner was providing “BGF education,” to which the debriefer quickly agreed and parroted what his IGI handler told him to.

Because the same prisoner wrote an article in California Prison Focus critical of CDCR and expressing some of these same political ideas (CPF Fall 2003), they considered this “more than one source independently provid(ing) the same information,” and “part of the information provided by the source has already proven to be true.” This expression of his political views and social criticism of the department’s practice of arbitrarily targeting and punishing left-wing political ideologies in prison in violation of the First Amendment and their own California Code of Regulations, Title 15, was sufficient to earn him another six years in SHU – though he in truth had no chance of release via inactive review.

Not only is political speech and expression protected by “the supreme laws of the land” – or is supposed to be – but it boggles the mind how an article in a publication CDCR not only allows into institutions, but the state delivers to our cell doors, can possibly be corroboration of a coerced informant’s scripted lies. This is what passes for corroboration in Mr. Kernan’s CDCR. The fact of the matter is there is no corroboration of evidence and no way to verify it if there was. IGI is the only one who gets to see the evidence used to consign men to these torture units forever.

Mr. Kernan went on to state, “These offenders are in the SHU with mountains of documentation of illegal criminal activities both out on the streets in public and in prison.” And it is just these types of irresponsible, intentionally dishonest statements which have cowed courts and legislators alike into turning a blind eye to wholesale psychological torture for decades in the California prison system. [9]

A panel of professionals firmly opposed to the torture of solitary confinement – Laura Magnani, Dorsey Nunn, Terry Kupers, Craig Haney and Charles Carbone – prepares to testify at Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s hearing Aug. 23. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

The truth of the matter is most validated indeterminate SHU prisoners haven’t had a single documented instance of misconduct or rules violation report for ANY criminal act in decades. I assure you if such a “mountain of illegal activities” was documented, you’d have an equally high mountain of rules violation reports, district attorney referrals and indictments. This is a lie specifically designed to put forward a non-existent justification for that which, according to “the rule of law,” is unjustifiable: indefinite psychological torture to coerce men into becoming informants, agent provocateurs and advocates for the same heinous practices which broke their minds and subsumed their wills.

To be sure, Mr. Kernan contradicted himself in his next breath by stating, in response to the statistical data showing gang violence has only increased as sensitive needs yards – inhabited exclusively by the debriefers, informants and other protective custody designees Mr. Kernan is singing the praises of – have expanded, that “the state’s gang problem has even increased, but separating those offenders we have in SHU has led to a decrease.”

Upon hearing this absurdity, even the assemblyman had to call him on the contradiction. As the hearing wore on and the objective evidence in front of the legislative oversight committee continued to contradict the lies and distortions Mr. Kernan was offering as authority, he stated, “Let’s not lose focus on the real public safety threat perpetuated by gangs in our system.”

And it is this narrow and intentionally ill-informed perspective on public safety which has produced an 800 percent increase in the California prison population, a dysfunctional correctional and nonexistent rehabilitation system, and led to the state’s use and expansion of domestic human experimentation, torture units on the victims of a socio-economic arrangement that has forced us from the bottom rung of society into the bowels of Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHUs. [10]

The lights in these SHU cells are never turned off, causing sensory deprivation that is another form of torture.

Mr. Kernan and the rest of the prison industrialists can lay the blame for society’s ills at the feet of “gangs” all they like, and the vicious cycle will only continue ebbing toward the inexorable decline of Western Civilization. Until such time as we all accept the fact that “gangs” are the inevitable outgrowth of capitalist contradictions, of educational and labor underdevelopment in underclass communities and your political and economic leaders’ unwillingness or inability to address the gross disparities between the haves and have nots as the true origin of society’s ills, “gang” violence and systematic criminality will continue to be part of the U.S. social fabric.

Luckily, as consciousness raising efforts like the global Occupy Wall Street Movement continue to sweep across the planet, these “leaders” will be forced to acknowledge the obvious. With a multi-billion dollar budget, Mr. Kernan and his department can make some significant contributions to a new approach. But as the continued intransigence of the department shows, true public safety is a remote concern of those you’ve invested with that responsibility.

The actual public safety threat lies in the underlying socio-economic relationship between poor communities and the prison industry, our society’s indifference to that conflict, and the apparent dogged pursuit of a law enforcement and correctional policy which has been both a dismal inhumane failure and economically unsustainable. The definition of “insanity” is pursuing the same course of action repeatedly and expecting a different result.

I’d like to address one final point Mr. Kernan raised that I believe is pertinent. He stated, “An offender that wants to rehab himself, he can’t because of an inmate telling him to go stab someone or he will be killed.” This is both a misrepresentation of truth and a dangerous exaggeration. There are numerous non-affiliates in the general population of CDCR and Mr. Kernan is well aware of it. Everyone in prison knows lumpen organizations or “gangs” in prison don’t force membership onto non-affiliates, because history has proven such prisoners always become informants, agents or are easily compelled to lie on those they formerly ran with.

But that’s not the core issue here. What is, is Mr. Kernan’s willingness to dispense such tripe as “facts” in hopes of somehow convincing the people that the perpetual torture of over 3,000 human beings is somehow legitimate. This type of thinking and speech MUST be confronted and debunked. Indefinite solitary confinement of humans in California, across the U.S. and throughout the world must be opposed, resisted and abolished.
Indefinite solitary confinement of humans in California, across the U.S. and throughout the world must be opposed, resisted and abolished.

In the wake of the atrocities of World War II, a document was drafted which stated “The protagonists of this practice of human experimentation justify their views on the basis that such experiments yield results for the good of society that are unprocurable by other methods or means of study. All agree, however, that certain basic principles must be observed in order to satisfy moral, ethical and legal concepts.” That was an excerpt from the Nuremberg Code. [11]

The most passionate and powerful testimony at the Aug. 23 hearing came from SHU survivors and prisoners’ family members, especially Earl Fears and Glenda Rojas shown here. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Have we as a society descended so far into the miasma of fear, hatred and dehumanization that we would condone the state-sponsored torture of thousands of humans from our communities, in our name?

I began this discussion with a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to illustrate the slippery slope we are on as a society. Maintenance of these torture units is an injustice; a continuation of the current law enforcement and correctional policy in relation to fundamental socio-economic disparities is inhumane. Injustice anywhere, even here in Corcoran SHU’s 4B1L-C-Section, is a threat to justice everywhere. Today it is us; tomorrow if may be someone you love or, God forbid, you yourself.
Have we as a society descended so far into the miasma of fear, hatred and dehumanization that we would condone the state-sponsored torture of thousands of humans from our communities, in our name?

It was Fyodor Dostoevsky who said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” How civilized is this society? And to answer that question with another: How civilized are you, the people who make it up?

If this second hunger strike effort has taught us anything, it is that the power to transform an intransigent industrial interest such as CDCR must come from the will of the people, from exercising your limitless power. Prison authorities were fully content to let us die this time and even modified their medical responses to maximize the chance of permanent injury or death to hunger strikers, which makes the broader aspects of this struggle so significant.
The power to transform an intransigent industrial interest such as CDCR must come from the will of the people, from exercising your limitless power.

This is not over. It is a protracted struggle that does not end, yet simply begins, with the abolition of SHU torture units. It is the intent of the NCTT to ensure not another human is done this way, not another soul lost to such greedy and heartless people. [12]

Participating in the first round of the hunger strike, 6,600 prisoners and in the second round 12,000 prisoners joined their comrades in SHU to demand an end to “gang validation” and the torture of solitary confinement.
It is our intent to fight for true rehabilitation and positive empowerment, not merely for current or ex-prisoners, but for the underclass communities we all too often hail from. If we can provide community-based initiatives and programs which address the inherent social inequalities in the class arrangement, this will eliminate the motive for property crimes – which make up 98 percent of all crime in the U.S. – and give us all safer and more prosperous communities, allowing us all to partake of the inalienable rights provided for in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The nature of California state and U.S. corrections must change. But to do that we must change society. Who dares to take up such a challenge? Who dares breathe life into the promise of the Declaration of Independence? Who dares champion the poor, the most disenfranchised and underdeveloped communities, the ghettoes, barrios and trailer parks of Amerika? Who dares champion the most vulnerable and urbanized in our society – the felon, the SHU prisoner, the poor?
Who dares champion the most vulnerable and urbanized in our society – the felon, the SHU prisoner, the poor?

Who dares do the right thing when the Scott Kernans of the world swear it’s wrong? Who dares to struggle? Who dares to win? We do, and we hope you do too.

Join us! This power to shape history and the future of the society is in your hands. We have faith you will uphold the highest standards of humanity. Our love and solidarity to all those who love freedom, justice and equality and fear only failure.

For more information on the NCTT or its work products and initiatives, contact Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, CSP-Cor-SHU 4B1L #53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212; J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, CSP-Cor-SHU 4B1L #46, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212; Kambui Robinson, C-82830, CSP-Cor-SHU 4B1L #49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212.

Related Posts

Letters from Hugo Pinell and other hunger strikers – Rally to support the hunger strikers

How the hunger strike started for me

George Jackson: Forty years ago they shot him down

Repression breeds resistance!

CDCR: Bay View is contraband for mentioning George Jackson and Black August

Article printed from San Francisco Bay View: http://sfbayview.com

URL to article: http://sfbayview.com/2011/we-dare-to-win-the-reality-and-impact-of-shu-torture-units/

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Hunger striker: Don’t stop pushing, pounding on the system

In: SF Bay View
August 3, 2011
by Jamal Ortiz

Greetings to you all from the brothas at Pelican Bay Ad-Seg Unit A1!

I cannot over-emphasize to all who have participated in the hunger strike – making complaints, group appeals and phone calls, writing letters, protesting or whatever other creative form of struggle we have been moved to contribute – we are keeping the momentum and pace of our advances going forward and progressive.

We cannot stop now. It will all be for nothing or a lesson of what not to do. There are many of our prison conditions which need to be reformed: the validation process, food, adequate health care, unsanitary and foul living conditions in SHU and Ad-Seg and a host of other problems.

Now is the time we need to push and pound on this system. Our collective unity and group operation is more powerful than an atom bomb.

A strong, tightly knit group of brothas who form the nucleus within the masses should formulate ideas, develop them into achievable objectives and work toward pushing and pounding the hell out of this prison system. Things don’t have to be the way they are. Don’t give up!

Revolution is not an act but it is a process that involves the actions of the masses. But the first step is establishing a strong nucleus and circle of brothas who are like minded. Once this circle is organized in lockstep order, we will be able to collectively move out and educate, influence and organize the masses.

Don’t let the California prison hunger strike and the support that flowed from various media outlets, including the Bay View, go for nothing. All prisoners are obligated to contribute in some way. Get organized, develop a plan, stick to the plan and make it happen. Don’t give up!

Send our brotha some love and light: Jamal Ortiz, K-94544, A1-118, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95531.

Reprieve Encourages Supporters to Write to Prisoners in Guantánamo

From Andy Worthington´s Blog:

19.1.11

In the Guardian’s Comment is free yesterday, Cortney Busch of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 of the remaining 173 prisoners in Guantánamo, encouraged Guardian readers to write to prisoners who might be losing hope because of the failure of the Obama administration to close the prison as promised — and as I described in my recent articles, Guantánamo Forever? and The Political Prisoners of Guantánamo.
Writing to the prisoners is an excellent idea, and one that I last helped promote last June, when some Facebook friends and activists took it upon themselves to encourage people to write to all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo. I’m also pleased to have helped to encourage people to write to prisoners through my involvement in the creation of a short film of former prisoner Omar Deghayes showing cards and letters he received while in Guantánamo, and speaking about what they meant to him and to the other prisoners, which was filmed as part of the making of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” and is included in the promotion for Amnesty International’s letter-writing campaign.

I’m pleased, therefore, to cross-post Cortney’s article below — and am also pleased that she specifically mentioned Younous Chekkouri, described as “one of the most peaceful and cooperative” prisoners, whose calmness and intelligence struck me when I was researching my book The Guantánamo Files five years ago, and trawling through the publicly available documents released (after a lawsuit) by the Pentagon.
I was delighted to hear that Younous “comes to each attorney meeting with a stack of pictures of roses to distribute to [Cortney’s] Reprieve colleagues as tokens of thanks,” and also to discover that he is a Sufi — something that, in all these years, I had never discovered. However, I also fear that, despite his formidable inner peace, and his valid explanations for being in Afghanistan (available here), Younous is regarded as one of the 48 prisoners that the Obama administration intends to hold indefinitely without charge or trial.

Pen pals can give hope to Guantánamo prisoners
Cortney Busch, The Guardian, January 18, 2011

The latest US legislation is causing dozens held at Guantánamo Bay to lose hope — but you can make a difference

When Reprieve attorney Cori Crider met her youngest client, 19-year-old Mohammed el Gharani, before his release from Guantánamo Bay in 2009, he made an unexpected request. He asked if she knew how he could get hold of some books, ideally on history or politics, to help him prepare himself for the outside world.

Mohammed had been sold to the US for a bounty when he was just 14, and spent his school years in Guantánamo’s military prison. He was worried that he would appear ignorant when he emerged. Reprieve put out a call and was quickly inundated with donated books, which Mohammed received with delight. But what encouraged him most were the hundreds of notes scrawled inside the covers — messages of humanity and kindness that Guantánamo prisoners rarely, if ever, receive.

Today Mohammed is a free man, and working hard at setting up his own laundrette in Chad. But many of his fellow detainees remain imprisoned — and have just been dealt a fresh and crushing blow. The National Defense Authorization Act 2011, recently signed into US law, bans the use of military funds to bring Guantánamo prisoners before US civilian courts — and makes releasing the 89 men who are already cleared to leave much more difficult. President Obama has criticised these provisions, promising to repeal them or to mitigate their effects. But for the moment the mood among Guantánamo’s prisoners is distinctly gloomy. This is why Reprieve is now asking people to take the unusual step of writing them letters of support.

A Guantánamo pen pal may seem a daunting prospect, but from my trips to the island prison over the past year I can personally recommend Younous Chekkouri, widely regarded as one of the most peaceful and cooperative detainees. He bears no ill will towards Americans and comes to each attorney meeting with a stack of pictures of roses to distribute to my Reprieve colleagues as tokens of thanks. Far from being a violent jihadi, Younous is a Sufi — a strikingly benign strand of Islam that values love and peace above all.

So how did such a person end up in Guantánamo? Much like Mohammed el Gharani, Younous was “sold” to the Americans. When the US declared war on Afghanistan in 2001, Younous and his wife fled Kabul for Pakistan, only to find that men of Arabic descent had become precious commodities. American forces were offering bounties of $5,000 (£3,125) per head to anyone who handed over a “terrorist”. The fliers offering the money promised schools, doctors, housing and unimaginable wealth for the reader and the community. Hundreds of people were rounded up, arrested en masse and sold to the US, and Younous found himself caught up in one of these sweeps and ultimately transferred to Guantánamo Bay.

Almost nine years later, Younous, like dozens of other men still held at Guantánamo, has never been charged with a crime or given the chance to clear his name. In fact, his challenge to his detention has only just reached the courtroom. As a member of Younous’s legal team, I know we have a good case that should soon, by rights, set him free. But I also know that Younous, like the other 172 men left in Guantánamo, is now beginning to despair of ever being released.

For many of these men, the last eight or nine years have been spent hundreds of miles from family and friends, without compassion and very little hope. Yet these are perhaps their darkest days yet. Please consider writing one of them a letter. As with the messages scrawled in Mohammed’s books, even the smallest word of encouragement lets them know they are not forgotten.

For details on how to write to one of Guantánamo’s “forgotten” prisoners, please visit this page on Reprieve’s website.

Note: Reprieve’s initiative contains the names and brief stories of some of the 173 men still held, and the following instructions for those planning to write:
Please address all letters to:
Detainee Name
Detainee ISN
Guantánamo Bay
P.O. Box 160
Washington, D.C. 20053
United States of America
Include a return address on the envelope.

Further information about prisoners to whom readers might want to write is available on the page I compiled last June for a similar project, Write to the Forgotten Prisoners in Guantánamo, and more detailed information about the men still held can be found in my nine-part series profiling the men still held, available via the following page: Introducing the Definitive List of the Remaining Prisoners in Guantánamo.

And finally, the short video below is of Mohammed El-Gharani thanking supporters for the many books that they sent him after Reprieve launched a campaign to help him:

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Ohio death row hunger striker: ‘If we must die’


By Bomani Hondo Shakur
Published Jan 3, 2011 7:49 PM
in: Workers World
Also see:
Lucasville, Ohio, prison uprising leaders go on hunger strike

IAC: Support Lucasville prisoners’ hunger strike!

Wrongfully convicted following a prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio, in 1993, Brother Bomani is currently at Ohio State Penitentiary, a supermax prison, where he and other prisoners began a hunger strike on Jan. 3, 2011. http://www.iacenter.org/ to sign the petition in support of the demands of these prisoners.

Before I speak my piece, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t want to die. I want to live and breathe and strive to do something righteous with my life. Truly. For the past 16 years, however, I’ve been in solitary confinement, confined to a cell 23 hours a day for something I didn’t do and, speaking honestly, I have gone as far as I’m willing to go. Am I giving up? No.

This is a protest, the only nonviolent way I can think of to express the deep disdain I have for the unjust situation that I am in. Make no mistake: My physical and mental strength is intact. However, to continue on in this way would be to lend legitimacy to a process that is both fraudulent and vindictive; this I am no longer willing to do.

I realize that for some of you the thought that an innocent man could be sent to prison and ultimately executed is inconceivable. But it happens. In a system that’s based more on competition than the equitable treatment of others, the football field is not the only place where participants are encouraged to win at all cost.

Hence, in order to be victorious, some prosecutors hide evidence, lie in open court and even pay for the perjured testimony of their witnesses. And this is exactly what happened in my case (and in the majority of the cases stemming from the 1993 prison uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville); there are a few people among you who have reviewed the file and know this to be the truth.

But let us for the moment put aside the question of my guilt or innocence, because that, believe it or not, is not what this is about. On that score, we have written several books, produced a play, and are putting the finishing touches on a full-scale documentary to illustrate the travesty of justice that has taken place here; and these things are available to you if you are interested. For now, I want to talk about dying …

In all that is presently unclear, one thing is certain: I have been sentenced to death, which, as you know, is the severest penalty known to man. Typically, when one has been given the death penalty, one is placed alongside other similarly sentenced prisoners and they, together, are housed in an area that has been designated as death row. As living situations go, this is a very bleak and miserable place. Men are sent here to die, to be killed by the state. No one in their right mind would ask to be sent here; and yet, this is precisely what I am asking, which should give you an indication of just how insufferable the situation I am living under is. And I am not alone.

When the uprising was over, and all was said and done, five of us were singled out as leaders and sentenced to death. Jason Robb, James Were (or “Namir,” as he prefers to be called), Siddique Abdullah Hasan, George Skatzes and myself. With the exception of George Skatzes, who for the past 10 years has been in a less pressurized — though by no means acceptable — situation, we have undergone penalty on top of penalty; been kept from fully participating in our appeals, from touching our friends and families; denied adequate medical treatment; and so many other things that are too numerous to name. In a word, we have been tortured. And yes, I’m aware that the word “tortured” is a strong word to use, but I know of no other word that more adequately describes what we have been through. We have been put through hell.

A few months ago, a federal judge recommended that my case be dismissed, which effectively moved me one step closer to being executed. It’s hard to explain how this made me feel, but upon hearing the news I immediately thought that a mistake had been made and that my attorney had somehow misunderstood the judge’s ruling. As it turns out, I was the one who misunderstood. Indeed, I have been “misunderstanding” things all along.

Treat us with ‘dignity’

When I was first named as a suspect in riot-related crimes, I was certain that my name would eventually be cleared. Instead, I received a nine-count murder indictment with death-penalty specifications. I was shocked. And then they offered me a deal: “Cop out to murder and we’ll forget the whole thing,” they told me. “But I’m innocent,” I said, thinking to myself that the truth of this would somehow set me free. And so, with the trust and faith of a fool, I went to trial, thinking and believing that I would receive a fair one (I didn’t) and that I would ultimately be exonerated (I wasn’t). And then, when I was sentenced to death, it was my understanding that I would be placed on death row and allowed to pursue my appeals alongside other similarly sentenced prisoners; but, again, I misunderstood … “Just wait until you get to federal court,” I was told, “and you’ll definitely get some relief there.” So I waited … I waited for 16 years!

If justice as a concept is real, then I could with some justification say, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” But this has never been about justice, and I finally, finally, finally understand that. For the past 16 years, I (we) have been nothing more than a scapegoat for the state, a convenient excuse that they can point to whenever they need to raise the specter of fear among the public or justify the expenditure of inordinate amounts of money for more locks or chains. And not only that, but the main reason behind the double penalty that we have been undergoing is so that we can serve as an example of what happens to those who challenge the power and authority of the state.

And like good little pawns we’re supposed to sit here and wait until they take us to their death chamber, strap us down to a gurney, and pump poison through our veins. Fuck that! I refuse to go out like that: used as a tool by the state to put fear into the hearts of others while legitimizing a system that is bogus and sold to those with money. That’s not my destiny.

At the beginning of this I wanted to make it perfectly clear that I didn’t want to die, and I don’t. Life is a beautiful thing, especially when one is conscious and aware of the value of one’s life. Sadly, it took going through this process for me to wake up and finally understand the value of my life. I say “wake up” because, unbeknownst to me, I had been asleep all this time, oblivious to the reality of my situation and unaware that the only way for one to stop dreaming (and gain some control over things) is for one to open one’s eyes. My eyes are open now.

Is it too late? I don’t know. As I said, the books have been written, the play has been performed, and, pretty soon, the documentary will be completed. But what good are these things if they never enter into the stream of public opinion and force the governor (who answers to the public) to issue a general amnesty?

Admittedly, convincing the governor to bend in our favor will be a difficult undertaking, one which will require huge amounts of energy and effort on our behalf. But it can be done; at the very least, it can be attempted. In the meantime, we who have been sentenced to death must be granted the exact same privileges as other death-sentenced prisoners. If we must die, we should be allowed to do so with dignity, which is all we’re asking: the opportunity to pursue our appeals unimpeded, to be able to touch our friends and family, and to no longer be treated as playthings but as human beings who are facing the ultimate penalty.

Again, I stress the fact that I do not want to die, but in the words of [poet] Claude McKay, I share the following as my parting sentiments:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O, let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain: then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though deed!

O kinsman! We must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

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Dr. Atul Gawande: Solitary Confinement is Torture

DemocracyNow.org interviewed Dr Atul Gawande on january 5th 2011 about health care, but also about Solitary Confinement. Here is the rush transcript:

The physical and psychological effects experienced by people held for extended periods in solitary confinement is a topic Dr. Atul Gawande has written extensively about. Yesterday, four prisoners in the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary launched a hunger strike to protest being held for more than 17 years years in solitary confinement. The alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, has also been held in solitary confinement for much of the past seven months. “People experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture,” says Dr. Gawande.

Guest:

Dr. Atul Gawande, associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health and is a practicing surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He’s also a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. He is the author of three books; the most recent is The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I want to switch gears for a moment. You wrote a remarkable piece about the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners, on people who have been held in isolation for a long time. On this issue, I just want to turn to the case of the four prisoners in a supermax prison, the Ohio State Penitentiary. This week they launched a hunger strike to protest what they call their harsh mistreatment under solitary confinement. The prisoners—Bomani Shakur, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb and Namir Abdul Mateen—were sentenced to death for their involvement in the 1993 prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio. For over 17 years, they’ve been held in 23-hours-a-day solitary lockdown. On Monday, the four began refusing to eat meals until they are moved out of solitary confinement and onto death row, where they say they’ll get better treatment. Yesterday I spoke—Amy spoke with the longtime peace activist, historian and lawyer, Staughton Lynd. He wrote the definitive history of the 1993 Ohio prison uprising at Lucasville. He described the prisoners’ conditions. Let’s take a listen.

STAUGHTON LYND: They are held in more restrictive confinement than the more than 100 other death sentence prisoners in the same prison. Now, why is this? It’s precisely because the system thinks of them as leaders. So, it will let them watch television. They even let Bomani Shakur use a typewriter. But what they don’t let any of the four men do is to be in the same space as another human being other than a guard at the same time. And this means that while other death sentence prisoners can wander about the pod, can have collective meals outside their cells, and especially can have semi-contact visits with their friends and families, the four are always obliged to encounter the world either through a solid cell door or, when they go out on a visit, through a solid pane of glass. So that, again, Bomani has a niece and nephew aged eight and three that he loves and would wish to touch. If he were on death row, he could do that. But he’s been told by the prison authorities he will never be on death row, because they’re going to keep him in social isolation until they kill him.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Staughton Lynd, the longtime peace activist, lawyer, talking about these four men who have now gone on a hunger strike at the Ohio State Penitentiary, demanding to be put on death row, where they say that they will be treated better.

And then we’ve got the case of the alleged WikiLeaks Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, who’s being held in solitary confinement. Twenty-two years old, U.S. Army private, arrested in May, has been in detention ever since. For the past five months, he’s been held at the U.S. Marine brig at Quantico, Virginia, before that, held for two months in a military jail in Kuwait. Last month, we spoke to Glenn Greenwald, the political and legal blogger at Salon.com. Glenn reported that Manning is being held under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment, and even torture. This is what Glenn Greenwald said.

GLENN GREENWALD: He’s been held for seven months without being convicted of any crime. And the conditions that I recently discovered he’s being held in are really quite disturbing. And this has been true for the entire seven-month duration of his detention. He is in solitary confinement, and he’s not only in solitary confinement, which means that he’s in a cell alone, but he’s there for 23 out of 24 hours every day. He is released for one hour a day only. So, 23 out of the 24 hours a day he sits alone. He is barred from even doing things like exercising inside of his cell. He’s constantly supervised and monitored, and if he does that, he’s told immediately to stop. There are very strict rules about what he’s even allowed to do inside the cell. Beyond that, he’s being denied just the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, such as a pillow and sheets, and has been denied that without explanation for the entire duration of his visit, as well. And there is a lot of literature and a lot of psychological studies, and even studies done by the U.S. military, that show that prolonged solitary confinement, which is something that the United States does almost more than any other country in the Western world, of the type to which Manning is subjected, can have a very long-term psychological damage, including driving people to insanity and the like. It clearly is cruel and unusual; it’s arguably a form of torture. And given that Manning has never been convicted of anything, unlike the convicts at supermaxes to whom this treatment is normally applied, it’s particularly egregious.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That’s Glenn Greenwald, the political and legal blogger at Salon.com. In his piece that he wrote about Manning, he actually cited your article “Hellhole,” which you document what happens to people held in isolation. Explain why this is thought of as a form of torture in many places.

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: Well, I was interested in whether it really was torture, and I was interested because this has become, I think, a generationally defining question for us. In the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, solitary confinement was very unusual. Today, we have over 50,000 people in long-term solitary confinement in our American prisons now. You know, in states like New York— it’s across every—red and blue states. We have—New York has over eight percent of its prison population in long-term solitary confinement. A large proportion—some think a majority—are not there for violent offenses, either. It’s a method of control that we regard as increasingly routine. And so, what my puzzle was, is it torture, or is it not?

And what I looked back to was the experience and the literature, which is much richer, around what hostages and prisoners of war—our Vietnam veterans, for example—experienced when they went through solitary confinement. And what’s found is that people experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture. Vietnam veterans who received physical torture—John McCain had two-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, had his legs and arm broken during his imprisonment, but described the two-and-a-half years that he spent in solitary as being the most cruel component and the most terrifying aspect of what he went under. You also look at studies that show that people held in isolation from other human beings—we actually need social, friendly interaction with other people to be sane, to be absolutely—

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. You document how people actually reach a level of psychosis.

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: That’s right. Not everybody.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: They begin to lose their minds, right?

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: Not everybody. The people who become psychotic in solitary confinement are people who often have attention deficit disorder or low IQ or issues of prior mental illness. Well, guess who is in our prisons? And there’s a very high rate of psychosis and people flat-out going crazy under the confinement conditions. And so, then what I puzzle over is, does it actually reduce our violence in our prisons? The evidence from multiple studies now is that not only that it has not reduced violence, it’s increased the costs of being in prison. And my finding was that we have decided that when it is political—when it is a prisoner of war or a hostage, that it is absolutely torture when other countries do this to people, and that there is no discernible difference in the experience of what people go through in our prisons, when they’re in solitary confinement for 14 years, in the case of one person who I documented, that this is torture.

Source: DemocracyNow. Please support them!

Georgia: Prisoners’ protest over. For now.

By Rhonda Cook
3:49 p.m. Wednesday, December 15, 2010
The prison system began lifting lock downs at four institutions and returning the facilities to normal operations Wednesday and inmate said they were ending their protest for now and reporting to work assignments.
One of the organizers of the protest said prisoners are still going to pursue their concerns. If the Department of Corrections ignores their requests, the next protest will be violent, he said.
Prison officials did not say what led to the decision to end the lock downs that had been in place since last Thursday. But an inmate at Smith State Prison in Glenville said in a telephone interview prisoners had agreed to end their “non-violent” protest to allow administrators time to focus on their concerns rather than operating the institutions without inmate labor.
“We’ve ended the protest,” said Mike, a convicted armed robber who was one of the inmates who planned and coordinated the work stoppage. “We needed to come off lock down so we can go to the law library and start … the paperwork for a [prison conditions] lawsuit.
“We’re just giving them time to … meet our requests without having to worry about us on lock down,” Mike told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday.
Mike is one of the inmates who organized the protest at Smith prison who has talked to the AJC about it. He did not want his last name published for fear of retaliation from prison officials, but agreed to allow the AJC to verify his prisoner identification number, which the paper then cross-checked with the Department of Corrections website.
Inmates began planning the protest in early September when tobacco was banned throughout the prison system. The inmates said they picked  Dec. 9 as the day to start because it allowed time for the word to spread throughout the system and because the temperature in the cellblocks would be cooler by then, which is important when otherwise violent men are trying to keep their tempers in check.
Over the months before the protest and in the days after it began, updates and details were spread inmate-to-inmate and prison-to-prison using cell phones, text messages and word of mouth.
Beginning last Thursday and for six days inmates at several prisons refused to leave their cells in protest of the lack of pay for the work they do maintaining and running prison operations and cleaning other government properties; state law forbids paying inmates except for one limited program. The  prisoners also were protesting the quality of the food and the lack of  fruits and vegetables, the quality of medical care, the availability of education and job training programs, parole decisions and overall conditions.
Read more here… 

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Here is a message of support to those who went on strike in the Georgia prisons:

A letter to the prisoners on strike in Georgia
Posted By Mary On December 15, 2010 SF Bay View
The organizations expressing their support in this letter are sponsoring a rally and march on Friday, Dec. 17, starting at 4 p.m. at North County Jail, 661 Washington St. in Downtown Oakland, and later marching to 14th and Broadway – JOIN THEM!
We, as members of activist and community organizations in the Bay Area of California, send our support for your strike against the terrible conditions you face in Georgia’s prisons. We salute you for making history as your strike has become the largest prison strike in the history of this nation. As steadfast defenders of human and civil rights, we recognize the potential that your action has to improve the lives of millions subject to inhumane treatment in correctional facilities across this country.
Photo:
This chain gang was photographed on a road near the maximum security South Florida Reception Center in Miami. Chain gangs are becoming common again, especially in the South. If the striking Georgia prisoners draw enough support, prisoners in neighboring states like Florida and around the country are likely to make similar demands.
Every single day, prisoners face the same deplorable and unnecessarily punitive conditions that you have courageously decided to stand up against. For too long, this nation has chosen silence in the face of the gross injustices that our brothers and sisters in prison are subjected to. Your fight against these injustices is a necessary and righteous struggle that must be carried out to victory.
We have heard about the brutal acts that Georgia Department of Corrections officers have been resorting to as a means of breaking your protest and we denounce them. In order to put a stop to the violence to which you have been subjected, we are now in the process of developing contacts with the personnel at the different prison facilities and circulating petitions addressed to the governor and the Georgia DOC. We will continue to expose the DOC’s shameless physical attacks on you and use our influence to call for an immediate end to the violence.
Here, in the Bay Area, we are all too familiar with the violence that this system is known to unleash upon our people. Recently, our community erupted in protest over the killing of an unarmed innocent Black man named Oscar Grant by transit police in Oakland. We forced the authorities to arrest and convict the police officer responsible for Grant’s murder by building up a mass movement. We intend to win justice with you and stop the violent repression of your peaceful protest in the same way – by appealing to the power and influence of the masses.
We fully support all of your demands. We strongly identify with your demand for expanded educational opportunities. In recent years, our state government has been initiating a series of massive cuts to our system of public education that continue to endanger our right to a quality, affordable education; in response, students all across our state have stood up and fought back just as you are doing now.
In fact, students and workers across the globe have begun to organize and fight back against austerity measures and the corresponding violence of the state. Just in the past few weeks in Greece, Ireland, Spain, England, Italy, Haiti, Puerto Rico – tens and hundreds of thousands of students and workers have taken to the streets. We, as a movement, are gaining momentum and we do so even more as our struggles are unified and seen as interdependent.
At times we are discouraged. It may seem insurmountable. But in the words of Malcolm X, “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power on behalf of tyranny and oppression.”
You have inspired us. News of your strike, from day one, has served to inspire and invigorate hundreds of students and community organizers here in Berkeley and Oakland alone. We are especially inspired by your ability to organize across color lines and are interested in hearing an account from the inside of how this process developed and was accomplished.
You have also encouraged us to take more direct actions toward radical prison reform in our own communities, namely Santa Rita County Jail and San Quentin Prison. We are now beginning the process of developing a similar set of demands regarding expediting processing – it can take 20-30 hours to get a bed; they call it “bullpen therapy” – nutrition, visiting and phone calls, educational services, legal support, compensation for labor and humane treatment in general. We will also seek to unify the education and prison justice movements by collaborating with existing organizations that have been engaging in this work.
We echo your call: No more Slavery! Injustice to one is injustice to all!
In us, students, activists, the community members and people of the Bay Area, you have an ally. We will continue to spread the news about your cause all over the Bay Area and California, the country and world. We pledge to do everything in our power to make sure your demands are met.
In solidarity,
UC-Berkeley Student Worker Action Team (SWAT), Community Action Project (CAP), La Voz de los Trabajadores (www.lavozlit.com), Laney College Student Unity & Power (SUPLaney.wordpress.com), Laney College Black Student Union (BSU), Bay Area United Against War Newsletter (bauaw.org), Socialist Viewpoint magazine (socialistviewpoint.org), Workers International League (www.socialistappeal.org), Bay Area ISO (norcalsocialism.org), We Are the Crisis (UC Davis Chapter), Bicycle Barricades (UC Davis)

This letter originally appeared at Defend California Public Education [2] on Dec. 15, posted by Juan G. It is also available there and below as a petition you can sign: Solidarity Petition for the Prisoners on Strike in Georgia