Games the gang investigators play

This is a piece from Aug 16, 2012, published in the SF Bay View, but it is as relevant as ever: nothing has changed within the CDCr and in how the Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) work! The public and those who represent them should take serious note that IGI is often said to be acting without any court-intervention, giving punishment to imprisoned people on often false reports, falsified reports, made-up reports. If a possible crime occurs, should the accused not be given a trial? And what are the reasons for the possibly substantiated rumors that IGI might falsify reports? Could it be to keep the SHU’s filled with so-called “validated” prisoners, allegedly gang-members, or in the new vocabulary of CDCr: “Security Threat Groups” (STG)?

For a SHU-prisoner, the prisons receive more money from you, the tax payers, than for a prisoner in General Population. Think about it, and start asking your representatives questions!

This is just a quick note to say thank you for the March issue and another April and May issue of the S.F. Bay View you sent. I read the March issue and can see why these fascist captors of mine kept it from me. They already look at us New Afrikkkans as suspected “gang” members and anything political or educational we read they label it gang material. It’s absurd!

They’ve been keeping my mail for at least an extra week after I receive it from my family, and any books or other forms of reading material they hold for a month or so before they issue it to me. I know it’s a game the IGIs (Institutional Gang Investigators) use to keep us New Afrikkkans, Southern and Northern Mexicans, oppressed Whites and Native Amerikkkans buried alive in these concrete tombs under their three-point gang validation, which, since our statewide hunger strike, they continue to do.

I’ve seen four gang validation packages issued out within the last two weeks by these IGI oppressors, who in all actuality are their own gang. I remember reading about IGI Duarte in Calipatria State Prison being under investigation himself for putting together false validation packages on comrades; well, he isn’t the only one to do so. I’m more than certain if the CDC got more IGIs under investigation for false acts to get brothers validated, these tables would really turn and society would see who the real gang members are.

Thank you for continuing to be the driving force in bringing awareness to the free world about our constant struggles to fight our oppressors. I’ve given out the other two Bay Views you sent to some comrades to read and hopefully get subscriptions as well.

In true solidarity struggle,

Comrade T

An End to Solitary is Long Overdue

California’s Savage System of Confinement

Less than two weeks ago the United Nations Committee against Torture issued a report strongly criticizing the U.S. record on a number of issues, among them the extensive use of solitary confinement. While the U.S. uses long-term solitary more than any other country in the world, California uses it more than any other state. It’s one of the few places in the world where someone can be held indefinitely in solitary. This practice is designed to break the human spirit and is condemned as a form of torture under international law.

Despite these repeated condemnations by the U.N., the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is harshening rather than easing its policies, currently with three new sets of regulations. The administration’s iron-fisted strategy is emerging: project the appearance of a reforming system while extending its reach, and restrict the ability of prisoners and their loved ones to organize for their rights.

First, the CDCR has instituted a “Step Down Program” ostensibly to create a pathway out of indefinite solitary. However, the program actually widens the net of who can be considered a threat and therefore eligible for placement in solitary. Recently adopted regulations replace the old language of “gang” with “Security Threat Group” (STG) and the previous list of a dozen identified gangs is now replaced with a dizzying list of over 1500 STGs. Under these new regulations, even family members and others outside the prisons can be designated as part of an STG. Given the fact that indefinite solitary is used disproportionately against people of color – in Pelican Bay, 85% of those in isolation are Latino – the language used to justify placement in solitary eerily mirrors the rhetoric of the federal government and its permanent state of war against its declared enemies, all of whom are people of color.

The CDCR promulgated a second set of rule changes last summer with sweeping new “obscenity” regulations governing mail going both in and out of prisons. The original proposal was to explicitly ban any “publications that indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society,” yet after coming under heavy criticism, CDCR decided to mask its Orwellian motives by hiding behind the above mentioned language of STGs. This ominous language violates First Amendment rights, and reveals a broader agenda: to censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, and to stifle the intellectual and political education and organizing of prisoners themselves.

A third element of CDCR’s strategy of containment is the implementation of highly intimidating visiting procedures designed to keep family members away from their loved ones. Draconian new visiting regulations authorize the use of dogs and electronic drug detectors to indiscriminately search visitors for contraband, even though both methods are notoriously unreliable. These procedures effectively criminalize family members and deter them from visiting, especially in a period of a growing family-led movement against solitary.

The three new policies are also intended to extend CDCR’s reach beyond the prison walls. As an organizer and family member of a prisoner, I’m censored when sending letters to my brother, Sitawa N. Jamaa, subjected to gratuitous and intimidating searches during visits, and susceptible to being labeled an STG associate. These are all ways that CDCR is trying to keep me from knowing how my brother and others are doing, and to repress my organizing.

Taken individually, these regulations may seem to address unrelated issues. But given they are all coming down simultaneously – just a year after the last of a series of historic hunger strikes by people in California prisons has given rise to the highest level of self-organization and empowerment among imprisoned people since the 1970s – these regulations are nothing less than a systematic attempt to silence and retaliate against prisoners’ growing resistance. Over 30,000 prisoners participated in 2013’s strike, some for 60 days, risking their health and lives for an end to indefinite solitary. Prisoners’ family members and loved ones also took up leadership roles in political organizing in unprecedented ways. The movement to abolish solitary continues to gain momentum around the country.

The hunger strikes were a significant part of an ongoing national sea change regarding the use of solitary, as states are waking up to its dangers. Illinois, Maine and Mississippi have closed or drastically downsized their solitary units without any loss of institutional safety. New York and Arizona were recently forced to reduce their use of isolation, with Colorado and New Jersey following suit.

Yet California steadfastly remains an outlier seemingly impervious to change, led by an administration that relies on tired rhetoric about “the worst of the worst” to justify torture. People locked up in California have a decades-long history of fighting for the rights and dignity of prisoners, affirming their humanity in the face of inhumane conditions and demanding change. The U.N. report calls on this government to “ban prison regimes of solitary confinement such as those in super-maximum security detention facilities.” It’s time for California to listen.

Marie Levin is the sister of Sitawa N. Jamaa, a prisoner in solitary confinement at Tehachapi. She is a member of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS).

Mohamed Shehk is the Media and Communications Director of Critical Resistance, and also contributed to this piece.

Press Conference: Pelican Bay Prisoners Go On Hunger Strike to Protest Grave Conditions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—June 29, 2011
Pelican Bay Prisoners Go On Hunger Strike to Protest Grave Conditions
Lawyers, Advocates, Organizations Hold Press Conference, Voice Prisoner Demands

Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros
Communications Director, Critical Resistance
Office: 510 444 0484
Cell: 510 517 6612

What: Press Conference
When: Thursday, June 30, 2011, 11:00am

Where: Elihu M. Harris State of California Office Building, 1515 Clay St., Oakland, CA

Oakland—Prisoners at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, CA will initiate an indefinite hunger strike on July 1st, 2011 to protest condition in the prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU). Lawyers and advocates who have been in contact with the prisoners will hold a press conference Thusday June 30th at the Oakland Federal Building, at 11am to rally support for the strike and put pressure on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to respond to the prisoners’ demands.

Prisoners have delivered their demands to Pelican Bay warden Greg Lewis, the CDCR, and to Governor Jerry Brown. Their demands include an end to long-term solitary confinement, collective punishment, and forced interrogation on gang affiliation. The prisoners have also stated that they are willing to give up their lives unless their demands are met.

“The prisoners inside the SHU at Pelican Bay know the risk that they are taking going on hunger strike,” says Manuel LaFontaine, of All of Us or None, an organization that supports former prisoners and part of a Bay Area-based Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition supporting Pelican Bay’s prisoners. La Fontaine continues, “The CDCR must recognize that the SHU produces conditions of grave violence, such that people lose their lives in there all the time.” U.S. and international human rights organizations have condemned Security Housing Units as having cruel, inhumane, and torturous conditions.

SHU prisoners are kept in windowless, 6 by 10 foot cells, 23½ hours a day, for years at a time. The CDCR operates four Security Housing Units in its system at Corcoran,California Correctional Institution, Valley State Prison for Women as well as Pelican Bay.

Recent work and hunger strikes in Georgia and Ohio prisons were successful in both winning some concessions and alerting the public to the conditions inside US prisons. “People who are in prison are already being punished. They are still human beings and should not have to lose their civil and human rights” says Karen Shain, a lawyer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

Pelican Bay’s hunger strike begins amidst the recent landmark Supreme Court ruling condemning California’s prison overcrowding and order the reduction of its population by at least 33,000 people. At the center of the overcrowding ruling were dozens of prisoner deaths a year due to the lack of basic medical and other healthcare. Thursday’s Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity press conference will touch off several events happening in cities across North America in the coming weeks.

Legal workers, advocates, and experts on the California prison system will be available for comment and interviews.
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