From solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, Jesse Perez sues his guards for retaliation, wins $25,000

This is good news, published in the SF Bay View on Nov. 30th, 2015

Written by Claude Marks, Freedom Archives

On Friday, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $25,000 in damages to Jesse Perez, who sued guards for trashing his cell in retaliation for his lawsuit against the prison and for his stand against solitary confinement.

Jesse Perez’s legal team – Randall Lee, lead attorney, Jesse Perez, Katie Moran and Matthew Benedetto – enjoys the victory in federal court in San Francisco Nov. 24, 2015. – Photo: Katie Moran

Jesse Perez, 35, is from Colton in San Bernardino County and has been imprisoned since age 15. He was sent to the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay in December 2003 and was held there for 10 years. He took part in all three hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, protesting prolonged isolation and demanding human rights for prisoners.

Perez’s lawyer, Randall Lee, said the verdict sends “a resounding message that the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment are sacrosanct for all of us – even a prisoner in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay.”

The case is based on Jesse Perez challenging the legitimacy of a CDCr gang validation pro se in 2005. He was assigned counsel after he defeated a state dismissal motion and won a settlement in 2012. Perez received a monetary award as well as the right to have his gang affiliation reevaluated.

Similarly, CDCr settled the Ashker case prior to trial, as the state of California wants to avoid having to be held publically accountable and to be subjected to scrutiny and interrogation in court.

In his current civil suit, Perez argued that guards retaliated against him for exercising his right to file a lawsuit and in response to his successful litigating for his human rights and to overturn his baseless gang validation.

Rather than re-reviewing Jesse’s gang validation as was mandated by his court settlement, and just days after the settlement, four officers forced him to strip, removed all of his legal paperwork and trashed his cell. In the process, one officer stated, “You might have been able to win some money from us, but we will make sure that you stay [in solitary] where you belong.”

Jesse did not get all of his property back – especially some of his legal work. He was later charged with a serious rules violation for “willfully obstructing the officers” during that search, for which he was ultimately found not guilty.

Jesse Perez states, “As prisoner activists seeking to make positive contributions to the interests and human dignity of prisoners, we understand that the trappings of power enjoyed by guards represent the biggest obstacle to significant and lasting progress.” By filing the lawsuit, Perez wrote that he sought the “opportunity to shine a public light at trial and rein in what prisoner activists often endure in exercising their constitutional rights: the retaliatory abuse of the department’s disciplinary process by prison guards.”

In his testimony, Jesse stated that he filed this case to defend what minimal human rights he retains as a prisoner. He also said that the officers he sued represent a backlash that prisoners commonly experience when they speak out to access their constitutional rights, since the CDCr will not investigate and reform itself.

Predictably, attorneys for the CDCr tried to discredit Perez’ testimony as well as that of other prisoners who testified in support of his argument. The jury found Jesse Perez and his witnesses credible.

In Jesse’s concluding testimony he made it clear: “Our system of law requires prisoners like me and many others to surrender our freedom, but our laws do not require us, and we refuse to, surrender our human dignity or the minimal constitutional rights that we retain even after crossing the prison gates.

“So for me, we’re here because prison officials decided to punish me for exercising my constitutional right to file a lawsuit against their colleagues. They threatened (my cellmate) Rudy and me. They unnecessarily confiscated important legal documents that I had. They trashed my cell. And then they wrote a false disciplinary report in order to keep me in solitary confinement.

“This is not just about a messy cell or some sort of inconvenience in having to defend against a trumped up RVR. This cell was my whole world for the multiple years that I was in there. It’s the only space where I was able to experience the little bit of life that exists in solitary.

“They didn’t just take my stuff. They took the only possessions that I had. It’s all I had. So to me it was a huge deal.

“I think the officers’ actions also represent the sort of backlash that prisoners often have to hazard when speaking out or exercising their constitutional rights. So to me, we’re also here so that we can both inform and empower the public to deal with this continued corrupt course of conduct. Because in our reality, the CDCR seems incapable or unwilling to do so. So that’s why we’re here.”

Perez’s case is not the only recent instance of guards’ retaliation against prisoners for their basic expression of civil rights and political activism. Since August, inmates in the Pelican Bay SHU say they have been awakened every half-hour by prison guards in a practice that amounts to sleep deprivation.

The policy is known as security and welfare checks, during which prison guards “check on inmates” in segregated housing, including solitary confinement cells, every 30 minutes – 48 times every day – to make sure they are “not injuring themselves or trying to kill themselves.”

Not coincidentally, these checks started just days after prisoners claimed victory in the landmark settlement of Ashker v. Brown, which significantly reduced California’s ability to keep people in solitary confinement – and overturned a system of gang validation used to justify decades of isolation for hundreds of prisoners, often because of their organizing resistance to conditions and their general political beliefs.

Claude Marks, director of Freedom Archives, 522 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA 94110


Jesse Perez prevails in his federal lawsuit claiming retaliation by Pelican Bay officers

by Kim Rohrbach

On Nov. 24, 2015, an eight-person jury unanimously found in favor of plaintiff Jesse Perez in his retaliation case brought against several officers at Pelican Bay State Prison under the Civil Rights Act, Title 42 USC Section 1983.

The jurors agreed that four officers, all of whom were employed as assistant internal gang investigators at the time of the incidents prompting Mr. Perez’s lawsuit, each unlawfully engaged in retaliatory conduct in response to an earlier and eventually successful lawsuit brought by Mr. Perez about a decade ago.

The latter lawsuit contested Mr. Perez’s unlawful confinement at Pelican Bay’s SHU (Security Housing Unit). Settlement negotiations were underway at the time that the retaliatory conduct raised in Perez’s second lawsuit occurred, but the case had not yet settled.

The officers found guilty on Nov. 24 in regard to Mr. Perez’s first cause of action for First Amendment retaliation are Anthony Gates, Daniel Gongora, Eric Healy and Guillermo Pimentel. A fifth officer, Sean Burris, was found not guilty. A sixth officer, J. Prelip, was dropped from the case prior to trial.

Mr. Perez’s summary of his retaliation lawsuit can be read in the Bay View. The docket number for this case is 3:13-cv-05359-VC (N.D. Cal.).

At trial, Perez likened his decade-plus-long efforts at negotiating his way through the legal system to putting together a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle in the dark. He testified that his education, prior to his incarceration as a teenager, ended with the seventh grade.

Yet, despite this handicap, he filed both his retaliation case as well as in his preceding case without the benefit of legal representation. Moreover, he was able to go a great distance in terms of prosecuting each case on his own before he did finally obtain pro bono representation.

After the state challenged Mr. Perez’s first lawsuit protesting his confinement in solitary, Mr. Perez brought an appeal and cross-appeal, and on his own motion was appointed counsel by the 9th Circuit. Katie Moran and Randall Lee from Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr, LLP, were assigned to the appellate case. Attorneys Moran, Lee and others from their firm later joined in as Perez’s counsel on his second lawsuit alleging retaliation, and filed a first amended complaint in July 2014.

Mr. Perez had filed his initial handwritten complaint in the retaliation case in November 2013, after exhausting his options for relief through the administrative grievance process available through the CDCR. The CDCR’s administrative grievance process involves no external review by any staff independent of the CDCR, or by any judge, as many readers of this publication may be aware.

The trial on Mr. Perez’s retaliation case, which began Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, wrapped up for the most part on Friday, Nov. 20, at which time jurors began their deliberations. The jurors delivered their verdict late in the day on Tuesday, Nov. 24, returning to court the following morning to hear testimony concerning damages and to decide upon the amount of damages. Mr. Perez was awarded $25,000, which significantly included punitive damages.

Mr. Perez donated the proceeds of his settlement from his earlier case to his mother to help her pay off the mortgage for her home and to an organization located in South Central Los Angeles that works to support youths seeking to attend college.

The jurors in Mr. Perez’s latest matter returned a hung verdict as to a second cause of action for conspiracy levied against defendants Burris, Gates, Gongora, Healy and Pimentel. The jurors, during deliberations, indicated in writing to Judge Vincent Chhabria that they were “hopelessly deadlocked” on this claim in regard to two of the five defendants.

Although the jurors found defendants Burris, Gongola and Pimentel not guilty of conspiracy, they could arrive at no decision as to defendants Gates and Healy. Judge Chhabria declared a mistrial as to the claim of conspiracy against Gates and Healy.

During defendants’ closing arguments on Nov. 20, Jennifer Nygaard, co-counsel for the state Attorney General’s Office, emphasized the fact that Eric Healy, Anthony Gates and Dan Gongola – who, again, were all found guilty with respect to Mr. Perez’s First Amendment retaliation claim – had each been promoted following the incidents leading up to Perez’s retaliation case. As was one of the state’s witnesses in the matter, David Barneburg, or so it had earlier come out during testimony.

Barneburg led Pelican Bay’s Internal Gang Investigation Unit as a lieutenant, starting in 2009. After the events precipitating Mr. Perez’s retaliation lawsuit, Barneburg was made an associate warden at Pelican Bay.

Critical for readers to understand, relative to Mr. Perez’s legal ordeals, is that the CDCR currently defines a “gang” or “security threat group,” in relevant part, as follows:

“[A]ny … organization, association or group of three or more persons which has a common name or identifying sign or symbol whose members and/or associates … engage or have engaged, on behalf of that organization, association or group, in two or more acts which include, planning, organizing, threatening, financing, soliciting or committing unlawful acts, or act of misconduct.” See California Code of Regulations, Title 15, Section 3000 (2015), which contains no definition of the word “misconduct.”

One reason that this is critical is that, until quite recently, those incarcerated within the CDCR’s prisons could be lawfully held in indefinite solitary confinement for alleged “gang” and/or “security threat group” members or associates by CDCR officials, without having committed any violent or criminal act to warrant such designation. Mr. Perez, until his release into the general population at Pelican Bay in 2013, was one of innumerable people in California’s prisons who endured this torture, under regulations that have been successfully challenged under thefederal class-action Ashker v. Brown.

In addition, if Anthony Gates, Sean Healy, plus any third defendant-officer named in Mr. Perez’s most recent lawsuit had been found guilty of the second cause of action for conspiracy, then the question would beg to be asked: How would those defendant-officers not themselves qualify as “gang” members, if one were to apply the relevant language codified in the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, cited above?

The type of abuse raised by Mr. Perez in his retaliation case – e.g., the trashing of his cell and the confiscation of his legal and other papers and the meritless Rules Violation Report issued against him – is unfortunately, in this writer’s experience, by no means unusual. What is unusual is that Mr. Perez has brought the abuse that he suffered to the light of day in court, against formidable obstacles, and has prevailed on his main cause of action for First Amendment retaliation.

Kim Rohrbach volunteers with California Prison Focus (CPF) and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) and is an advocate for tenants and a paralegal. She and many allies from CPF and PHSS were present in the courtroom during Jesse Perez’s recent trial, taking shifts to maintain a nearly continuous presence there.

 

Action Alert for Duane Peters of the Dallas 6

This comes from Support the SCI Dallas 6 (Pennsylvania):

PRISONER:
Duane Peters FP7306
SCI Mahanoy 301
Morea Rd,
Frackville, PA 17932

INFO:
Dallas 6 member Duane Peters has been under constant retaliation because of the Dallas 6 case. Some of the staff are the same staff that were at Dallas, some are family members, some friends. They are protecting the interests of the guards involved in this case.

As always, they came in the cell under the guise of a “contraband” search, flooded the cell and dropped legal documents and some artwork featuring the Dallas 6 into the water on the floor. This time, they have fashioned nooses and placed them in his cell. He continues to be told that he won’t make it to the Dallas 6 trial. He has been restricted from making phone calls and most importantly they are not letting him make ANY legal calls, which is court ordered. They continue to destroy and tamper with evidence. This is a reality for anyone with cases against the DOC or evidence that reveals their barbaric, tortuous treatment of inmates.

PLEASE CALL/FAX/EMAIL:

DOC Secretary John Wetzel
Phone: 717-728-4109
Fax: 717-728-4178
EMAIL: ra-contactdoc@pa.gov

DEMAND:
· Stop all harassment and retaliation to Duane Peters (his registration nr is: FP7306)
· Remind him that this issue has been brought to his attention at several town hall meetings and in writing and phone calls for the past two to three years
· Remind him that these reports are being shared with the Department of Justice and will continue to be shared with them
· If further harassment and retaliation continues, we will be asking for charges on everyone involved, from the guards up to the superintendent of SCI Mahanoy. The charges will be destroying evidence, ethnic intimidation and harassment.

*I would appreciate if you please email notes of your call to freedom4six@gmail.com.

WRITE A LETTER TO JUDGE GELB
Write a letter to Judge Gelb asking her to strictly enforce all of her court orders in the Dallas 6 case. Ask Judge Gelb to place an order against ethnic intimidation and retaliation and ensure that it is strictly enforced. If anyone wants a pre-made letter template, please email freedom4six@gmail.com for a copy.

Judge Lesa Gelb
Luzerne County Courthouose
200 N. River Street
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711

SEND A LETTER

FAX/MAIL A LETTER TO LUZERNE “KIDS FOR CASH” COUNTY DA,
DEMAND SHE DROP THE CHARGES AGAINST the DALLAS 6

Here is the letter you can send to the district attorney asking to drop the charges against the Dallas 6
Please feel free to forward and share with anyone who may be interested in participating.

Fax# (570) 825-1622
Stefanie J. Salavantis, District Attorney
Luzerne County Courthouse
200 N River St
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711

Dear District Attorney,

I am writing regarding the Dallas 6 case. This case has been in the courts going on five years. Carrington Keys, Duane Peters, Anthony Locke and Derrick Stanley have been waiting all these years for a chance to tell the truth in court. Anthony Kelly who pleaded out earlier has also been waiting for resolution of the case. False charges of rioting were brought against these men simply because they covered their cell windows to bring to your attention and the attention of other authorities gross violations of civil and human rights, abuse and torture that they experienced, witnessed and documented at SCI Dallas.

We know from the recent exposure of abuse by guards at Rikers Island and Attica prisons in New York State that there are many jurisdictions that are facing charges of gross abuse of prisoners. There are many in Pennsylvania and across the nation who know about the Dallas 6 men who are outraged that your office did not investigate the human rights violations that the men were non-violently protesting, but instead investigated and also charged the men with rioting for being whistleblowers!

Local and national organizations have endorsed and support these prisoners. All are watching. All are calling on your office to drop the charges against the Dallas 6, which are frivolous, false and vindictive, an abuse of power and a waste of taxpayers’ money. We call instead for an immediate investigation by your office, as well as by federal and state authorities, of the abuse of prisoners by guards at SCI Dallas and all Luzerne County prisons, and the prosecution of guilty parties, including of those in positions of responsibility who have been told about it, for allowing this injustice to continue.

Besides the obvious injustice of retaliation against the Dallas 6 for trying to draw attention to abuse of prisoners at SCI Dallas, other reasons your office should drop the charges include:
· Covering your window is a violation of DOC policy and should have been handled internally in the prisons, not through the courts.
· Covering your window is not a riot. It is impossible to hold a riot in solitary confinement.
· The only people injured during the incident were the peaceful prisoners who were physically attacked by guards.
· The men have endured well-documented human rights abuses at SCI Dallas and now further abuse and retaliation at SCI Mahanoy and SCI Retreat, which has been reported to the appropriate authorities.
· Trial has been consistently delayed for years, taking almost five years to prosecute a third class felony.
· The county and DOC have wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars in housing, transportation, police and court costs bringing them back and forth across the state for a group vendetta by public servants.
· The District Attorney office has taken responsibility for redaction of videotapes without the consent, approval or knowledge of the judge.
· The District Attorney’s office has not turned over full discovery within these five years which is in contempt of court orders.

We have finally seen the justice system in New York begin to address the crisis of prisoner abuse by holding those responsible to account through criminal charges and dismissals of perpetrators. Luzerne County has experienced corruption and interpersonal relationships among officials — when will justice arrive and prevail at Luzerne County? You are responsible for the actions of those who are part of your office since they take your direction and carry out your decisions. Failure to drop the charges will expose to the public the lack of will of your office to investigate serious human rights violations, make your office complicit in the punishment of and retaliation against men who bravely tried to bring to your attention injustices and illegal practices at SCI Dallas, and raise questions about whether your personal relationship with people connected with SCI Dallas constitutes a serious conflict of interest.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Sincerely,
Your Name/Title
Phone/Email

OR
FAX A LETTER
Fax: (570) 825-1622
OR BOTH
TO:
Stefanie J. Salavantis, Esquire
Luzerne County District Attorney
200 North River St.
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711

POINTS
• The charges are false and retaliatory
• The only people injured during the incident were the prisoners who were peaceful
• The only violence was carried out by the guards, who should be on trial for abuse
• Covering your window is a violation of DOC policy and should have been handled internally not through the courts
• Covering your window is not a riot! It is impossible to hold a riot in solitary confinement. Everyone seems to know this except for your court.
• The District Attorney office has not turned over full discovery within these 5 years with no sanctions or contempt being cited against them.
• The District Attorney office has taken responsibility for redaction of videotapes without the consent, approval or knowledge of the judge. This is illegal.
• The county and DOC have wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars in housing, transportation and court costs bringing them back and forth across the state for a personal vendetta
• Trial has been consistently delayed for years, taking almost 5 years to prosecute a 3rd class felony
• The men have endured well documented human rights abuses at SCI Dallas and now further abuse and retaliation at SCI Mahanoy and SCI Retreat, which has been reported to the proper authorities.

Thank you!

More information about the case of the six men who made a peaceful protest inside their solitary confinement cells inside SCI Dallas, PA, and who were severely and unjustly punished by PA DOC can be found by going to the support site.

Protest Disciplinary Actions Against Prison Hunger Strikers

This was sent by email to those who signed up to pledge taking action, but everyone can participate!
Greetings to all Pledge signers,
As you know, on July 8, 2013 more than 30,000 California prisoners initiated a historic hunger strike calling on the Governor and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to meet their 5 Core Demands. Sixty days and one death later, the strikers suspended the strike.
Thank you so much for continuing your support of the hunger strikers.
CDCR RETALIATES AGAINST PEACEFUL PROTEST WITH ACCUSATIONS OF SERIOUS RULE VIOLATIONS (115 WRITE-UP)
The hunger strike was a non-violent and peaceful protest of resistance against the violence and torture perpetrated against prisoners by prison staff. Prisoners all over the world use hunger strikes to affirm their humanity. Hunger striking is a time-honored form of peaceful protest, going back hundreds – perhaps thousands – of years. It allows nonviolent dissent for people who lack viable methods to obtain redress of grievances.
Every person who participated in this summer’s peaceful protest of refusing meals has received a 115 write-up, accusing him of committing a serious rule violation for his participation in the hunger strike. This is a continuation of CDCR’s attacks on the nonviolent protest.
A 115 WRITE-UP CAN EXTEND SOLITARY CONFINEMENT PERIOD AND RESULT IN DENIAL OF PAROLE
A 115 is serious. It can result in extending a prisoner’s period of solitary confinement by years, in the imposition of penalties like television restrictions, or in becoming the basis for denying parole.
If the 115 is gang-related, the results are even worse: it can be used to validate a prisoner as a gang member or associate. Validation can cause the prisoner to be moved to the Security Housing Unit (the “SHU,” aka solitary confinement), or to be kept longer in the SHU. Officials at California State Prison Corcoran, and possibly at other prisons, encouraged prisoners to stipulate that they had participated in the hunger strike, in exchange for a lesser 115 penalty. But that stipulation included a phrase acknowledging that the hunger strike was organized or directed by prison gangs, leading to grave repercussions for participants throughout the system.
Keeping people in solitary confinement for more years, because they peacefully protested solitary confinement, is outrageous! This is a symptom of the unjust retaliation that CDCR is perpetuating against hunger strikers.
TELL CDCR THAT THE PRACTICE OF ISSUING 115 WRITE-UPS FOR PARTICIPATING IN THE HUNGER STRIKE IS OUTRAGEOUS
Please contact M. D. Stainer, Director of the Division of Adult Institutions at CDCR. Your voice needs to be heard by the people making decisions! Tell him to end this policy of punishing people for refusing their meals in nonviolent protest, and to reverse the 115s that were given out. Let him know that you are distressed to hear that about his policy of issuing 115 write-ups, further oppressing the peaceful hunger strikers.
M.D. Stainer, Director
Division of Adult Institutions
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
P. O. Box 942883
Sacramento CA. 94283
(916) 445-7688
PHSS will let you know when we find out the effects of our collective activity. Please share this Alert with your networks!
In solidarity,
Dana Gross, for Emergency Response Network – Pledge of Resistance
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

California has breached human rights of prisoners on hunger strike

Posted: 22 July 2013

‘Prisoners … should not be subjected to punitive measures for exercising their right to engage in peaceful protest’ – Angela Wright


The Californian prison authorities have breached international human rights obligations by taking punitive measures against prisoners on hunger strike, Amnesty International said today.

More than 1,000 inmates in prisons across California remain on hunger strike over conditions for thousands held in solitary confinement in the state’s prisons, with the protest entering its third week.

This is down from approximately 30,000 prisoners in more than 24 prisons who began their hunger strike on 8 July to protest against the state’s policy of long-term solitary confinement in so-called “Security Housing Units”.

On 11 July, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation threatened to take disciplinary action against all those participating in the hunger strike – a move which may extend their time in the secure units.

Hunger strike leaders have also been subjected to increased isolation, where they face harsher conditions and increased restrictions on communication with their lawyers.

A core group of hunger strikers in the north Californian Pelican Bay Security Housing Units claim the prison authorities have blasted cold air into their cells, as well as confiscated fluids, hygiene products and legal materials.

Last year Amnesty published a highly critical 58-page report on the units, describing the “shocking” conditions endured by more than 3,000 prisoners, including 78 people who had spent more than two decades in isolation units (see http://amn.st/12HjOav).

Amnesty International’s USA researcher Angela Wright said:

“Prolonged isolation under conditions which can only be described as cruel and inhumane treatment is prohibited under international law.

“It is unsurprising that prisoners in the SHU are protesting the conditions of their detention.
“Prisoners seeking an end to inhumane conditions should not be subjected to punitive measures for exercising their right to engage in peaceful protest. 

“Rather than punishing prisoners further with the threat of disciplinary action, the Department of Corrections should commit to meaningful reforms that will address the inhumanity of the state’s prison system.”

While California’s Department of Corrections has introduced changes to how individuals are assigned to the units, and how they can work their way out, Amnesty believes that these reforms do not go far enough.

Numerous studies have shown that being held under such harsh environmental conditions is detrimental to a prisoner’s psychological and physical health.

Prisoners held under these conditions are denied rehabilitative or educational programming, and have little or no social contact – including with family members. Most are eventually released back into mainstream society where the long-term effects of their confinement make reintegration harder.

Amnesty is urging California’s Department of Corrections to introduce long-overdue reforms to the secure units system to ensure that California’s treatment of prisoners does not violate its obligation under international human rights law to treat all prisoners humanely.
 

At no other time have more inmates been isolated or locked down in Nevada prisons in over a hundred years than during this time when McDaniel has taken over

Letter sent to us to send for:

Mr. Senator Tick Segerblom
3540 West Sahara Avenue, Suite 352
Las Vegas, Nevada 891025816

Presenter of Senate Bill 107

I am writing you in response to responses made to the press by E.K. McDaniel (deputy director of NDOC), as well as comments of “facts” you made to the same article(by Matt Woolbright and the Associated Press).

Firstly the comments by Mr McDaniel could not be more misdirected or blatant lying to the public in regards of housing in Solitary Confinement. At no other time have more inmates been isolated or locked down in Nevada prisons in over a hundred years (per ratio of incarcerated percentages even) than during this time when McDaniel has taken over.

It is through this mis-information and mis-direction that Ely State Prison is completely locked down except ½ (half) of a workers unit. It is not because of violence that this prison is permanently on isolated lockdown, because even with only less than 24 men able to leave their cells (as where the rest are on 24 hour lockdown) ESP continues to be the only prison with a death rate of at least one man per year caused by the inability to leave their cells.

This is only a small fraction of the argument that can be made in regards to the comments made in this article. Another being – segregated inmates do not have everything general population does. See AR733. Inmates are allowed a TV – or radio – however this becomes a game of power and abuse to the offenders. 

McDaniel’s ½ truths don’t tell you that for any rule infraction the TV or radio is taken away for 60 days more and so on goes the game. Any infraction is another 60 days. Inmates can go years without any appliance. The same game is applied to food, books, showers. For example: inmates lose an average of 20 LBS while in “Disciplinary Segregation.” The portions are half and if an inmate has any altercation (verbally, because there’s norecreation yard for days, weeks on end), then his food is withheld for a week! Ely State Prison is so isolated without overview, that abuses of Constitution and Human Rights are rampant in this prison.

However – you claim inmates are not paced in Isolation for months and years. Sir, bluntly spoken you have no clue what you’re talking about. Don’t go to Lovelock and presume you know how I tis for all NDOC prisoners. That kind of comment, made from blind ignorance, is just… well is a farce of grotesquerie.

I myself have spent 10 out of 14 years in Isolation. There are men who have spent the last 15-20 years in Isolation. The only reason being the Administration claims that there are others they will hurt, or want to hurt them. With this excuse ready able to be given by your ignorance of how people in prisons are truly being abused and are being punished – that is the only excuse they used.

I have been in ESP for almost 15 years. 12+ years have been spent in lockdown. .This form of confinement is still Solitary Confinement. Having one other man that you must live with 24/7 with no jobs, schools, group therapy, or contact without restraints is still isolated confinement, Sir. Try living in your bathroom for the next 12 years with no one but another stranger as company. It makes for a violent, paranoid, uncertain situation, Sir. Men are dying or beaten into a hospital bed, simply because they can’t leave when/if an argument breaks out.

You may argue it’s because we are the worst of the worst. This too is a misdirected and misinformed argument, Sir.  Even still, if we are all the worst of the worst, then locking us up in a cell with 24/7 living isn’t much more than putting two rabid dogs together now, isn’t it? Statistics tell the truth here, Sir. No other prison is locked down like this one. Yet only Ely State Prison continues to report deaths. Each year. This is Isolation, Sir. Over 800 inmates on 23-24/7 lockdown. No classrooms, no group interaction – no way to correct or give help to make an inmate learn to do & be better.

Further – there are men in ESP lockdown that did nothing more than give a dirty urine or had a fist fight or were informed on with noevidence, that they were bad guys. They will go home very soon and yet they are forced to be confined and isolated with murderers, rapists and violent criminals so labeled by this abusive system.

The issue Sir is that the Isolation Confinement – whether it is Solitary or Double cell Confinement is the cause of more problems. The system would work if it was being worked. There are those who get flushed through at a normal rate – giving the appearance of a productive system. But there are those such as myself who have had no group interaction (like any social society) in more than 11 years.

I have lost most of my facial recognition skills – my ability to voice complete and comprehensive discussions. My sleep patterns are extreme and my ability to tolerate spacial acceptance is very low. These are only some of the effects long term confinement causes.

Yes, I will be straight forth – I am a convicted murderer. However, my cellmate is a petty burglar sent here for fighting. This is the issue. There are no programs to teach me to be a better person. How can we learn to live better lives? When I do good I’m still locked down – I am still chained any time I leave my cell. I have not touched grass in 12 years. I amin prison, I was convicted. But am I supposed to learn and be better? If so – what good does this solitary confinement do?

What exactly do you know of Isolation Confinement?

If Solitary Confinement is defined as 16 hours per day in a cell, then what is the limit on double cell confinement? Is 23 hours 7 days a week for 12 years good enough to meet your criteria to constitute a problem?

When you really understand what it’s like to be confined, then I hope you folks do what is right and begin to make changes and put your $ where your mouths are to help us learn to be humans not animals in cages.

Sincerely,

An inmate confined at Ely State Prison (name known to NV PW, email was sent to Mr Segerblom earlier today, but for now we want to keep name of author private for fear of retaliation)

Judge Rules That Retaliation Lawsuit Against Department of Corrections Can Proceed

A press release by the ACLU
March 1, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

A federal judge yesterday refused to dismiss an ACLU lawsuit brought on behalf of an ACI inmate who was retaliated against by guards after he publicly criticized Department of Corrections’ mail policies and sought legal assistance from the ACLU. The pattern of harassment against inmate Jason Cook, which included strip searches, loss of his prison job, destruction of his personal property, and disciplinary time in segregation, began after Cook was quoted in a Providence Journal story criticizing a DOC policy limiting the written materials available to inmates. The policy was later rescinded.

The ACLU lawsuit argues that corrections officials’ actions “in retaliating against Cook for publicly criticizing policy changes” at the DOC violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech “and displayed both deliberate indifference and a reckless disregard of Cook’s constitutional rights.” The suit further claims that the various disciplinary actions taken against him violated Cook’s due process rights.

In court, the Department of Corrections made the troubling argument that Cook had no First Amendment right to speak to the Providence Journal about the policy and therefore his suit should be thrown out. Last September, a magistrate judge rejected DOC’s argument, but the agency appealed that ruling. Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge William Smith agreed that the ACLU’s retaliation claims could proceed, and further ruled that Cook’s due process claims should also not be dismissed.

The mail policy at issue that Cook initially protested, and that was ultimately withdrawn after the ACLU intervened, barred family members from ordering books or magazine subscriptions for inmates. Instead, inmates could only obtain publications directly from a publisher with their own funds. The lawsuit is being handled by ACLU volunteer attorneys from the law firm of DeLuca and Weizenbaum.

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown said today: “The DOC’s position that inmates could be disciplined simply for bringing prison conditions and policies to the public’s attention was extremely troubling. We are pleased that the court has rejected it, and that Mr. Cook can proceed with his claims.” A summary of the actions taken against Cook after he spoke out:

ALLEGATIONS OF RETALIATION AGAINST JASON COOK BY DOC OFFICIALS

  • In October 2007, a Providence Journal story quoted Cook criticizing a new DOC policy limiting the written materials available to inmates. A week later, he was fired from his kitchen job under the pretext that he was caught on a video camera stealing state property. He was later found not guilty of the charge.
  • In February 2008, the RI ACLU intervened on Cook’s behalf in the dispute over the new inmate mail policy by writing DOC officials in support of his position. Shortly thereafter, correctional officers conducted a destructive search of Cook’s cell that damaged some of his personal property.
  • After complaining to the DOC’s Office of Inspections about that search, Cook was advised that other inmates in his module with similar complaints should contact the Office. Cook posted a notice to that effect on an inmate bulletin board. A few days later, as a result of that posting, he was disciplined for “engaging in or encouraging a group demonstration and/or activities,” strip searched and taken to segregation. Two weeks later, he was finally given a hearing on the charge, but not allowed to present and/or question any witnesses. In the meantime, the mail policy about which he and the ACLU had complained was rescinded by the DOC.
  • Cook was found guilty of the charge and sanctioned with 30 days in segregation and the loss of good time. At the end of the hearing on the charge, the hearing officer turned off the tape recorder of the proceeding and told Cook that “this is what happens when you get the ACLU involved in our business.”
  • In May 2008, Cook was once again strip searched and thrown into segregation on the grounds that a letter he had written to the Parole Board was “threatening.” He was held in segregation for almost three weeks without a hearing before being released.
  • In September 2008, Cook sent a letter to Corrections Director A.T. Wall protesting the lack of a response to grievances he had submitted. Two days later, Cook was again subjected to a strip search and a cell search where his property was destroyed. Officers also looked through Cook’s legal materials and asked him if he had communicated further with any Providence Journal reporters.

Super Max Prisoner Represents Himself in Court while on Hunger Strike and Wins

This is a press release, published by Redbird Prison Abolition on Feb. 9th:

Contact: Ben Turk
Phone: 614-704-4699
Website: RedBirdPrisonAbolition.org

Friday, February 8th, Mahoning County, OH-

The jury largely sided with hunger striking super max prisoner Cornelius Harris in his criminal trial this week. Harris was facing nine felony charges stemming from fights with guards at The Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP). Harris has long maintained that these fights were actually initiated by guards who have targeted him for harassment and abuse. Earlier this week, a jury found largely in Mr Harris’ favor.

Mr Harris initiated his hunger strike on January fourth, and went to trial later in the month. He represented himself, and part way through the trial he was transferred to Franklin Medical Center (FMC) because of his deteriorating health due to the hunger strike. Mr Harris says he has lost about fifty pounds, and is experiencing sharp pains in his legs. Doctors report that he is close to suffering serious medical problems like organ failure because he has refused food for so long.

On Tuesday February 5th, the court Judge Maureen Sweeney ordered Mr Harris return to court to complete his trial, against the wishes of doctors at FMC. Harris was transferred back to OSP and appeared in court, ending the jury phase of trial on Friday, February 8th. Mr Harris was charged with two counts of attempted aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, three counts of felonious assault, and three possession of a dangerous weapon while in detention charges. He was found not guilty of the attempted murder and felonious assault charges. Both attempted aggravated murder charges were reduced to felonious assault.

Mr Harris represented himself, with no assistance from lawyers, while his health was seriously compromised by the hunger strike. He says he is confident that under different circumstances, or with legal representation he would have also beaten the remaining charges.

As of Friday evening, Mr Harris is still on hunger strike. He was threatening to refuse water as well as food, a decision that would risk ending his life within 72 hours, but after the trial results and a meeting with the warden, he decided to drink water at least through the weekend. Mr Harris is making two main demands. First, an end to this harassment from guards and second, an improved procedure for security level review.

In June of 2012, Mr Harris released a statement, posted to RedBird Prison Abolition’s website detailing this abuse. In this statement he names correctional officers Timothy McVay, James Burns, Kieth Hawn and Waylon Wine as abusers. Mr Harris is concerned that these or other guards may escalate harassment and violence against him because of the results of the trial.

Mr Harris has been incarcerated at OSP since being transferred from Southern Ohio Correctional Institution (SOCF) in Lucasville five and a half years ago. The incidents producing these criminal charges occurred in 2009 and 2010. Mr Harris says he has not had any incident reports for the last three years, but has been kept on level 5 with severely restricted access to visitors, commissary and programming. Under these limitations, there is very little any level 5 prisoners can do to demonstrate good behaviour and reduce their security level.

In June of 2012, a death sentenced level 5 prisoner at OSP named Jason Robb went on a nine day hunger strike which ended with modifications to security review procedure and privileges for him and other death sentenced prisoners at OSP. These changes include limited congregate recreation, full contact visits, and increased frequency of security reviews. These changes allow the death sentenced prisoners at OSP to demonstrate ability to be housed on death row in Chillicothe. Mr Harris is demanding that these changes also apply to him. Mr Harris says Warden David Bobby is unwilling to meet these demands because he would have to apply the same changes to all level 5 prisoners.

Prisoner advocates say that these step-down procedures should be applied to all level 5 prisoners. Prisoners on level 5 at OSP spend 23 hours a day alone in their small cells, often for years on end. They have no human contact other than guards. These conditions are common in US super max prisons, but violate international human rights standards and are widely considered a form of torture.

Supporters are requesting that people call OSP Warden David Bobby on Monday, demanding that Mr Harris be kept safe from retaliation and have his hunger strike demands met. Warden Bobby can be reached at 330-743-0700 ext 2006. People are also encouraged to contact central office and demand oversight and changes to the security review system for level 5 prisoners. The number for Central Office is 614-752-1159.

Note from OHPW: Cornelius Harris’ ODRC registration nr is: #A525945

New Hunger strikes against new CDCR policies for gang validations – Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers: TV’s have been taken away

We received an edition via email from Ms Kendra, thank you for keeping us updated!
Oct 20th 2012

It came from Pelican Bay Adseg unit, legit source from last two statewide hunger strikes wrote me a personal letter detailing why they were hunger striking and it was for the 5 core demands. This man is validated as a [withheld for privacy reasons by Ca PW] under CDCR and is in Adseg at Pelican Bay waiting for a SHU cell to open up.

He said they were aware of the end of hostilities agreement from the short corridor as well once he received my article, he told me that when they started to refuse their statefood the officers came in took away canteen food,and when some men didn’t want to hand over their TV’s the officers forcefully cell extracted the inmate to remove the TVs.

This inmate is asking whether or not that was legal to do so. He also asked me if it is only Pelican Bay hunger striking and if any other prisons were hunger striking too. It was written on 10/10/2012 and postmarked 10/16/2012.

He told me that we should have known before it happened that they were going to hunger strike about Pelican Bay State Prison’s hunger strike (he wrote me as if I already knew it was going to happen) so it seems like the men thought everyone out here was aware of a hunger strike going to happen there when no one knew about it.

Also, I received a letter from an inmate at PB Short Corridor D-2 a few days ago telling me their mail is extremely restricted lately because of “The hunger strike” and because of all the things that have been underway there they have been working on including the end of hostilities. So i am not sure who else at Pelican Bay went on a hunger strike and it hasn’t been confirmed from an inmate there in that unit that it stopped.

CDCR says the men resumed eating at Pelican Bay State Prison but we all know CDCR’s tricks, they said that when Christian Gomez from Corcoran ASU died from starving himself, they said that about other prisons during last statewide hunger strikes that men resumed eating when to find out they were still starving. I am going to still think these men are still hunger striking in the Adseg unit at Pelican Bay State Prison, I refuse to take CDCR’s word because they have been known to lie.

Until i get confirmation from these men that they resumed eating then i’ll believe they’ve resumed eating. I take the prisoners word over CDCR’s. These men need support!! and if anyone has heard from the Adseg Unit at Pelican Bay that they resumed eating please let us know. Thank you. The officers should give them back their TV’s too! –

Kendra Castañeda, kendracastaneda55@gmail.com


We received thanks to Kendra Castañeda a message from a prisoner held in Pelican Bay SHU, that there is indeed a hunger strike underway, and that the prison guards took away the personal tv’s of those participating in the peaceful protest against the torturous conditions inside the Ad. seg. or solitary confinement unit. Letter was postmarked October 16th to Kendra Castañeda, inmate name being withheld due to more retaliation from the guards.

We do not know why the personal belongings were taken by the correctional officers. The reasoning seems to be purely retaliational, there is no other reason. One cannot eat a TV.

Please also read the article on SolitaryWatch about the new hunger strikes here.

Also the roundup by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.

Please read the 5 core demands of last year’s hunger strike.

The hunger strike at Tehachapi appears to have been against the new “STG manual” for CDCR “gang validation”, version 7.0 (see our link in the sidebar and here) and maybe this is also the case in PBSP, as news is coming out about this latest version to spin the same policies in a different manner.

Please read this open letter to the CCR, published Oct 16th 2012, with the reaction of the PB Short Corridor Collective to these new policies, requesting Gov. Jerry Brown intervenes:

On Anniversary of Hunger Strike Pelican Bay Prisoners in Solitary Confinement See No Change, Request Intervention of CA Governor

As well as being published in the SF Bay View (and taken over here).

Speaking of these new policies, please read the very well-documented story of Shane Bauer, which was published yesterday on Mother Jones Magazine website, which also discusses this latest version of the “gang (STG) validation policy” (see page 4):

Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons.
We throw thousands of men in the hole for the books they read, the company they keep, the beliefs they hold. Here’s why.

—By Shane Bauer
Mother Jones, November/December 2012 Issue 79

IT’S BEEN SEVEN MONTHS since I’ve been inside a prison cell. Now I’m back, sort of. The experience is eerily like my dreams, where I am a prisoner in another man’s cell. Like the cell I go back to in my sleep, this one is built for solitary confinement. I’m taking intermittent, heaving breaths, like I can’t get enough air. This still happens to me from time to time, especially in tight spaces. At a little over 11 by 7 feet, this cell is smaller than any I’ve ever inhabited. You can’t pace in it.

Like in my dreams, I case the space for the means of staying sane. Is there a TV to watch, a book to read, a round object to toss? The pathetic artifacts of this inmate’s life remind me of objects that were once everything to me: a stack of books, a handmade chessboard, a few scattered pieces of artwork taped to the concrete, a family photo, large manila envelopes full of letters. I know that these things are his world.

“So when you’re in Iran and in solitary confinement,” asks my guide, Lieutenant Chris Acosta, “was it different?” His tone makes clear that he believes an Iranian prison to be a bad place.

He’s right about that. After being apprehended on the Iran-Iraq border, Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and I were held in Evin Prison’s isolation ward for political prisoners. Sarah remained there for 13 months, Josh and I for 26 months. We were held incommunicado. We never knew when, or if, we would get out. We didn’t go to trial for two years. When we did we had no way to speak to a lawyer and no means of contesting the charges against us, which included espionage. The alleged evidence the court held was “confidential.”

What I want to tell Acosta is that no part of my experience—not the uncertainty of when I would be free again, not the tortured screams of other prisoners—was worse than the four months I spent in solitary confinement. What would he say if I told him I needed human contact so badly that I woke every morning hoping to be interrogated? Would he believe that I once yearned to be sat down in a padded, soundproof room, blindfolded, and questioned, just so I could talk to somebody?

I want to answer his question—of course my experience was different from those of the men at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison—but I’m not sure how to do it. How do you compare, when the difference between one person’s stability and another’s insanity is found in tiny details? Do I point out that I had a mattress, and they have thin pieces of foam; that the concrete open-air cell I exercised in was twice the size of the “dog run” at Pelican Bay, which is about 16 by 25 feet; that I got 15 minutes of phone calls in 26 months, and they get none; that I couldn’t write letters, but they can; that we could only talk to nearby prisoners in secret, but they can shout to each other without being punished; that unlike where I was imprisoned, whoever lives here has to shit at the front of his cell, in view of the guards?

“There was a window,” I say. I don’t quite know how to tell him what I mean by that answer. “Just having that light come in, seeing the light move across the cell, seeing what time of day it was—” Without those windows, I wouldn’t have had the sound of ravens, the rare breezes, or the drops of rain that I let wash over my face some nights. My world would have been utterly restricted to my concrete box, to watching the miniature ocean waves I made by sloshing water back and forth in a bottle; to marveling at ants; to calculating the mean, median, and mode of the tick marks on the wall; to talking to myself without realizing it. For hours, days, I fixated on the patch of sunlight cast against my wall through those barred and grated windows. When, after five weeks, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground utterly broken, sobbing and rocking to the beat of my heart, it was the patch of sunlight that brought me back. Its slow creeping against the wall reminded me that the world did in fact turn and that time was something other than the stagnant pool my life was draining into.
When, after five weeks, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground utterly broken, sobbing and rocking to the beat of my heart, it was the patch of sunlight that brought me back.

Here, there are no windows.

Read more here: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/10/solitary-confinement-shane-bauer

State’s Meanness Is Shameful!

From: The Prisoner’s Advocate: State’s Meanness Is Shameful! (via email)
For immediate release, 29 Jan. 2012
info at prisonersadvocate.org

State’s Meanness Is Shameful!
By David Honeman

The high walls and fences surrounding prisons are designed not only to keep prisoners in, but also to hide ugly secrets. That is exactly what’s happening in the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC). It is a well-concealed environment of abusive treatment of prisoners and a waste of taxpayer’s dollars.

One must walk in someone else’s shoes to fully understand and appreciate what they experience, especially adversity. While I’ve never been in prison, I have been an advocate for prisoners and prison reform for over 15 years. In that time, I have visited many prisons, talked with many prisoners and prison staff, and it has been an eye-opening experience for me. The mental, emotional and often physical abuse that prisoners endure daily from unscrupulous prison staff is unfathomable. If the public knew what really goes on behind those high walls and fences, with their tax dollars, they would be livid.

Everyone understands that people are sent to prison as punishment for their crimes. Being separated from family and society is their punishment. They were not sent to prison to be punished, abused, degraded and humiliated. Yet, that’s what is happening in the NDOC. While most corrections employees are there to do an honest day’s work, many feel it is their job to harass, threaten, intimidate and punish inmates for their crimes. They feel they can abuse inmates anyway they choose and not be held accountable for it. To a large extent, that’s true. That’s because most prisoners are functionally illiterate and come from impoverished families, and neither have the wherewithal to challenge the abuse. They have no voice; those who do challenge are retaliated against. Prison administrations cover up the abuse inflicted by unscrupulous staff. So the state wastes millions of dollars annually defending the unethical behavior of prison employees.

Lovelock Correctional Center (LCC) is a prime example. It’s touted as a model prison; however, that’s a huge misnomer. It is a prison filled primarily with sex offenders, homosexuals and dropout gang members. Those are the miscreants that staff loathe the most, and as a result, they are degraded, humiliated and harassed because of their crimes. Officers who gloat about abusing prisoners brag about this reprehensible misconduct; they find it very satisfying. Efforts of this kind are an attempt to beat up on prisoners because they are not liked. People who think prisoners are worthless and feel it is their right, as prison employees, to degrade and abuse them should not work in prisons.

An employee of LCC, who spoke on conditions anonymity said, “The dearth of leadership at LCC and NDOC is unfathomable. There are no visionaries or people trained in corrections. It’s just a good ol’ boy network of uneducated, redneck racists who think they are executives and are paid as such. The NDOC does not want change, so they don’t recruit outsiders. But, educated visionaries won’t work in corrections no matter what you pay them. Within the last year, LCC got all new wardens, all were promoted from within and none were qualified; therefore, they don’t get the respect of the staff. Most wardens are so shielded by their command staff that they don’t have a clue about what’s going on in their prison. They do little work, instead, they delegate to their underlings. They lie and cover up for their staff’s abusive misgivings. They are cowards and not accessible to staff or inmates. Most hold jobs they are not qualified for, and therefore, are so far over their heads that they only know how to manage through threats, intimidation, degradation and humiliation”.

Citing an example, the employee said, “The shift lieutenant, Matthew Wightman, is a good example. He was promoted through the ranks, and is too uneducated, and has no people skills to do his job adequately. Yet, his title gives him a false sense of superiority. He is intimidated by anyone, staff or inmate, who is more educated than he is; therefore, he loses control, gets red-faced, and can only supervise with loud threats, cursing and degrading comments. To show that he’s in charge, he lies, embellishes reports of incidences, and instructs the staff to do so just to punish inmates he does not like. Staff feels compelled to follow suit because he’s their supervisor. Wightman is so insecure and jealous of other’s success, even inmates, so to feel superior and in control, he degrades and humiliates. He thinks this earns him respect from the staff, when, in fact, they have no respect for him. The administration condones his behavior”.

Caseworkers, who have the most direct contact with prisoners, are often the most abusive culprits. Their jobs are to assist prisoners, help prepare them for re-entry and prepare reports for parole hearings. One employee said, “Those reports are filled with lies. I’ve never read a positive report on an inmate, and no inmate has ever been pardoned from LCC since it opened about 18 years ago. Most caseworkers, like Dwayne Baze, are lazy; they slough off and don’t do their jobs. They are not accessible to inmates; they lie and makeup answers to inmate’s questions, just spin them, and ignore their inquiries. If they don’t like an inmate, then they brag about how they lie and file false reports to paper f—them out of the prison. Even inmates deserve an honest answer and to be treated with respect. Caseworkers feel it is their job to hurt rather than help inmates because they don’t like them, especially sex offenders.

It’s almost comical how incensed prison staff becomes if an inmate is not honest with them. They become offended, infuriated and punish them severely. Ironically, no one lies more than the people who work in corrections! Yet, they demand respect, and act as though they are morally beyond reproach. Actually, many of them are former alcoholics, drug addicts and prostitutes”.

Prisons are run on lies and deception. People who work in prisons are not much different than those they lord over. The biggest difference is that employees have not been prosecuted – yet! Staff, who is honest, will admit that too. Prisoners are facing their wrongs and are being punished for it, while employees see themselves as doing no wrong, and therefore anticipate no punishment for the evil they do. They know if they do wrong, their co-workers will cover for them. And, they do cover up because the union is so powerful and will defend them. One prison employee said, “Our union is no different than a street gang with its unwritten code of silence. We violate our own Employee Code of Ethics daily by lying and covering up the abuse”.

I know that in the more than 15 years that I’ve been involved in advocacy, I’ve never encountered a more mendacious and unscrupulous prison administration than is currently in place at LCC with Robert LeGrand and Quentin Byrne. It’s criminal, not to mention shameful.

While most prison employees do not abuse, they see it done on a daily basis by co-workers and just turn a blind eye to it. In my opinion, that makes them just as guilty. To work in prisons, one must sacrifice their conscience for the benefit of a job. For if they have a conscience, “it” will not allow them to work there. That’s why the average tenure of an employee of the NDOC is less than 2 years. They hate their jobs, they feel trapped, and can’t speak out against all the lies and abuse for fear of retribution from co-workers and supervisors. It’s no wonder that prison employees have the highest rates of alcohol, drug abuse, heart attacks, strokes and divorce. It’s not because they work in a dangerous environment either.

At the end of the day, whether the end of this day or the end of one’s career, all any of us have to reflect on is how well we’ve treated other people. When corrections employees do that, their conscience consumes them, and that’s why they hold that dubious honor.

Prison officials and the media are quick to blame prisoners’ families for introducing contraband into prisons. They place severe restrictions on visits and mail to prevent it. While I would never suggest that people visiting prisoners don’t try to bring in contraband, most contraband (drugs, cell phones) is brought in by prison staff and sold to prisoners. Employees police their own ranks and are not adequately searched. In some prisons, like LCC, employees can bring in coolers large enough for a family picnic, so they can bring in any contraband. Let’s put the blame where it’s due.

Prison jobs are good jobs. Most only require a high school diploma or GED. Yet, prison officers earn more than teachers with Master’s degrees and college professors with doctorates, but are not held accountable. The trend today is to end tenure for teachers and tie their salary to how well their students score on tests. If that’s so, then why not tie corrections employee’s salaries to how many prisoners they rehab or to the recidivism rate? It makes about as much sense.

It’s the power over others that prison staff craves. That power gives them a false sense of superiority. They are quick to judge, find fault and punish, often severely, for petty infractions they are guilty of themselves. Often they lie and file false reports out of revenge. It’s akin to judges doling out lengthy prison sentences to drug users when they are drug users themselves. The hypocrisy is disgusting.

People think everything in prison is free, however, that is far from true. When prisoners get sick and have to be seen by medical staff, they must pay an $8 fee. If they don’t have the money to pay, then they are seen, but the $8 fee is held in arrears on their prison account, and is deducted whenever family sends them money. If they get injured playing sports, then they must pay the entire medical cost, which could be thousands of dollars. Yet, they are not allowed to have health insurance or choose their medical provider. The prison refuses to give an itemized bill showing the expenses. They only release the total amount. Imagine going to the hospital for treatment and getting a bill for $2000 with no explanation. The NDOC recently settled a lawsuit filed by the ACLU over inadequate prison healthcare. Greg Cox and E. K. McDaniel were responsible for the inadequate healthcare that precipitated the lawsuit. Yet they were promoted to director and deputy director, respectively.

Research shows that when prisoners have regular contact with their families that it improves their behavior and reduces recidivism, yet, a phone call from prison is so expensive that average families can’t afford it. A 30-minute in-state call costs $5 and that same call out-of-state costs over $20, a local call costs $1.95. The NDOC collects over 50% kickback on all prison phone calls. It’s shameful.

By their own admission, the NDOC is not meeting the nutritional needs of its inmates. The diets are not balanced or nutritional. The diets consist primarily of fast foods – hamburgers, hot dogs, and corn dogs. Elementary school children get more to eat than prisoners. Poor diets lead to poor health and poor behavior.

A visit to the prison commissary is robbery without a gun. A TV that sells for $89 at Wal-Mart goes for $350, which includes a fee for the electricity to use it.

Nevada is trying to finance the DOC on the backs of prisoners’ families, most of whom are already impoverished. Prisoners must rely on family and friends for money to survive in prison. Fewer than 10% of prisoners’ jobs have pay numbers, and top pay is about $30 a month.

To retaliate against inmates, officers shakedown and tear apart their cells with vengeance, often damaging and destroying their property and stealing their commissary items. Then laugh about it, and say, “what are you going to do about it?”

While there is a grievance procedure in place, most grievances are denied, lost or never responded to. They are denied because the prison knows that most inmates cannot afford the fee to file a lawsuit against them. Those that do sue are retaliated against.

Taxpayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on corrections, and don’t understand why the recidivism rate is so high. There’s a reason why it is so high. People leave prison angrier than before they arrived. I use this analogy to describe prison: If you catch a tiger, put it in a cage and poke it with a stick everyday for 20 years, then turn it loose on your family and friends, what does it do? That’s what prisons do, so it’s no wonder people leave prison angrier than before they arrived, and the recidivism rate is so high.

All crimes are bad and regardless of how one feels about prisoners, they deserve to be treated humanely and with respect. And, given the resources needed to rehab in order to become productive, law-abiding citizens. Prison staff are paid to do that -to help, not abuse.

Given the nature of their work and the power they exercise over inmates, employees like LeGrand, Byrne, Wightman and Baze have shown themselves to lack fitness to hold employment. The harm that can be produced by this type of intimidation and humiliation can lead to tragic consequences. Inappropriate actions by prison staff or statements which could lead to dangerous situations in the prison (system) should not be tolerated. There should be zero tolerance for intimidation by staff as well as prisoners. .

One former employee said, “I’ve never seen a prison employee put in a full day’s work. They have access to the Internet, so they can play computer games and sleep. They read inmate’s newspapers and magazines, often keeping them for weeks, and working the crossword puzzles before giving them to the inmates, who paid for them. While prison jobs are good jobs and pay well, my conscience would not allow me to work there. I was ashamed to tell people where I worked”.

Prisons house our homeland war causalities, the wounded of our unsolved societal battles with racism and poverty. Our prisons have become housing for the poor, those who are the wrong race, the wrong class, and from the wrong side of town, with the wrong kind of drugs in hand.

Prison life is one of never-ending sorrows and sufferings. It is a society of despair, with anxieties and fears fostering mistrust and manipulation. Punishment takes precedence over programs for rehabilitation. Controlled movement and constant surveillance undermine a sense of dignity. Survival and advancement depend on submission and compliance. Anger rumbles beneath the surface, with some predictable eruptions into violence. Prisoners feel alone, sometimes plagued by guilt, often bombarded by stress. And usually they lack support and resources to address their struggles.
Prisoners are regularly shamed and humiliated by a system that is relentlessly cruel. It is shredding to the soul. Even humane correctional officers find it difficult to practice respectful ways when the system rewards and praises harsh treatment.

Where did we get the peculiar idea that further punishment and diminishment of a person’s life will create better human beings? In my imagination, I dream of ushering in new prisoners with the words, “Welcome. The violence and hurt stop here. Here you will learn a new way of being human. Here you will learn to live with dignity and respect for yourself and others”. It does not happen.

We should all be held responsible for our behavior, not just prisoners, but also those who work in prison. Put yourself in the shoes of a prisoner. Would you want to be mistreated and abused? Would you want your child, sibling or parent to be abused, regardless of their crime? Don’t you want them helped?

Taxpayers of Nevada deserve better and its prisoners deserve better.

David Honeman is Legal Counsel of the National Alliance for Prisoners’ Rights,
a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization that advocates for prisoners and prison reform. He can be reached at PO Box 384, Milltown, NJ 08850.

Feeling death at our heels: An update from the frontlines of the struggle

“This photo was taken a few days after the first hunger strike ended. I was about 178 pounds; I’d lost 42 pounds,” Heshima Denham wrote on the back. He added these wise words: “Progress requires sacrifice; give up your life for the people.”

From: SF Bay View
Jan 25, 2012
from the NCTT Corcoran SHU

“Death is impossible for us to fathom; it is so immense, so frightening that we will do almost anything to keep from thinking about it. Society is organized to make death invisible, to keep it several steps removed. That distance may seem necessary for our comfort, but it comes with a terrible price: the illusion of limitless time, and a consequent lack of seriousness about daily life. As a warrior in life, you must turn this dynamic around: Make the thought of death something not to escape but to embrace. Your days are numbered. Will you pass them halfhearted or will you live with a sense of urgency? Cruel theaters staged by a czar are unnecessary; death will come to you without them. Imagine it pressing in on you, leaving you no escape, for there is no escape. Feeling death at your heels will make all your actions more certain, more forceful. This could be your last throw of the dice: Make it count.” – Robert Greene, bestselling author of “The 48 Laws of Power”

“This photo was taken a few days after the first hunger strike ended. I was about 178 pounds; I’d lost 42 pounds,” Heshima Denham wrote on the back. He added these wise words: “Progress requires sacrifice; give up your life for the people.”
Written Jan. 8, postmarked Jan. 18, 2012 – Greetings, brothers and sisters: A firm, warm and solid embrace of revolutionary love and solidarity is extended to each of you from each of us.

Since the last hunger strike ended, we have weathered wave after wave of retaliation from the state’s prison administrators that continues unabated to this day. But before I catalog these manifestations of weakness on the part of state prison administrators, we feel it’s necessary to recount why this struggle began and the nature of our resolve to see the five core demands realized.

We have been consigned to ever more aggressive sensory deprivation torture units for 10, 20, 30 and in some cases 40 years, based on an administrative determination that we are members or associates of a “gang” – a term that encompasses leftist ideologies, political and politicized prisoners, jailhouse lawyers and most anyone who in the opinion of Institutional Gang Investigations (IGI) is not passively accepting his role as a commodity in the prison industrial complex.

These administrative determinations are not due to some overt act of misconduct or pattern of rules violations. No, these “validations” are based most often on the reports, words or accounts of debriefers, rats, informants and other broken men who will say and do ‘most anything their IGI and ISU (Investigative Services Unit) handlers instruct them to, to avoid confinement in the SHU (Security Housing Unit) or carry some other favor from their masters.

After decades of fruitless legal challenges, after years of suffering the deprivations of conditions so inherently evil, inhumane and psychologically torturous that most of you simply cannot comprehend the reality behind these words, most of us came to realize an immutable truth: that the state’s mantra of “the only way out of the SHU is to parole, debrief or die” was something that they not only meant, but was in fact a key feature in developing a subservient and passive pool of prisoner commodities upon which the orderly fleecing of taxpayer dollars could be based.

Thirty years of successful propaganda, of dehumanizing underclass communities and the imprisoned, of lobbying that’s led to the dominance of the CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association) in judicial and political elections and appointments – all to mislead an ill-informed public into submitting greater control of their lives and society to an industrial interest that runs counter to the public safety concerns they were vested to protect. Many of us watched this state of affairs progress unchallenged as our protestations fell on deaf ears, year after year, decade after decade, until advanced age and the decimation of our communities forced us onto “death ground,” where you may survive if you can resist, but you will most surely perish if you do not.

We took up a strategy which would pull back the curtain on the state’s practice of domestic torture which has been so well hidden from the people for so long, a strategy in which some of us may yet die: THE HUNGER STRIKE. We would rather starve ourselves, to risk inevitable death, than to be indefinitely subjected to the deprivations of the torture unit.

What must be understood is that existence here is, in many ways, a fate worse than death; and when advancing age brings that mortality into stark focus, the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, “Death is nothing, but to live defeated is to die every day,” resonate. This simple observation defines our resolve in realizing our five core demands.

To say this is a protracted struggle is an understatement; this is a struggle in which we will win or we will die in the effort. Our actions thus far, and the awareness of this international community of their inherent righteousness, has made this adamantine resolve clear, so why then would CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) officials resort to petty retaliatory actions? The answer lies in the very nature of the tyranny and authoritarian power they represent.

Aggression is deceptive; it inherently hides weakness. Aggressors possess poor emotional control and little patience for challenges to their interests. The first waves of retaliation from these types of aggressors may seem strong to some; this is why so many non-SHU general population prisoners dropped out of the second hunger strike as those waves struck them. But, of course, we were unmoved; and the longer such attacks go on, the clearer their underlying weaknesses and insecurity become. It is an act of irrational desperation, but one they pursue out of sheer rote.

Since the second hunger strike ended, we have experienced perpetual retaliation – some overt, some carefully disguised – all designed to erode the minds and wills of those committed to resist. We were denied any medical treatment for our starvation and when we filed emergency 602s to receive renutrition treatment and hunger strike-related injuries, they were not responded to until some 40 days later.

For example, during the first hunger strike, I (Heshima) passed out due to malnutrition and dehydration; the account was detailed in a previous statement. But simply put, their own guilt and fear caused them to assemble some 26 officers before opening my cell and piling on top of my unconscious form in order to shackle my arms and legs in chains and put me in an ambulance.

Mind you, according to witnesses, they casually, even jokingly, left me lying on my cell floor for 35 minutes before jumping on my body. Since then I’ve had a sharp, constant pain in my right side at the base of my ribcage. Though I’ve filed two medical appeals, as of this writing I have still not been treated or even diagnosed for this.

Zaharibu’s cholesterol, blood oxygen levels and blood pressure are so far outside of normal range he is at chronic risk for stroke, heart attack and diabetes – the nurses routinely “forgetting” to bring or administer his insulin when indicated.

Shortly after the second hunger strike ended, we were told, “One of the two pumps that delivers hot water to the institution is broken and we should have the part to fix it in two days.” That was over 50 days ago and we’ve had hot water for a total of three of those 50-plus days. In that intervening time, “due to the lack of hot water” we’ve been fed on paper trays, which ensures all meals arrive cold and grossly under-portioned. Because all we have to wash or shower with in these freezing cells is cold or lukewarm water, 80 percent of us housed in this 4BIL-C-Section short corridor have contracted a cold, upper respiratory tract infection or flu.

Despite numerous appeals and motions to the court, they have not run law library for any of us since August, making it impossible to access legal research, copying service or verified legal mailing, thus jeopardizing the viability of numerous legal pleadings in the courts.

We have often expounded upon the fundamental unreliability of reforms as nothing more than temporary pacification measures that can be repealed at the whim of administrators, and this analysis was again proven only weeks after the second hunger strike ended. Former Undersecretary of Corrections Scott Kernan made a big to-do about the concessions being made to improve the material conditions in SHU, including giving us action at a single special purchase order to purchase newly approved cold weather items by Dec. 31 – or those items would have to be included in annual packages.

Things like watch caps, thermals, tennis shoes etc. were all “approved” for SHU. Memos trumpeting this and Operational Procedure (OP) update chronos were issued to us all, only to be followed by a memo stating the warden of CSP-Corcoran-SHU was effectively repealing the single special purchase order for cold weather items without explanation. This was soon followed by another memo stating tennis shoes orders to SHU would not be allowed until after “Sacramento” made changes to the property matrix, something that was done by Scott Kernan back in October via emergency memo.

Rolling power outages have suddenly become routine here. The mailroom suddenly devised new regulations directing any phony orders to be directed to one post office box, while letters go to another, making it more difficult and confusing for those who care to see to the welfare of their loved ones here. Not to be left out, CDCR trust account officials have raised processing fees on electronic trust deposits called “J-Pays,” some 500 percent, from $1 to $5, increasing the financial burden on underclass families while maximizing their own profiteering.

All of those things are designed to fuse with the daily mental struggles of the reality of indefinite sensory deprivation confinement to have the cumulative effect of eroding the psychology of resistance, and if this were a situation where there was some psychological threshold to breach, they may well have found some here who capitulate. But that simply is not the reality.

This is not a situation where multi-spectrum retaliation – or coercive force of any kind – will somehow diminish the resolve of those of us committed to ending the perpetual torture inherent in these indeterminate SHU units. In fact, quite the opposite is true; such actions only serve to crystallize in our minds the simple fact that we cannot lose. The alternative is simply more unpleasant than the relatively quick sacrifice of death by starvation. They can ratchet up the intensity on these petulant retaliation moves a hundredfold and it will have no other effect than increasing our resolve a thousandfold.

We must win this struggle not simply because it is morally correct, upholds international standards of humanity, opposes governmental collusion in corporate exploitation of underclass people, and serves the interests – social, political and economic – of society as a whole, but also because it’s necessarily our survival. We are men in earnest; consequences have little meaning in the face of such conditions.

Some of you reading these words are no doubt grappling with the reality behind them, attempting to find some point of relatability, some common experience from which to draw a correlation. Unless you’ve experienced this firsthand, such an attempt is an effort in futility. But for the sake of this discussion, I challenge you to run an experiment: Go to your bathroom and close the door. Imagine that you will never leave that room. Your tub and shower, that’s your bed. Yes, your toilet is only a step or two away from where you lay your head. Your food will be brought to you here twice a day.

Stay there as long as you can. How long do you last? Twenty minutes? An hour? Six hours? Imagine you sit in that bathroom for a year, 10 years, 24 years, 40 years. You will never leave that bathroom unless you are released from prison, agree to be an agent for the same people who stuck you in that bathroom, or you die of old age and infirmity. How long would you last? How strong is your will?

Would you submit to snitchery, kowtow to your torturers and become a tool to condemn others to that same fate? Or would you fight, resist to the bitter end, give your life to expose such evil, greedy, draconian hypocrites for what they really are? Hold the mirror of social reality up to the face of every man and woman in U.S. society and force them to confront the human misery being carried to sicker and more depraved depths every day in their names? What would you do?

Some would characterize our effort as insane, as crazy. In “Hagakure: The door of the Samurai,” Yamamoto Tsunetomo quotes Lord Naoshige as saying the way of the warrior (samurai) is in desperateness. Ten or more cannot kill such a man. Common sense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate.

None of us want to die, but all of us are prepared to do so to realize these five core demands. History dictates no less.

So we wait. We have been told the revisions and changes to the status quo in these torture units will be done this month or by February, but the relentless retaliatory blows we are absorbing as the sobering reminder of what we are dealing with: An entrenched labor aristocracy and political patronage of corporate speculators, who’ve grown rich and powerful off extorting billions from hapless taxpayers and criminalizing underclass people and communities, will resist any effort to curtail their wealth, privilege and socio-political status quo.

These vile and greedy people are extracting more of your tax dollars for their exclusive use than many nations’ gross national product by using us as scapegoats to frighten the people – when in fact many of us are servants of the people, political progressives who would willingly lay down our lives to advance the cause of freedom, social justice and economic equality in the nation.

In the case of the NCTT and those of like mind, ironically that’s why we were validated and consigned to these torture units in the first place. A common practice of corrupt political interests is to criminalize dissent and criticism. Who will care? We are prisoners; who will know these truths? They have already succeeded in lobbying to have media access to prisoners banned unless they consent to who will be interviewed. Again, who will care, who will know?

If you’re reading these words, you now know the only question that remains is: Do you care? Do you care that the very people who you’ve entrusted with ensuring public safety are in fact intentionally working against that interest to maintain a bloated prison industrial complex on your tax dollars and our souls? Do you care that the U.S., which is so vocally condemning other nations, is ignoring its U.N. treaty obligations and maintaining its own expansive domestic torture program in U.S. Supermax SHU prisons across this nation? Do you care that these evils, this blatant hypocrisy is being carried out in your name? Do you care? And if you don’t, exactly what type of society is this we’ve allowed to emerge?

If you are reading these words, you can no longer claim ignorance; to stand idly by now would be complicity. A wise man once said, “All that is necessary for evil men to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” We are under no illusions. The ultimate arbiter of our fate – and this society’s fate – is the people. YOU. YOU must rise up against this injustice and inhumanity. YOU must let the state know that substantive change at every level of society is something the people demand.

We have supported, and will continue to support, progressive people’s movements, from the Dream Act to the Occupy Movement, because we recognize the inherent unity of purpose in this single political motive force, the reality that we do not represent disparate social interests but a single determined democratic imperative to put an end to the stranglehold that this greedy elite and its tools currently have on every area of people’s activity in the U.S., to put an end to these exploitive relationships that diminish and impoverish the many for the aggrandizement of the few.

To treat us this way is wrong, evil and unsustainable socially. Stand with us. Lend your voices, your labor, and your ideas to this historical work. We can win, but only with you all by our sides. In the final analysis, this is a struggle to determine the nature of humanity itself. We are on the right side of history; we encourage you all to stand on this same side with us. Our love, loyalty and solidarity to all those who cherish freedom, justice and human rights and fear only failure. Until we win or don’t lose.

For more information on the California prison hunger strikes or the NCTT, contact:

• Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, CSP-COR-SHU, 4BIL-53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212

• J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, CSP-COR-SHU, 4BIL-46, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212

• Kambui Robinson, C-82830, CSP-COR-SHU, 4BIL-49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212.

Read these brothers’ previous stories:
“California prison hunger strikers propose ‘10 core demands’ for the national Occupy Wall Street Movement,”

“A brief hunger strike update from the front lines of the struggle: Corcoran-SHU 4B 1L C-section Isolation Unit” (second story in that post),

“From the front lines of the struggle,” and

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

This story was typed by Adrian McKinney.