By Kendra Castaneda
Update from Calipatria ASU (also published in the SF Bay View, scrll down to view it there):
“We got our cable and it’s a big difference. Lots of people here in segregation haven’t had this type of stimulation in years. It allows us to see what’s going on in the world and to actually see beyond these walls. We have 7 channels (not including the institutional channels). We get Telefutura, Telemundo (both spanish), FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, CW. Then there’s 3 Christian channels and there’s the institutional channels where they show us “PG-13” movies and play music. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but it’s a lot more than what we had.
The warden said that by next year each prison will establish their own committee to review our cases and determine whether we get kicked out to the mainline. People have been getting validated still but it has slowed down since IGI E. Duarte got re-assigned to the ASU unit. The unity here is strong and us of the like mind and heart are in solidarity with the struggle. We haven’t forgot about the Short Corridor and our support from here is in full. Better days are ahead for us all but most importantly for those who’ve endured these torture chambers for decades and on.”
ASU – 130
P.O. Box 5008
Calipatria, CA 92233
“I would like to shed some light regarding my time I have come across with Institutional Gang Investigator (IGI) E. Duarte! My name is German Cabrera, CDC# T-50054; I’ve been in ASU (Administrative Segregation Unit) since 10/26/2009. I am currently validated as an alleged associate of a prison gang and I did have a discussion with IGI E. Duarte prior to being placed in the hole (segregation).
That bad day took place on 5/14/2009, IGI E. Duarte and his Sergeant forced me to sign what’s called a “safety chrono”, when I refused to do so I was threatened to be placed in the hole. How it took place was as follows: On 5/14/2009 after taking my work shower at my return from my vocation assignment (job) and yard was recalled completely in (B5), I was walking out of the shower and I noticed a sergeant just looking at me. He didn’t say anything though I did not have 5 minutes in my cell when my cell door reopened and was told by the tower that I had a 115 hearing in the program office.
I told him to close my door, didn’t think he was serious. So he did but just to reopen it and said “they want you to go to the program office for a 115.” I asked who is they? He replied “the Sergeant”. I replied to him that the Sgt. was just here and did not say anything plus the Sergeants don’t hear 115’s, it’s the Lieutenants that do plus I didn’t have any 115s. I told him to close my door, he (Duarte) insisted but ended up closing it.
Seconds later the floor officer came and said “they wanted me to cuff you and take you to the office.” I asked “do you know who?” He replied “you know who it is!” Then he went ahead to say “but I’m out of it.” So I told him “get out of it then and get away from my cell door.” He did and minutes later I heard squad’s arrival, it was around 5 or 10 of them. When I got closer to my door and looked it was an officer heading towards my cell door real fast, when he arrived his name tag said “E Duarte”. Duarte started to get loud stating “you like attention huh”, “you like attention huh”, “okay I’m going to give you attention.” I told him “I don’t even know who he is for him to get crazy with me”. He ended up cuffing us up while cuffed up and out of the cell he was acting dumb with my cellie trying to intimidate him.
Then I was told I needed to sign something and I asked what it was; it was a “safety chrono”. I stated to them “I’m cool.” Duarte said “if you don’t sign it you’re going to the hole (segregation).” Then it was given to IGI Tamayo who read it, I then asked him “this is what you’re using to remove me from General Population?” I asked because they did so with another inmate in my building. IGI Tamayo said “oh you’ll know when I’d come for you”. I got into a little discussion of how come they can’t just take my word that I have no issues (safety concerns) and I don’t know what’s really behind this chrono because it doesn’t say if and how it was proven to be true or reliable. So in reality I don’t know (what) and (why) I’m signing then (IGI Sgt. E. Silva) jumped in saying to chill out that I do need to sign it or they will place me in the hole (ASU).
I ended up signing because I had a lot going, I was in vocational training – AA classes – in cell studies plus earning good time credits and I remained in B yard for 5 ½ months until the incident involving inmates and c/o’s in B-2. The incident with Velarde (Harold Anthony Velarde vs. E. Duarte court case in the United States District Court Southern District Of California) and the c/o that hit the inmate while he was cuffed after the searches, me and other Mexicans/Latinos/Hispanics were placed in Adseg/Holes! I got targeted in this validated process, asserted and refuted the following:
I was picked up by IGI pending an investigation into alleged association(s) with a prison gang and as an alleged active member of street gang/disruptive group. I refute IGI’s source items used against me in this duo-validation individual and collectively and assert that this malicious targeting was done in retribution and revenge for the prior incident involving myself and IGI Duarte in which Duarte exhibited a hostile nature and unnecessary forced me to sign a “safety chrono” as well as a subsequent incident involving Mexicans/Latinos/Hispanics and I assert that Duarte’s unnecessary forcing was a personal attack on my character and positive programming in this institution. A fact supporting Duarte’s use of invalid information given by inmates seeking protective custody is illuminated by me remaining on B-yard General Population, several months with no incident; expounding on this doubly damning attack on my character.
I have been targeted and harassed on numerous occasions proceeding this validation process and in violation of my due process rights, due solely to my appearance (as stated by IGI Duarte who while handing me my street gang/disruptive group validation packet sneered at me stating “you got it all over your face”, pointing to my facial area responding to my surprised utterance.”)
They’re using my past against me in addition to IGI Tamayo’s alleged interview where he states I self-admitted to being a gang member. That is a complete fabrication of the events of such day and the abuse of power and malicious harassment of IGI’s.
I have suffered these unconstitutional harassments specifically at the hands of IGI E. Duarte, IGI Tamayo, IGI Silva with a certain number of searches occurring after facility searches or returning from OTC (out of court) 5/2008. With specific reference to incidents such as the constant search and seizure of property with no real provocation, no probable cause, and never yielding any contraband directly related to any association either gang or prison gang. Also, malicious acts such as derogatory practices of withholding my outgoing mail and disallowing my incoming mail as its unconstitutional and puts a strain on my family relationships.
In 2009 I was given the street gang packet and was made to believe it was going to be submitted so both packets gave me (11 points) to rebuttal. Knowing how they go about their evil ways:
1) Because when Duarte and Tamayo came to pick them up, as soon as he got in front of my door I slid them my arguments and they stated “you’re done?” looking all surprised. Plus when they left to do the copies they are obligated to give me, the copies were purposely made wrong!
2) All those points were obviously given to me all at once in hopes I get stressed out and not be capable to rebuttal nor do it correctly.
3) They, IGI’s were hiding my property because most of property consists of legal books, case law, and coincidently I had (validation manual) when I made it clear to all involved (officers and officials) how I was not going to allow their criminal tactics to be pushed on me, without a fight on my behalf. They all told me IGI has to have it. Then like magic my property appeared but days before I was officially validated by Sacramento.
I have several appeals/602’s and staff complaints against IGI and ISU as a whole as well as several of them as individuals. But I was expected of them to respond that their c/o’s did nothing wrong, it doesn’t matter to me because I preserved my rights doing so.
Before I bring this to a close, just recently I was served again with the street gang/disruptive group just because I requested for the face sheet of that packet out of my central file (C-file) so they retaliated and reserved me. On my interview for it, I came out and IGI Duarte was there, I made it clear what was he doing there if I have a staff complaint on him and this past Monday when I went out for medical within the facility I ran into IGI E. Duarte he was the Sergeant for that day. Yup, he’s a Sergeant now, he was the last one of the squad (corrupted) that placed most of all of us in ASU and he will be working in ASU a couple of days out of the week!
I know for a fact there’s a lot of merit in appeals/602’s and complaints filed against Duarte. How is it that he got promoted and on top of that work where inmates he conspired against are housed where he physically hurt an inmate. People out there should request to be provided documents specific to what are the requirements for a c/o (correctional officer) to become a Sergeant and what disqualifies a c/o from getting promoted becoming a Sergeant?
“Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor” – Ginetta Sagan
Calipatria State Prison ASU
Written on 8/9/2012, postmarked on 8/10/2012 to Kendra Castaneda and transcribed on 8/14/2012
Posted On December 14, 2011 in the SF Bay View
by Kendra Castaneda
In the California prison system, Ad-Seg (Administrative Segregation) and ASU (Administrative Segregation Units) are classified as “temporary,” but many prisoners have been in the ASU for years. At Calipatria State Prison near the Mexican border in the Mojave Desert, Ad-Seg is a bit better than ASU because the ASU was purposely built away from the rest of the prison in a building of its own.
It’s so isolated the prison authorities can do anything they want to the ASU inmates without anyone knowing. They use the ASU to house the men they are holding longer than the “temporary” time. For example, almost all the men are validated – determined through a very flawed process to be members of a prison gang – and awaiting transfer to a SHU (Security Housing Unit).
They wait for years in ASU, while the men in Ad-Seg are mostly those “under investigation” or charged for a stabbing or a fight with a sentence of approximately one year in segregation. Ad-Segs are also attached to the prison itself so the conditions are not so protected from view as in a detached ASU building.
Conditions in Ad-Segs and ASUs vary widely from one prison to the next. Not every prison has an ASU, and some prisons with Ad-Segs are not as inhumane as others. The way the administration at a particular prison wants to run its segregation units determines their conditions.
Current inhumane conditions at Calipatria State Prison ASU (Administration Segregation Unit)
The men in the ASU unit wear dirty laundry; their boxers get changed approximately every three months. They are holey, dirty and gross.
The food is moldy, spoiled and rotten. Many men are not fed at all; the correctional officers state they “ran out of food.” The men in the corner cells are forced to go hungry most of the time.
There are no TVs or radios; therefore, hundreds of men are forced to stare at a concrete wall all day, which violates CDCR’s DOM (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Department Operations Manual). Although these units are already equipped with cables, Warden Leland McEwen refuses to allow the inmates an appliance (radio or TV) in their cell to stimulate their minds while in complete segregation.
Almost all of the men in Calipatria’s ASU have been placed there on “suspicion” of prison gang activity, but even if they commit no gang-related act and are not being disciplined, they are held in complete “temporary” segregation for years.
They are allowed outdoors three times a week to “exercise” in dog cages, but that schedule is not kept. Many correctional officers pick and choose which men they want to allow outside, and their outside time is often cancelled due to staff meetings or staff barbeques.
Some of the men have been sitting in a concrete cell and denied permission to go outside to any yard for a long time.
The men in ASU are allowed to receive books through a vendor paid by a family member or friend. But for the many men who do not have anyone to buy books for them, they have an inmate exchange, where Level 4 inmates donate books for the ASU men. These books frequently have pages ripped out, and the library’s selection of books isn’t sufficient for 200 men. Many men have read the same book 100 times. An inmate in ASU can only have one book in his cell a week, and the trading books with another inmate is difficult. The prison does not routinely allow them even to exchange their own books with each other.
There is only one nail clipper for 200 men to share, and the correctional officers do not clean the clipper.
There is only one hair clipper for 200 men to share, and the correctional officers do not clean that either.
The tiers are extremely dirty, and the correctional officers refuse to clean them. In January 2011 the men purposely submitted to a forced “cell extraction” so the prison would be cleaned. The cells are unsanitary, and black widow spiders often find their way into the cells due to Calipatria being in the desert.
The men are forced to go outside in the winter desert cold with no shoes on, with their bare feet and no clothing but boxer shorts. The temperatures at Calipatria can get down to 32 degrees; it is cold and extremely windy in the winter time. The men are forced to wear nothing but boxers, and some do not get blankets in their freezing cold cells.
Calipatria Warden Leland McEwen
All eight emergency exits at Calipatria ASU are purposely barricaded and blocked with boxes of sand on the orders of Calipatria Warden Leland McEwen.
The men are not given proper medical treatment, for there is NO MEDICAL facility at Calipatria State Prison. Men in the ASU currently have broken bones, internal health problems, Hepatitis C and many need surgery. These men have been waiting in ASU for years in pain. The prison purposely ignores the men’s request slips for medical treatment.
The men in the ASU have been there for one year, two years, three or four years, and one man has been there for seven years straight. The men ask the ICC (Institutional Classification Committee) why they are not being transferred to Pelican Bay SHU. They beg to be transferred to the SHU, yet the response from Warden McEwen, Assistant Warden Anderson and IGI (Institutional Gang Investigator) Sgt. E. Duarte and by all the other IGIs is to “parole, debrief or DIE.”
After the second hunger strike, Warden McEwen ordered IGI Sgt. H. Groth and his fellow officers to walk around in the ASU harassing the inmates.
In the Calipatria ASU, Hispanic men are being falsely validated left and right by IGI Sgt. E. Duarte abusing his power. Out of 200 men in the ASU, there are about 10 Black men, a few white men, one or two classified by CDCR as “others,” and the rest – over 150 inmates – are Hispanic.
The only African American inmate in my husband’s pod in ASU, in cell 159, died a few weeks ago. The inmates are saying it was a cover-up. The prison originally said it was a suicide, but the men are saying it was no suicide.
This man was harassed on purpose by IGI Sgt. Groth and his fellow officers right before he mysteriously died. As of a few days ago, the inmates are saying the officers are now being ‘hush hush’ about the man’s death but the family of the man who died says this was no suicide.
Calipatria State Prison refuses to speak to the family. CDCR refuses to speak to the family or give the family any information pertaining to how he died. Calipatria’s Sgt. Garcia, who works at the coroner’s office, tells the family of the man who died that the autopsy reports will be available in six to nine weeks, and the family has already laid his body to rest. The family mentioned to me that their son took part in both of the hunger strikes; therefore, the autopsy report should show deterioration of certain body parts. But the family is being denied all of his death reports.
In the ASU unit, visits to the men are often cancelled on purpose, or the prison ignores family requests for the ASU men. Visits are stripped from many of the men due to false charges made against them; therefore, these men are forced to never see their families.
Almost all the men in the ASU have been classified already as validated “SHU status inmates.” They sit illegally in an ASU cell for years on end, being denied a transfer to a SHU facility. Due to their classification, it does not matter that the hold is supposed to be temporary. These men are stripped of their privileges as if they were in Ad-Seg and live under the same constraints as if they were in an actual SHU facility.
As of today, the Calipatria ASU is full. Their A5 segregation unit is for the “overflow,” and it is almost full. The prison has started to make plans to construct another ASU. If they do, there will be two ASUs and one A5 overflow unit.
The men at Calipatria ASU call that particular ASU the “ASU/SHU,” because they say it is worse than a SHU facility.
Kendra Castaneda is prisoner human rights activist with a loved one currently incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison ASU (Administrative Segregation Unit)..
Article printed from San Francisco Bay View: http://sfbayview.com
URL to article: http://sfbayview.com/2011/inhumane-conditions-at-calipatria-state-prison-asu/
URLs in this post:
 Email suppressed.
 Hunger strike organizer: Ad-Seg/ASU units are bad news: http://sfbayview.com/2011/hunger-strike-organizer-ad-segasu-units-are-bad-news/
 Hunger striker dies mysteriously at Calipatria, family reports funeral is Tuesday, Nov. 22, in Oakland: http://sfbayview.com/2011/hunger-striker-dies-mysteriously-at-calipatria-funeral-saturday-in-oakland-family-contact-needed/
 Medical condition of hunger strikers deteriorates, some days away from death: http://sfbayview.com/2011/medical-condition-of-hunger-strikers-deteriorates-some-days-away-from-death/
 CDCR: Bay View is contraband for mentioning George Jackson and Black August: http://sfbayview.com/2011/cdcr-bay-view-is-contraband-for-mentioning-george-jackson-and-black-august/
 As hunger strikers’ medical crises worsen, marchers will ‘bring the noise’ to downtown SF at rush hour Friday: http://sfbayview.com/2011/as-hunger-strikers-medical-crises-worsen-marchers-will-bring-the-noise-to-downtown-sf-at-rush-hour-friday/
Hunger strike organizer: Ad-Seg/ASU units are bad news
December 13, 2011
by Todd Ashker
In: SF Bay View
Written Dec. 4, 2011 – On Nov. 30, myself and several other men here – whom CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) has labeled as “leaders” of the peaceful protests – received serious rule violations, charging us with causing a riot or mass disturbance. They referred the charges for felony prosecution to the local D.A’s office. We’re all hoping the D.A. will file so we can expose these human rights violations even more.
Feeling as if he’s being buried alive, an unknown prisoner depicts the torturous effects of control units – called SHUs (security housing units), ASUs, Ad/Segs etc. – on the people confined in them. Fighting to end their use – or at least mitigate their abuses – is the purpose of the hunger strikes. – Drawing by unknown prisoner
With respect to Ad/Seg units having a voice, we’d included all SHUs and Ad/Seg units from the beginning in our formal complaint and in letters from me and others, and in the July protest, all the SHUs and many Ad/Seg units were referenced by the media.
It’s a good thing to have some exposure of related violations – torture going on in the Ad/Segs. We all need to be united and work together on making the wrongs in this system right!
It’s a good thing to have exposure of torture going on in the Ad/Segs. We all need to be united and work together on making the wrongs in this system right!
The Ad-Seg/ASU (Administrative Segregation Unit) units are bad news! I was never housed in them until being put in the one here on Sept. 29. This was CDCR’s retaliatory action against 15 of us here.
We were all isolated on a tier, in strip cells with nothing but a set of clothes and fish kit – spoon, cup, bar of soap etc. – with ice cold air blasting outta the vents! The warden personally told us, “As soon as you eat, you can go back to your SHU (Security Housing Units) cells.”
My “mattress” was not even a mattress. It only had lumps of padding in places and was only 50 inches long – on ice cold concrete. This was all intentional, by design. They know that when a person is subject to cold, the body requires more energy. When you’re not eating, the ice will cause your body to feed on muscle and internal organs and the brain etc. much faster. Permanent damage can happen a lot faster.
And the way it (the unit) is built, it’s next to impossible to get staff’s attention if one of us fell out in the cell. We’d have been through – DOA! We were there until Oct. 13, and I went from 200 pounds to 176 pounds. We were going to remain there to the death.
CDCR top administration begged us to come off of the hunger strike, promising real change soon, and made a presentation to our attorneys that satisfied them regarding CDCR’s sincerity. So we agreed to come off – we told our mediation team via phone conference on the 13th that our decision to end our hunger strike was ours alone, and it shouldn’t affect any other prisoners’ decision on their own hunger strike!
After my experience in the ASU, I can see the only major difference between ASU and here in PBSP SHU is the lack of a TV or radio in the cell. CDCR was supposed to retrofit the ASU cells for appliance capability since 2009 – I have the memo!
They’re able to buy the same canteen and get a yearly package after a year. Their yard cages actually are better than our cement ice box yards, because you can see and talk to other guys and have a better view of the outside.
Still, all of these lockup units are foul places to be – even temporarily. And the acts and omissions by staff in such units are illegal – in principle and especially in practice – long term!
It’s very important to include the ASUs in the SHU actions because it’s clear that when CDCR does revise (SHU) policy and men start getting out to general population, there’ll be a lot of abuses by some staff fabricating reasons to “investigate” such prisoners to getting off general population and they’ll be subject to a lot of ASU time – at least at first.
Once a pattern of such abuse of power is established, it can be exposed to the court. Therefore, if for no other reason, it’s critical to include ASUs in the process of challenging SHU issues!
Send our brother some love and light – he is one of the original organizers of the historic hunger strikes that involved over 12,000 California prisoners at their peak in late September, early October: Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP D1-119, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.
They continue to torture us like animals
by the men in Calipatria State Prison Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU)
Written Nov. 22, 2011 – They continue to torture us like animals. These high ranking officials continue to promise us some change to our living conditions. We continue to stare at four concrete walls with not much to do.
A gang of prison investigators searches for reasons to label California prisoners members of prison gangs so they can confine them to control units, called SHUs, ASUs and Ad/Segs. – Drawing: R. Garcia
One goes to committee and asks as to our transfers to Pelican Bay SHU, and Assistant Warden S. Anderson, IGI (Institutional Gang Investigator) Trujillo and Warden Leland McEwen simply state that they aren’t changing anything, so “parole, debrief or DIE.” That’s what everyone is getting back in response to these ICC (Institutional Classification Committee) hearings; that in itself is torture.
We would also like to express an individual just hung himself due to this psychologically torturous environment. It’s ugly back here. Now where’s the rehabilitation in that aspect?
The conditions definitely has not changed and the validations has yet to yield. IGI Duarte is one of the main individuals abusing his power, continuing to place men in indeterminate isolation.
Conditions in Calipatria ASU have not changed, and all we continue to hear is lies, lies, lies and more lies! With this we close with our appreciation and respect.
The following press release was posted yesterday at Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity: go to the site and show them some support.
Condolences to these men’s loved ones.
Three Prisoners Die in Hunger Strike Related Incidents: CDCR Withholds Information from Family Members, Fails to Report Deaths
November 17, 2011
Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros
Oakland – In the month since the second phase of a massive prisoner hunger strike in California ended on September 22nd, three prisoners who had been on strike have committed suicide. Johnny Owens Vick and another prisoner were both confined in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit and Hozel Alanzo Blanchard was confined in the Calipatria Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU).
According to reports from prisoners who were housed in surrounding cells and who witnessed the deaths, guards did not come to the assistance of one of the prisoners at Pelican Bay or to Blanchard, and in the case of the Pelican Bay prisoner (whose name is being withheld for the moment) apparently guards deliberately ignored his cries for help for several hours before finally going to his cell, at which point he was already dead. “It is completely despicable that prison officials would willfully allow someone to take their own life,” said Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “These guys were calling for help, their fellow prisoners were calling for help, and guards literally stood by and watched it happen.”
Family members of the deceased as well as advocates are having difficult time getting information about the three men and the circumstances of their deaths. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is required to do an autopsy is the cases of suspicious deaths and according to the Plata case, is required to do an annual report on every death in the system. Family members have said that their loved ones, as well as many other prisoners who participated in the hunger strike, were being severely retaliated against with disciplinary actions and threats. Blanchard’s family has said that he felt that his life was threatened and had two emergency appeals pending with the California Supreme Court at the time of his death.
“It is a testament to the dire conditions under which prisoners live in solitary confinement that three people would commit suicide in the last month,” said Laura Magnani, Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee, “It also points to the severe toll that the hunger strike has taken on these men, despite some apparent victories.” Prisoners in California’s SHUs and other forms of solitary confinement have a much higher rate of suicide than those in general population.
The hunger strike, which at one time involved the participation of at least 12,000 prisoners in 13 state prisons was organized around five core demands relating to ending the practices of group punishment, long-term solitarily confinement, and gang validation and debriefing. The CDCR has promised changes to the gang validation as soon as early next year and were due to have a draft of the new for review this November, although it’s not known whether that process is on schedule. “If the public and legislators don’t continue to push CDCR, they could easily sweep all of this under the rug,” said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator Californians United for a Responsible Budget, “These deaths are evidence that the idea of accountability is completely lost on California’s prison officials.”
Imagine a concrete room no more than eight by ten feet. It has no windows, only a perforated steel door facing a solid concrete wall. Fluorescent lights stay on 24 hours a day.
Now imagine being locked in that room.
This is the reality for 1,111 people locked in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. The SHU comprises half of the prison. It 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. They are allowed five hours a week of exercise in a cement yard the length of three cells with a roof only partially open to the sky.
Prison administrators place men in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term because they have been accused of being prison gang members, often by confidential informants and highly dubious evidence. 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. Mutope DuGoya is one of those men: he states that, in 2001, despite his work with Code 4, the prison’s Scared Straight program and his record of remaining free of violations for six years, he was placed in SHU on the word of a confidential informant. (Letter from DuGoya, dated September 21, 2011.) Another prisoner, who has been in SHU for 21 years, writes, “Because I am here with people who the CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] have labeled as being gang-involved, the CDCR uses that to confirm that I am involved with a gang.” (Letter from person in Pelican Bay SHU, dated September 26, 2011.)
These atrocities are not limited to Pelican Bay. California holds nearly 4,000 people in SHUs and nearly 14,500 in other forms of segregation within its prison system. Over 240 of these people are women, who are often guarded and watched by male staff, even when they are undressing, showering or on the toilet. Transgender and transsexual prisoners are often likely to be placed in isolation.
Pelican Bay State Prison opened in December 1989. Almost immediately, prisoners began filing complaints about abusive conditions.
In 1993, over 3,500 prisoners signed onto Madrid v. Gomez, a class-action lawsuit that charged prison officials with abuse and violation of their human rights. In 1995, the federal court issued injunctions aimed at eliminating excessive force, improving health care and removing prisoners with mental illness from the Security Housing Unit. Although he stated that conditions “hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” the presiding judge stopped short of declaring the physical structure of long-term solitary confinement unconstitutional.
In 1994, Steven Castillo, who charges that prison administrators placed him in SHU in retaliation for his hunger strikes and numerous lawsuits against CDCR, filed Castillo v. Alamedia. Seven years later, in 2001, Castillo and approximately 1,000 other prisoners at Pelican Bay and a second California prison launched a six-day hunger strike, protesting the prison’s gang policy. The strike was suspended after California State Sen. Richard Polanco intervened and vowed to help broker a resolution. Although Polanco’s office convened several meetings between corrections officials and prisoners over the next year, no changes resulted. In 2002, Castillo and 60 prisoners at Pelican Bay again launched a hunger strike. The strike lasted three weeks, but no changes in CDCR’s debriefing policy occurred.
In 2004, ten years after Castillo v. Alamedia was filed, a settlement agreement was reached that, ostensibly, would reshape the debriefing policy governing release from SHU. However, the substantial changes promised never happened and, seven years later, conditions in SHU remain fundamentally unchanged.
In 2010, prisoners at Pelican Bay drafted and sent a Formal Complaint about conditions to lawmakers, prison and CDCR officials and then-Governor Schwarzenegger. “CDCR’s response was ‘file a grievance if you haven’t already,'” recalled Todd Ashker, a co-author of the Complaint. “Then we were locked down, even more, in our cells from July 2010 to February/March 2011.” During that time, the prisoners agreed that “something had to be done … It was agreed, a peaceful protest via hunger strike was our best option, the goal being to expose the illegal policies and practices to the mainstream media (and thereby masses of people) and, with outside support, pressure/force meaningful changes!” (Letter from Todd Ashker, dated September 25, 2011.)
On July 1, 2011, SHU prisoners began a hunger strike with five core demands:
“No one wants to die,” stated hunger-striker DuGoya. “Yet under this current system of what amounts to immense torture, what choice do we have? If one is to die, it will be on our own terms.”
Over the course of the three-week hunger strike, at least 1,035 of the SHU’s 1,111 inmates refused food. The strike spread to 13 other state prisons and involved at least 6,600 people incarcerated throughout California.
Outside prison walls, family members, advocates and concerned community members took action to draw attention to the hunger strike. In Oakland, supporters held a weekly vigil on Thursday evenings. On July 9, supporters organized demonstrations in cities throughout the US and Canada. On July 18, 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.
On July 14, two weeks into the strike, CDCR Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan spoke to representatives of the Pelican Bay hunger strikers. He promised that their demands would be addressed and that the CDCR would enact positive changes over time.
On July 20, Kernan and other CDCR administrators again met with hunger strike representatives. Again, Kernan made assurances about positive changes to SHU and stated that he would provide specifics about their demands in a couple of weeks. The hunger strike representatives met and discussed Kernan’s proposals. They decided to temporarily suspend the hunger strike to allow CDCR a grace period to fulfill their promises.
The next month, on August 19, prisoner representatives met with Kernan and other administrators. Kernan had no specific plans regarding the hunger strikers’ core demands, but, as the prisoner representatives noted, offered only “very vague, general terms, about CDCR staff working to come up with some type of step down program for inmates to get out of SHU, which does not require debriefing-informant status.” The representatives asked that specific details be provided on paper to all SHU sections. Kernan agreed to begin providing documentation within two weeks.
Sparked 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. CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan, who was a negotiator with the hunger strike representatives, also testified.
On August 31, SHU staff issued memos stating that prisoners would be allowed to have handballs on the yard and the ability to purchase sweatsuits. If they remained free of disciplinary violations for one year and gained committee approval, they would be allowed to have a yearly photo taken and to purchase art pens and drawing paper from the prison canteen. None of the core demands were addressed.
In addition, many strike participants were issued a disciplinary memo stating, “Your behavior and actions were out of compliance with the Director’s Rules and this documentation is intended to record your actions and advise that progressive discipline will be taken in the future for any reoccurrence of this type of behavior.”
Prison officials have retaliated against the hunger strikers in other ways. According to Carol Strickman, an attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “Prisoners are receiving serious disciplinary write-ups, usually reserved for serious rules violations, for things like talking in the library or not walking fast enough. It’s clear that prison officials are trying to intimidate these men and to make them ineligible for any privileges or changes that may be forced by the strike.”
On September 2, a memo entitled Gang Management Proposal (dated August 25) was issued to the four principal representatives of the hunger strike. Hunger striker Antonio Guillen wrote that the proposal is, “by far the most punitive and restrictive program I have ever seen. It is way worse than what we have in place now and that’s saying something because the current program is, in part, what prompted the hunger strike.” It also widens the criteria from “‘traditional prison gangs’ ” to “anyone they consider to be problematic.” (Statement from Guillen that came with a letter dated September 27, 2011.) Kernan himself alluded to this during his testimony on August 23: “We believe that the current process, which targets six prison gangs, needs to be modified and what we really need to do is identify security threat groups … our policies target just the prison gangs today and we’re not capturing the inmates that perhaps should be segregated from our population.”
Despite these threats, prisoners throughout California resumed their hunger strike on September 26. By the third day, nearly 12,000 were participating. The strike spread not only to 12 prisons inside California, but also to prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma that are housing California prisoners.
In response, the CDCR classified the strike as an organized disturbance and transferred hunger strikers form the SHU to Administrative Segregation, where they lose access to all of their personal possessions and are denied access to their mail (including legal mail). According to recent interviews with the men, they have only a jumpsuit, a mattress and a thin blanket. The transfer could also negatively affect parole decisions. The retaliation has caused the number of hunger strikers to drop. In addition, hunger strikers at other prisons report that the CDCR has been undercounting the number of participants, refusing to mark men as hunger strikers if they drink liquids or touch the food tray.
Prison officials have also retaliated against outside supporters: Carol Strickman and Marilyn McMahon, executive director of California Prison Focus, had been involved in extensive discussions with corrections officials, including Kernan and leaders of the strike. On September 29, the Department of Corrections placed them under investigation, alleging that they “violated the laws and policies governing the safe operations of institutions within the CDCR.” Both attorneys are banned from all California prisons until the investigation is concluded. Attorneys who were able to visit reported that the CDCR has the air conditioning on high in 50-degree weather.
On October 13, prisoners at Pelican Bay ended their nearly-three week hunger strike after the CDCR guaranteed a comprehensive review of every prisoner in California whose SHU sentence is related to gang validation under new criteria. Two days later, hunger strikers at Calipatria State Prison stopped their strike to allow time to regain their strength.
“This is something the prisoners have been asking for and it is the first significant step we’ve seen from the CDCR to address the hunger strikers’ demands,” says Carol Strickman, a lawyer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “But as you know, the proof is in the pudding. We’ll see if the CDCR keeps its word regarding this new process.”
Victoria Law is a writer, photographer, mother, and Contributing Author for New Clear Vision. 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.