Hunger striker responds to Corrections Secretary Beard’s op-ed demonizing hunger strikers

by Alfred Sandoval
Reblogged from: SF Bay View

Today I read an op-ed from the L.A. Times by the new secretary of the California Department of Corruption. He gave a one sided view of prison violence by talking about the 11 murders of guards in the three years between 1970 and 1973.

Prison guard tower

Two decades ago, for entertainment, California prison guards would force prisoners to fight on the prison yard as they watched. If the men didn’t kill each other, guards would often shoot them from the tower. These gladiator fights have been reported again recently.

He failed to mention the 39 inmates murdered between January 1987 and December 1995 in the guard staged gladiator “game” fights and the literally hundreds of seriously wounded and crippled survivors of those fights who were all shot by trigger happy correctional officers as entertainment.

Even today, right now, here in the Administrative Segregation building or the Pelican Bay Security Housing Units (the SHU), an inmate can be beaten with impunity because there is a code of silence among the guards. The guards close ranks – even the good ones. None of them can or will testify against another guard. This is part of the atmosphere in which we live out our lives.

If Secretary Beard is concerned about violence in the prisons, he should look at the “Agreement to End Hostilities” we issued in October 2012 to close out the second of our three hunger strikes. We asked that this agreement/call be posted and circulated in the California prison system. He could still post it. With all his degrees in psychology, you would think he could figure out that would be a good idea.

This letter was intended for the Los Angeles Times, but they chose not to publish it. Send our brother some love and light: Alfred Sandoval, D-61000, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU D4-214, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

July 31st, people around the world will fast and take other peaceful, non-violent action in solidarity with the California Prisoner Hunger Strikers

On Wednesday July 31st, people around the world will fast and take other peaceful, non-violent action in solidarity with the California Prisoner Hunger Strikers. Join family members of hunger strikers along with James Cromwell, Angela Davis, Mike Farrell, Danny Glover, Elliott Gould, Chris Hedges, Michael Moore, Alice Walker, and Cornel West. We fast knowing the criminalization that killed Trayvon Martin, and the criminalization that justifies the torture of prisoners in solitary confinement are one and the same.

We fast in solidarity with the demands of the hunger strikers. And we fast to get justice for Trayvon and for people of every gender, race, and religion who have been killed by state and vigilante violence. Support efforts everywhere for Justice for Trayvon Martin.

“We have taken up this hunger strike and work stoppage… not only to improve our own conditions but also an act of solidarity with all prisoners and oppressed people around the world.”

– Hunger Strikers in the Short Corridor Collective at Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

Join us to help win the 5 demands of the California Prisoner Hunger Strikers

On July 30th the families and loved ones of prisoners on hunger strike are visiting Sacramento to demand that Governor Brown pressure the CDCR to enter into negotiations with the hunger strikers. Call California Governor Jerry Brown and let him know you’re fasting in solidarity with the strikers, ask him to meet the strikers demands: (916) 445-2841, (510) 289-0336, (510) 628-0202.


Endorse, support, and/or join the “Hunger for Justice”.

For More Information Contact: hunger4justice2013@gmail.com

We are all prisoners of injustice.

In solidarity/En solidaridad,

Cities and countries participating thus far: England, Germany, the US (Jackson Mississippi, Los Angeles, Oakland CA, Santa Cruz, Philadelphia PA).
“Hunger for Justice” convened by members of: Alexandria House; Alliance for Global Justice; Anti-Racist Action-LA; Brandywine Peace Community; California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement; California Coalition for Women Prisoners; California Prisoner Solidarity Coalition; Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB); Critical Resistance; DCFS/DHS-Give Us Back Our Children; Ecosocialist Horizons, Every Mother is a Working Mother Network; FACTS Education Fund; Fair Chance Project; Flying Over Walls; Freedom Archives; Global Women’s Strike; Hank Jones – San Francisco 8; Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network; LA Laborfest; Lives Worth Saving Gang Intervention; Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; Martin Luther King Coalition of Greater Los Angeles; National Hood Alliance; Palestinian Youth Movement; Payday men’s network; Peter Laarman – Progressive Christians Uniting and Justice not Jails; Project South; Queer Strike; Rev. Louis Logan; Ruckus Society, Scientific Soul Sessions; Theresa Shoatz – Maroon Philly Committee; Transgender, Gender-Variant, Intersex Justice; US PROStitutes Collective; White Noise Collective; Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike; Youth Justice Coalition; Ordinary People’s Society, Alabama; Prodigal Child Project, Alabama; Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement, National; Sin Barras. 

Retaliation Continues Against Hunger Strike, Coalition Refutes CDCR’s Gang Myths

Reblogged from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity:

July 22nd 2013
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Oakland, July 22, 2013 – As the California prison hunger strike enters its 3rd week, reports of retaliation against strikers have increased.  Last week it was reported that prison officials had moved at least 14 strikers from the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay to Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg), confiscated confidential legal documents, and forced cold air into their cells.  Later in the week, legal advocate Marilyn McMahon and one of her paralegals were summarily banned from visiting any California prison. 

Reports that strikers have been moved to Ad-Seg or to entirely different facilities have also been coming from Corcoran State Prison. 

The denial of medical care to strikers, especially those with preexisting health conditions, remains a widespread concern for families and advocates.

Meanwhile, the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) continues to claim that the hunger strike is a massive gang conspiracy.  At the same time, the CDCR claims its SHU and debriefing programs have been thoroughly reformed and are effective at creating safety throughout its prison system.  Please find below a point-by-point clarification of recent claims made by CDCR spokesperson Terry Thorton on Al Jazeera’s The Stream, July 18, 2013.

Thorton: “Those who are placed [in the SHU] indeterminately, administratively, because they have been validated as a gang member or a gang associate.”

FACT: There is no way for a prisoner to challenge this administrative process, or an indeterminant sentence; one of the main demands of the hunger strikers is for a modification of the criteria for gang validation.  In fact, the recently revised criteria for gang validation has actually expanded, making it easier for the CDCR to validate wider groups of prisoners.

Thorton: “Typically SHU inmates at Pelican Bay, and the other SHUs as well, they do get out to the yard every day.  They go to visiting, they have access to the law library, they have cable television, they have access to reading materials and educational programs too.”

The “Yard” at Pelican Bay SHU (photo: NPR)

FACT: The yard is still part of sensory deprivation – prisoners have no access to any outside recreation. The mandated hours are few and routinely not met. Reading materials are heavily restricted and possession of certain kinds of materials can be cause for gang validation. There are NO educational programs in SHU. Visiting is conducted through glass, no physical contact is permitted with visitors, and the visiting times are very short (1-1.5 hours).

Thorton: “And the department of correction and rehabilitation has created a system now where inmates can get out of the SHU without dropping out of their prison gang.  They have created a step down program now where inmates can earn their way out of the SHU. There are rehabilitative elements in this step down program, something the department never had before in all the decades it has been dealing with the issue of prison gangs.  The department’s efforts have been primarily focused on enforcement, and now we have rehabilitative elements, interdiction elements in the way we manage gangs and we implemented these reforms last October.”

FACT:  There is no guarantee of release from the SHU – even upon completion of the step- down program. The step-down program can still take more than 5 years and can still result in an indefinite SHU term.  

From Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Antonio Guillen, “The step down program is a deliberate attempt by CDCR to deceive the public into believing that real change is under way. In truth, however, there is absolutely no change to the validation process (which is the origin of the indeterminate SHU sentence) and the policies and regulations that make up this abhorrent practice remain intact.”

Thorton:“If an inmate is validated as a gang associate, and there is no confirmed disciplinary behavior with a nexus to gang activity, that inmate is not going to be automatically put in the SHU anymore.  We’ve done case by case reviews; hundreds of people have gotten out of the SHU.”

FACT: If the new policy is genuine, those who have been isolated without disciplinary charges should be placed back in general population immediately. Releasing 208 out of 12,000 people from isolation into general population hardly indicates a good-faith effort to introduce a new program.

Thorton: “Absolutely there needs to be discussion and engagement, there also needs to be some acknowledgment about the progress, the reforms that the department has instituted as well.  We have let hundreds of people out of the SHU, we are hoping to a quick resolution of this mass hunger strike because unfortunately the staff resources to manage this hunger strike safely have all been diverted away and we have had to temporarily halt our case by case reviews of validated inmates, which I find really unfortunate.”

FACT: a quick resolution of the strike would be good faith and binding discussions and engagement with the prisoner representatives in all the prisons.   
Honest negotiations would lead to an immediate implementation of reforms. As the CDCR is mired in numerous lawsuits regarding human rights violations–medical negligence, overcrowding, inadequate mental health services–outside oversight and intervention is crucial. California Governor Brown’s silence on the strike is unfortunate given his unique position to be able to compel change in one of the world’s most notorious prison systems.

A Voice From Pelican Bay — Support the Hunger Strikers

A Voice From Pelican Bay — Support the Hunger Strikers

A Voice From Pelican Bay -- Support the Hunger Strikers

Reblogged from: The Beat Within / New America Media, First Person, artwork and text: Michael Russell, Posted: Jul 13, 2013

There is a stark contrast between the majestic mountain scenery that surrounds Pelican Bay State Prison, and the utter desperation of life that exists behind its walls. Most of the men here wear the look of those crushed under years of carrying a heavy burden. Their faces tell a story all their own — one of unrealized potential, punishing consequences, and possibilities of future success that no longer exist.

Pelican Bay State Prison is a maximum-security prison, where many men spend years in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) — 23 ½ hours a day, locked in a windowless cell. I’ve spent a quarter of my life in this prison’s cages, in its mud, learning to deal with the loud rhythm, the madness and isolation, the absence from my family and friends that has turned me into a total stranger, with so much empty uncertainty. I don’t sit here and cry. Nobody does.

The full character of a man shows itself in the SHU, where there is nowhere to hide. And today, I stand proudly back-to-back with all those strong respectful men, whose choice it is to now venture into a hunger strike and work stoppage, in peaceful protest.

michael-russell-oppression2.jpg

The revolution has started — a fight for our rights. And our five core demands should not be overlooked:

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

To share a quote from Shane Bauer, an American who was imprisoned by Iran for more than two years after being apprehended there in 2009:

“The more one is utterly alone, the more the mind comes to reflect the cell; it becomes blank static… Solitary confinement is not some sort of cathartic horror of blazing nerves and searing skin and heads smashing blindly into walls and screaming. Those moments come, but they are not the essence of solitary. They are events that penetrate the essence. They are stones tossed into an abyss; they are not the abyss itself… Solitary confinement is a living death. Death, because it is the removal of nearly everything that characterizes humanness; living, because within it, you are still you. The lights don’t turn out as in real death. Time isn’t erased as in sleep.”

Stand and be counted. Let your voice be heard. Support our peaceful protest.

Michael D. Russell
Pelican Bay State Prison, SHU

July 8th: Peaceful Protests of refusing food in CA SHU’s and elsewhere will resume if demands are not met!

Please spread this flyer, thank you! Also follow NCTTCOrSHU.org, Californiaprisonwatch.org (one of our network blogs), Stopmassincarceration.org, SFBayview.com, Prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com, and other sites with updates.

Also actions of solidarity are planned in other states (Louisiana for one, Ohio may follow). CDCR should at least hear and talk with the prisoners and their representatives!

Latest on CDCR’s proposed new ” STG” program is that NONE of the prisoners in the units in at least Corcoran-SHU 4B 1L have signed a “contract” that CDCR has installed to push prisoners to comply with their new solitary confinement punishment rules.

Join Us in Stopping Torture in US Prisons!

The Prison Watch Network endorses the following call for Solidarity:

Tens of thousands of people imprisoned in the US are being subjected to torturous, inhumane conditions.  Many are:


·       Held in long term solitary confinement; locked in tiny, windowless, sometimes sound proof, cells; cut off from fresh air and sunlight for 22-24 hours every day and given small portions of food that lacks basic nutritional requirements. 
·       Denied human contact and violently taken from their cells for petty violations.
·       Put in solitary arbitrarily, often because of accusations of being members of prison gangs based on dubious evidence, and have no way to challenge the decisions of prison authorities to place them in solitary.
Many are forced to endure these conditions for months, years and even decades!  Mental anguish and trauma often results from being confined under these conditions.  Locking people down like this amounts to trying to strip them of their humanity.
These conditions fit the international definition of torture!  This is unjust, illegitimate and profoundly immoral.  WE MUST JOIN IN AN EFFORT TO STOP IT, NOW!
People imprisoned at Pelican Bay State Prison in California have called For a Nation-wide Hunger Strike to begin on July 8, 2013. They have also issued a call for unity among people from different racial groups, inside and outside the prisons.  People who are locked down in segregation units of this society’s prisons, condemned as the “worst of the worst,” are standing up against injustice, asserting their humanity in the process.  We must have the humanity to hear their call, and answer it with powerful support!
A Nation-wide and World-wide Struggle Needs to Be launched NOW to bring an End to this widespread Torture Before those in the Prisons Are Forced to Take the Desperate step of going on hunger strikes and putting their lives on the line!
                                                                                               
To the Government
We Demand an Immediate End to the Torture and Inhumanity of Prison House America – Immediately Disband All Torture Chambers.  Meet the demands of those you have locked down in your prisons!
To People in this Country and Around the World
We Cannot Accept, and We Should Not Tolerate This Torture.  Join The Struggle to End Torture in Prisons Now!
To Those Standing Up in Resistance Inside The Prisons: 
WE SUPPORT YOUR CALL FOR UNITY IN THIS FIGHT, AND WE WILL HAVE YOUR BACKS!
June 21, 22 and 23 Will Be Days of Solidarity With the Struggle to End Prison Torture!  There will be protests, cultural events, Evenings of Conscience, sermons in religious services, saturation of social media – all aimed at laying bare the ugly reality of wide spread torture in US prisons and challenging everyone to join in fighting to STOP it.
Send Your endorsements (name . and if you wish, organization and/or title,  to:
For more information and to join in this struggle contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network at:

Court Must Intervene to End Torture of Solitary Confinement, Attorneys Argue

A court hearing took place on March 14th in Oakland on behalf of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners. 
Here is the press release by the Center for Constitutional Rights:

press@ccrjustice.org

March 14, 2013, Oakland – Today, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged a federal judge to reject California’s attempt to dismiss a class action lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement in California prisons.  The case was filed on behalf of prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement and who staged two widely publicized hunger strikes in 2011.  It alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, and that the absence of meaningful review of SHU placement violates the prisoners’ right to due process.  CCR lawyers argued today that nominal, temporary reforms by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which the defendants cited as grounds for dismissing the case, have had little to no effect on the conditions challenged in the lawsuit and, thus, the case must proceed.

“The CDCR’s reforms are nothing more than window dressing.  They are riddled with the same constitutional problems challenged in this lawsuit, they have had no effect on any of the plaintiffs and, in any event, they are set to expire in two years,” said Center for Constitutional Rights President Jules Lobel, who argued today.  “The most important similarity, however, is that this pilot program is the third time the CDCR has promised meaningful reforms and failed to deliver.  At this point it is clear that a court must intervene.”
SHU prisoners spend 22 ½ to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell.  They are denied telephone calls, any physical contact with visitors, and vocational, recreational and educational programming.  As of 2011, more than 500 Pelican Bay SHU prisoners have been isolated under these conditions for over 10 years; more than 200 have been there for over 15 years; and 78 have been isolated in the SHU for more than 20 years.  Solitary confinement for as little as 15 days is widely recognized to cause lasting psychological damage and is analyzed as torture under international law.  The pilot program implemented by the CDCR still allows for prisoners to be confined in extreme isolation for decades.
Said plaintiff and Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Luis Esquivel, “I have joined this lawsuit as a named plaintiff because I am interested in the welfare and human dignity of all people in the SHU, not just my own situation. All SHU prisoners are in this struggle together. We all want to be treated like human beings, but are not.”
Additionally, CCR attorneys argued today that the pilot program does not ameliorate the due process violations alleged in the complaint, as it still does not provide any meaningful review of prisoners’ SHU placement, rendering their isolation effectively permanent.  Prisoners can still be placed and held in the SHU absent any gang activity, violent conduct, or serious rule infraction; they may still be labeled gang “affiliates” and confined in isolation for activities such as reading about Black history, creating or possessing cultural artwork, or writing in Swahili; and they still must wait years between each opportunity for review.  Moreover, even since the pilot program was implemented, some of the plaintiffs have been denied release from the SHU explicitly under the old policy.
Said attorney Charles Carbone, “The pilot program is already in a tail spin. The prisoners have rejected it and it does nothing to stop long term isolation or torture. The only real fix here is to end indefinite solitary confinement in California.”
SHU assignments disproportionately affect Latino prisoners.  The percentage of Latinos in the Pelican Bay SHU was 85% in 2011, far higher than their representation in the general prison population, which was 41%. 
“I’ve been in solitary confinement for 16 years,” said plaintiff and Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Gabriel Reyes.  “I have learned here to hope for the best, expect the worst. I hope common sense and justice rule the day, so my family and loved ones can touch and hug each other and be a family again someday. My pillow keeps getting smaller and smaller from squeezing it so much.”
                                                        
On March 12, 2013, CCR submitted written testimony on solitary confinement in the United States to an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) thematic hearing on the use of solitary in the Americas.  The testimony is available here.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone are co-counsel on the case.
The case is Ruiz v. Brown, and it amends an earlier pro se lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay SHU prisoners Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell.  The case is before Judge Claudia Wilken in The United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Write a letter:

Synopsis

Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) prisoners have organized to combat cruel conditions of confinement, and have launched two hunger strikes to raise attention to their demands. (Learn more about this here)

Tell the California Governor Jerry Brown to honor the demands on the prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU.
Description

In mid October 2012, members of the Pelican Bay hunger strike movement issued an open letter to Governor Jerry Brown asking for his support and intervention on their behalf, demanding substantive policy changes to their conditions of confinement, and citing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)’s failure to meaningfully commit to agreements made following the hunger strike. We ask you to take action in solidarity with these prisoners and please write to Governor Jerry Brown asking for his support and intervention on their behalf.
Take Action Now: Tell Governor Brown to intervene on behalf of Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners.