Prisoners report on San Quentin health crisis: Legionella outbreak prompts water shutdown

From the SF Bay View:

September 9, 2015

by Kevin D. Sawyer 

On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, government officials and first responders continue to lack the ability to plan for emergency situations.

San Quentin State Prison, California’s oldest prison, is still on a virtual lockdown – or “modified program” – as normal programs for all inmates have ceased since Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015, after “one confirmed case of Legionnaires’ disease” was discovered, Warden Ron Davis’ Aug. 27 bulletin said.

“They (San Quentin and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) knew this was coming,” said Charles Reece (D-06522). “The first of the month they said they were going to shut down the water to clean the pipes.”

In the afternoon of Aug. 27, prison officials placed yellow “Caution” tape and signs on drinking fountains on the prison’s Lower Yard. “Don’t Drink the Water,” the signs said.

Later that afternoon the prison administration ordered a mandatory institutional recall of all inmates directing them to return to their cells inside of their re­spective housing units.

Inmates said prison officials and medical staff had prior knowledge of the spread of Legionella symptoms, suspecting there is a health emergency brewing.

“If this has been going on since Monday (Aug. 24) how come all of a sudden Thursday it’s coming out?” queried Elliott Beverly (K-42353).

On Friday, Aug. 28, the prison would not allow inmates to shower due to the Legionella outbreak.

Because of the drought emergency declared by Gov. Brown earlier this year, inmates at San Quentin have already been limited to three showers a week.

“I think it’s a Machiavellian trick on the CDCR’s part to curb water use,” said Steven Haden (P-32966). “I can’t do my normal body functions to live. I’m a human being. I can’t shut down like a machine.”

“They shut the water off at 8:00 p.m. last night (Aug. 27) and said they were going to bring us bottled water,” said Reace.

“Effective immediately, all water at the facility is non-potable pending testing of our water sources,” the warden’s bulletin said.

On Thursday evening in West Block, officers announced over the public address system that they would do hourly cell unlocks for inmates who need to use the bathroom.

“The process they’re using now is totally barbaric,” said Terry Slaughter (C-89387). “The prison (officials) failed to have a proper back-up system for this prison.”

According to the California Code of Regulations (Title 15, Division 3, § 3301, Emergency Operations Plan), “Each warden must have in effect at all times an Emergency Operations Plan, approved by the Emergency Planning and Management Unit, to assist in the preparations for response to and recovery from ‘All Hazards’ incidents.”

Qadree Birch (J-53333) works in the prison kitchen. He said he was not allowed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, “Nor did they supply us any water, but they want us to go to work.” He said he was in his cell for 16 hours with the water turned off and the flushing mechanism disabled on the toilet, “without warning.”

“For inside the institution, all water will be shut off to the housing units,” the warden’s bulletin said. “For staff and inmates, bottled water and secondary water resources will be deployed throughout the institution for consumption.”

Inmates in West Block have been receiving secondary water that is trucked in and stored inside of a temporary water tank on the Lower Yard. Twenty-four hours after the warden’s bulletin was issued, no inmate had received bottled water. As of Monday, Aug. 31, West Block inmates still have not received bottled water.

Read the rest here.

Fighting The Oppressor


By Kevin Cooper

This essay speaks to one of the many forms of oppression.
As an African American who is committed to fighting, and ending oppression, no matter where it happens, or who it happens to, I have to speak the truth. And my truth is what I have witnessed and personally experienced here in San Quentin Prison on Death Row since 1985.


I find myself in a real life-and-death situation here on Death Row, where hate, and for certain people, self-hatred, is an ongoing situation. Of course, this is not true concerning all the death row inmates, and I would be lying if I said that it was.

But what I am writing about happens enough to deserves attention.
Here, in this institution, as well as in all other modern day plantations there are only two types of people. They are the Oppressors and Oppressed! I am an oppressed person, and in truth, all the other inmates within these walls are Oppressed, even if some of them don’t think that they are, or aren’t  aware that they are.

There are certain inmates, who instead of uniting as one strong oppressed people in order to make all of our lives more peaceful and better, would rather (and in fact do) raise their fists in violence than raise their voice. They speak words of disrespect towards other oppressed inmates for whatever reason, (even if that reason is a made-up one), in order to hate and start trouble and keep madness going among us. Yet, these very same inmates refuse to raise their voice to the oppressor. They refuse to even raise an ink pen to write about the oppressor and this oppressive system of death that has us all imprisoned, and is trying to execute us—this system that is made to destroy us mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and every other type of way that it can before it murders us physically.

Whether these inmates do this consciously or unconsciously isn’t known by me or other inmates who also see this and shake their heads in disbelief like I do. What we do know however is this truth: The oppressor and his supporters love for this to happen, and they love to see it happen. They want and need to keep us oppressed people fighting each other. The good old game of divide and conquer is one of their most effective tools. These so called Brothers who are doing the oppressors’ work for them claim to know all about this game of divide and conquer, yet they still keep participating in this game to the detriment of we who are oppressed!

In 1964, the late Malcolm X stated to a crowd of people in Harlem that, “If you aren’ t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing”! He further stated, “The Oppressor is fighting you in the morning, fighting you at  noon, fighting you at night, and fighting you all in between, and you still think it’s wrong to fight them back! Why?”
This is exactly what is going on within this and other modern day plantations to one degree or another. I must also ask “Why?” As I and other inmates continue to do our part in this historical struggle for our collective human rights we do so consciously, and we refuse to do the oppressors’ work for him!

Though I and others are forced to live in such a place against our will doesn’t mean that we have given up or given in. It doesn’t mean that we will let the oppressor make us turn on each other in a negative way. We will continue to work to end all of our collective oppression as best we can.

Those inmates who choose to work against us and for the oppressor either don’t know, or don’t care that they are being misused by the oppressor. As the late Bantu Steven Biko, who is the father of Black Consciousness in South Africa, once said: “The most powerful weapon of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed!”

Many of us on these modern day plantations refuse to give our minds or our spirits to these wholesale oppressors.  Those that do, “That’s their bad.” Only in acknowledging what is going on, can some of us avoid this trap that is easy to fall into here behind enemy lines.
In Struggle and Solidarity from Death Row at San Quentin Prison, 
Kevin Cooper  

February, 2014

From San Quentin Adjustment Center SHU: a prison within a prison

From a prisoner inside the San Quentin “Adjustment Center”:
Greetings:
 
We want to be counted amongst the thousands and also let the world know that death row has a S. H. U. and though the refuse to call it so, there’s ad-seg in here with us and everyone knows what the Adjustment Center is.  A S. H. U. is a prison within a prison and we’ve been left in here for decades.
 
However 80% of us are still on strike.  We lost 3 but they were older and they did enough by showing their solidarity. Everyone else is pushing forward.  (Keep in mind there’s only 102 people in this unit.)  
There’s 4 who are not only doing the hunger strike but are refusing water too!  They are on the critical list and my be going to an outside hospital soon.  Right now they’ve only mention taking them to be put on I. V.  We’ll find out on Monday because they keep saying they’re out of staff or some b.s. but those guys have gone without water for over 4 days now. 
 
As for the rest this is our 13th day without and as of today the Warden hasn’t sat down with us nor has a meeting been set.  We have been scheduled to go to committee this Wednesday.  We’ll know more then and where they stand.  He still need to see we’re serious and believe me, I myself am.  I’ve set my mind to 30 days but with each passing day I become stronger and plan to go the distance like everyone else is.  We’re serious, focused, and committed.  
Thanks for your support, help, and for all the work you’ve been putting in.  Please send our thanks to everyone else for everything they are doing.  
Oh! we’ve only been weighed once.  We’ve been told they’ll be doing it every 7 days because there’s so many through out the prison.  Alright now, Geri, stay in touch  as I will and thank you once again for everything. Your support and solidarity has given us strength and nourished our starving bodies! Gracias.
 
P. S. Can you provide us with a list of lawyers or organizations that have lawyers who’ll represent us as negotiators and mediators to settle this strike?  Thanks.
 
Respectfully,
 
Carlos M. Argueta #F63367
C. S. P. – S. Q.  (3AC-15-N)
San Quentin, CA 94974

Demands from the San Quentin State Prison Adjustment Center

From: SF Bay View:

June 10, 2013

Open letter to the Director of CDCR, the Warden of San Quentin Prison and the Captain of the Adjustment Center

San Quentin top officials have concocted and enacted an exclusive code of regulations called the IP 608 Condemned Manual, which mandates that Death Row prisoners are under the control of the warden of San Quentin Prison. Therefore, after years of the abuse of authority by Adjustment Center (A/C) committee members and unit staff and after years of filing 602s that fall on deaf ears here in the A/C, all the way up the chain of command to Sacramento, a collective group of Death Row prisoners in the A/C will be joining in the statewide non-violent, peaceful hunger strike in July 2013 to demand that the warden of San Quentin use his power of authority to bring about positive change to prisoners housed in the A/C SHU.

For years, Grade B A/C prisoners have been told Grade B is not a punishment; it’s just a “program” different from Grade A. So the warden should be able to use his power of authority to order the following immediate changes without delay:

1. The warden should immediately implement a “behavior based program” that amends the current criteria that permit a condemned prisoner to be eligible for Grade A privileges and be removed from the punitive punishment of Grade B status, basing this program on a condemned prisoner’s current good behavior and disciplinary free conduct regardless of a prisoner’s alleged gang status or validation and eliminating the under-the-table and vague indeterminate status in the A/C. The warden must order the immediate release of A/C prisoners who are not validated as alleged gang members and associates and have remained disciplinary free for years.

2. The warden must order the A/C committee to stop the controversial and unfair classification practices of using illegal inmate informants and anonymous informants and the so-called roster list of names to label prisoners gang members and associates and to stop the illegal and vague “mandatory debriefing” and vague validation process. San Quentin officials must put in place a set of standards and safeguards to protect a prisoner’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment

Any information used in A/C committee decisions must be first-hand information and must be corroborated by three different independent sources;

A/C committee must state on the record why such information is indicative of gang activity and state on the record what California laws are being broken;

Any information used against a prisoner must be provided to the prisoner and all copies of documents, such as 1030s and 128s, and debriefing reports placed in a prisoner’s C-file must be immediately disclosed to the prisoner so he will have ample time and opportunity to contest and challenge any allegations in writing through administrative 602s and legal redress to confront his accuser or confidential source.

3. The warden must

(a) order the end of the administrative segregation of condemned prisoners to segregated yards that have been designed to label a condemned prisoner unjustly,

(b) order an end to the constant use of bogus confidential inmate informants and bogus 1030 disclosure forms to deny A/C prisoners access to Grade A status and access to the A/C group yards, and

(c) order that all four group yards in the A/C be labeled “re-integrated yard 1, 2, 3 and 4” and remove the racist yard labels of “Southern/White and Northern/Black” that A/C staff and committee have used for decades to instigate racial division and segregation among prisoners of different races who would like to program and co-exist on a group yard together. Every A/C prisoner should be given group yard unless the prisoner chooses to stay in a walk-alone cage.
The warden must order that all walk-alone cages have roof coverings like the cages in East Block and Carson Sections, and add a dip bar in each cage for exercise.

4. The warden should cease all group punishment tactics. Group punishments and lockdowns were designed for large-scale riots, not for alleged isolated incidents. The warden should cease the unlawful use of the interview/interrogation process and never allow the vicious attack and assault on prisoners by A/C staff just because a prisoner invokes his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and refuses to answer questions during an interview/interrogation. This illegal policy of forced interrogations makes no sense because if staff utilize chemical agents on a prisoner, which have proven to be lethal, and attack him and then drag the prisoner into an interview/interrogation room, he will say, “I have nothing to say,” and take the Fifth. Or the prisoner might give a statement based on his fear and the fact he was brutally attacked, in which case the information would be deemed “given under duress and torture, therefore unreliable.” So the use of violence on prisoners, particularly on prisoners of color, is just an excuse and a blatant act of the worst kind of torture and racially motivated retaliation. Also, the administration should cease passing out “interview questionnaires” to prisoners after an alleged isolated incident because the informants read these questionnaires and re-word them and use them as first-hand information when the informants did not get the information from a prisoner but directly from a prison official. Simply put, these forms describing the incident are only done so rat inmates can exploit these incidents for gain by giving staff bogus and false statements to be used on 1030 disclosure forms and be rewarded by obtaining Grade A and other privileges and favors.

5. The warden should order the end to the degrading policy of stripping out A/C prisoners outside during yard recall, violating Title 15, Section 3287(4)(8), which partly states that “all such inspections shall be conducted in a professional manner which avoids embarrassment or indignity to the inmate. Whenever possible, unclothed body inspections of inmates shall be conducted outside the view of others.” Stripping out in the cold and rain is inhumane, and it’s time for this policy to stop. The warden should allow A/C prisoners to wear tennis shoes or state shoes on all escorts, especially in the rain, to visits and medical escorts, and put an end to the “shower shoes only” policy and allow A/C prisoners to be fully dressed in state blues when going to the law library.

6. The warden should order that the third watch sergeant return the scheduling of A/C prisoners for SHU law library to the SHU law librarian clerk and start utilizing all available SHU law holding cells so Death Row prisoners can do important research at least three to four times a month. A lot of prisoners are being denied access to SHU law library on a regular basis. The third watch sergeant should be ordered by the warden to end the practice of putting dinner food on paper trays to sit on the bed in the cell while prisoners are at law library as this practice is unsanitary and eating cold food is unhealthy.

7. The warden should order the end of excessive use of property restrictions. No other CDCR prison in the state of California uses property restriction as a punishment and it’s only done in extreme cases. Title 15 mandates no longer than 90 days. The excessive use of property restriction punishment in the A/C is based on nothing more than A/C committee members’ abuse of power and authority and is never based on a prisoner’s behavior.

8. The warden of San Quentin should use the power of his authority to expand A/C Grade B privileges for prisoners housed in the A/C through no fault of their own and who have remained disciplinary free for years.
– Allow contact visits with family, friends and attorneys, or allow 2½-hour non-contact visits in Booths A-l, A-2 and A-3 in the visiting room.
– Allow two phone calls per month.
– Allow hobby and educational programs for the A/C.
– Allow more educational channels like the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and National Geographic.
– Allow $110.00 canteen draw a month.
– Allow four food packages a year or two food packages and two nutritional packages of vitamin supplements and protein meal supplements from approved vendors.
– Allow A/C prisoners to participate in the food charity drives.
– Allow 10-book limit in cell, not to include any legal or religious books.
– Allow A/C prisoners to purchase white boxer underwear, T-shirts, socks and thermals from approved vendors at least four times a year (each quarter).
– Allow clear headphones, non-clear earbuds and headphone extension for TVs and radios or leave speakers connected in TVs and radios.

Order the return of exercise equipment on the group yards, return the basketball court and the pull up bars, and add dip bars and a table and provide group yard activity items such as basketballs, handballs, board games and cards.

9. The warden should order that all medical chronos issued and approved by the chief medical doctor be honored and order all A/C staff not to interfere with the medical needs of prisoners. Custody staff should have no say-so in medical needs of prisoners. If the medical needs of a prisoner cannot be met in the A/C, then the prisoner should be housed in a unit where his medical needs can be accommodated. The A/C unit staff must not be permitted to impose unjust punishments upon prisoners who have a proven need for medical appliances. When it is deemed medically imperative for modified cuffs, staff puts the prisoner on leg restraints claiming “safety and security,” when in fact it is an attempt to discourage prisoners from seeking medical appliances by punishing them with unnecessary, painful, degrading and excessive mechanical restraints.

10. Order the Institutional Gang Investigation (IGI) unit to stop the harassment of interfering with A/C prisoners’ mail. Incoming mail has been denied and held by IGI under the excuse of “promoting gang activity” with no further explanation of exactly what constitutes “promoting gang activity”! Many times incoming mail takes anywhere from 20 to 40 days from the postmarked date on the letter to reach prisoners in the A/C. Legal mail has been taking far too long to reach A/C prisoners, and it should be passed out with regular mail call at 3 p.m. so that prisoners can have plenty of time to respond to their attorneys by the 9 p.m. mail pick-up.

All of these issues are fair and reasonable and create no serious threats to the safety and security of the A/C but can only create a more positive and productive environment in the A/C for prisoners who have been put in a punishment situation with no disciplinary write-ups for years. We ask that the warden of San Quentin and the captain of the A/C look into these issues as soon as possible.

Thank you.

Main A/C Representatives: Smokey Fuiava, E-35592, 2AC56; Richard Penunuri, T-06637, 3AC55; Billy Johnson, F-35047, 2AC51; Todd Givens, V-42482, 3AC52; Marco Antonio Topete, AK-7990, 1AC12; Cuitlatuac Rivera, T-35975, 2AC67

Body of Representatives: Bobby Lopez, K-76100,1AC16; Reynaldo Ayala, E-10000, 2AC59; James Trujeque, K-76701, 3AC13; Mike Lamb, G-30969, 2AC1; Hector Ayala, E-38703, 3AC4; Marty Drews, C-88058, 3AC2

Steve Champion ends hunger strike following indications he may be released from Adjustment Center

From: SF Bay View, Oct. 24th 2012
By Mary Ratcliff

The Daily PEN American reported today in a story headlined “Steve Champion, PEN Prison Writing Award Winner, Hunger Strikes in San Quentin”:

Steve Champion

“Steve Champion, a prize-winning writer in the PEN Prison Writing contest, went on hunger strike in the Adjustment Center (solitary confinement) of San Quentin’s death row from Oct. 4 through Oct. 19. The strike was in protest of the harsh conditions and practices of the adjustment center, where he and another PEN prize-winning writer, Anthony Ross, have been held for nearly seven years. With Ross and another death row inmate, Crips founder Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams, Champion determined many years ago to turn from gang activity to self-education and constructive action. Nevertheless, Williams was executed in 2005, and at the same time Ross and Champion were thrust into the Adjustment Center. Champion became a crusading reporter and published a book, ‘Dead to Deliverance: A Death Row Memoir.’ Inspired by the Pelican Bay strikers against solitary confinement, Champion and his fellow prisoners drew up a list of demands, which appeared in the July 3, 2012, issue of the San Francisco Bay View.

“Champion ended his strike Oct. 19, after having lost over 51 pounds and having at least one major demand met: He has been promised that he will be released from his highly restrictive confinement after seven years of being held in ‘the hole.’ While Champion has yet to be moved from solitary, his advocates are cautiously optimistic and point to his writing and the calls and letters from outside supporters – such as PEN Prison Writing Committee members – as having made the difference.”
Read the rest of the story here.
The Bay View heartily congratulates Steve for an apparently successful strike. We hope that, as rumored, his friend Anthony Ross and all eight of Tookie’s comrades who have endured a torturous seven years in isolation as punishment for their friendship will be released from the Adjustment Center as well. Though prisoners say that life is hell on death row, solitary confinement in the Adjustment Center, where George Jackson was lodged when he was assassinated, is reputedly even worse.
Watch the Bay View for further updates and for Steve’s new address once he’s moved so you can write to acknowledge his courage.
Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff can be reached at editor@sfbayview.com or (415) 671-0789.

Steve Champion: Nine days into his death row hunger strike, he’s lost 51 pounds

From: SF Bay View, Oct 15th 2012

by Birgit Czerny

I just got back from my visit with Ajani [Anthony Ross] that went from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. [on Saturday, Oct. 13]. Everyone in the prison treated me very politely, very friendly. They granted an extension of our visit with generosity. We both thanked for this fair treatment – Ajani on his side of the glass wall and me on my side of the glass wall.
The following information comes from Adisa [Steve Champion] and Ajani and can and should be spread out into the public:

First: Adisa is doing very well and he is also being treated very well. He is in a strong mindset and very dedicated to his goal.

Today he weighs around 76 kilos (167 pounds), having gone down already within nine days from around 99 kilos (218 pounds).

Now the details:

He started his hunger strike on Oct. 4. He expressed it aloud and put a written sign, a written message on the little window of his cell. This written sign remains at the window of his cell door.

The next day, Oct. 5, he was pulled out of his cell and the people who are usually part of the committee that decides whether he has to stay at AC (Adjustment Center in solitary confinement) or not talked to him.

Adisa explained everything about his hunger strike, about the reasons for coming to that decision, his demands, and they asked him to stop the hunger strike. Adisa said NO. Other than that, they didn’t say much, but they documented everything.

Beginning on Friday Oct. 5, he’s been pulled out of his cell every day. They take him every morning into a room in AC, like a medical room for examinations. An RN takes his weight, temperature, blood pressure and writes everything down.

Two to three times a week they take him to the hospital. There the examination goes further; additionally, they take blood and do an ekg. And they give him electrolytes to add to his fluids, which he does.
On Monday, Oct. 8, the associate warden talked to him. The associate warden said he is going to come back next week (this means this coming Monday, Oct. 15).

Also daily there comes a psychiatrist who wants to talk to Adisa, but Adisa only ignores him.

Today, Adisa is going out to yard. Nobody is treating him badly or harassing him. He also receives mail.

Guards came to Ajani and were asking him if he will be part of the hunger strike, and he said NO.

Kherm [Carmen Lee Ward, who began his hunger strike on Sept. 23] is also still on hunger strike, and he is doing well; the prison guards and prison administration treat him fairly.

Nobody else has joined this hunger strike so far.

Adisa wants us to keep putting pressure on the warden and the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation). He also wants more public attention.

Ajani also has been treated fairly by the prison system.

Birgit Czerny is the wife of Anthony Ross, or Ajani. He, Steve Champion, or Adisa, and Stanley Tookie Williams had been close friends throughout their incarceration on San Quentin’s death row. Ajani and Adisa were moved shortly before Tookie’s execution on Dec. 13, 2005, to solitary confinement in the notorious San Quentin Adjustment Center, where they remain nearly seven years later. Birgit is a Green Party member of the Frankfort Parliament in Germany. She visited Anthony this weekend. She can be reached at birgitCzerny@aol.com. The Bay View thanks Professor Tom Kerr, Adisa’s editor and friend, for relaying this report.

How you can help
Read the first report on Steve Champion’s hunger strike and his demands here. He asks that we flood the offices of key prison officials with calls and emails:

San Quentin Warden Kevin Chappell, Kevin.Chappell@cdcr.ca.gov or (415) 454-1460
CDCR Press Secretary Jeffrey Callison, Jeffrey.Callison@cdcr.ca.gov
CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thorton, Terry.Thornton@cdcr.ca.gov.
Tell them: “We are aware of Steve Champion’s hunger strike and concerned for his health. We look to you to respond to him promptly, constructively and appropriately.”

A petition addressed to Warden Chappell has been posted by Diane Bukowski, editor of Voice of Detroit. Sign it here.

Listen to the Pacifica Evening News’ excellent report, broadcast throughout California on Monday, Oct. 15

Send our brother Adisa some love and light to keep his spirits high through this ordeal: Steve Champion, C-58001, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin CA 94974. And read his book, “Dead to Deliverance: A Death Row Memoir,” available at amazon.com or Split Oak Press, splitoakpress.com.

Death Row prisoner Steve Champion, Tookie’s friend, on hunger strike since Oct. 4

From the SF Bay View:

Word has just reached us that Steve Champion, a prisoner on San Quentin’s death row well known as an inspirational advocate for justice and as one of the trio with Stanley Tookie Williams and Anthony Ross, began a hunger strike last Thursday, Oct. 4. His demands – still unmet – are listed in “The struggle never stops,” published in the July Bay View and reprinted below, and he asks that all who believe in justice call and write the warden and Corrections Department (CDCR) spokespersons to say:

“We are aware of Steve Champion’s hunger strike and concerned for his health. We look to you to respond to him promptly, constructively and appropriately.”

Call and write:

·         San Quentin Warden Kevin Chappell, Kevin.Chappell@cdcr.ca.gov or (415) 454-1460
·         CDCR Press Secretary Jeffrey Callison, Jeffrey.Callison@cdcr.ca.gov
·         CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thorton, Terry.Thornton@cdcr.ca.gov.

“Steve Champion, death row prisoner and author of ‘Dead to Deliverance, A Death Row Memoir,’ has been held in administrative segregation, without phone and other privileges, since just prior to the execution of his friend Stanley Tookie Williams in December 2005,” writes Steve’s friend, Professor Tom Kerr of Ithaca College, in an afterword to Steve’s essay, “Gang validation: The new inquisition,” published Feb. 18, 2011.

It was Professor Kerr who learned and confirmed today that Steve started a hunger strike Oct. 4. Letters from both Steve and his comrade Anthony Ross are reportedly on their way, their delivery perhaps held up by San Quentin authorities. But we cannot wait to save Steve’s life.

Like Tookie, Steve is a brilliant writer and leader widely admired and loved on both sides of the prison walls. Professor Kerr adds in his afterword:

“Steve Champion, in his death row memoir, describes his early life in Los Angeles and the allure for him of the Crips street gang, his incarceration and experience in the U.S. prison system, his life on death row, and his growth and struggle as a human being. He also offers a critical analysis of the prison system, especially capital punishment, and describes how through sustained collaboration with Stanley Tookie Williams and Anthony Ross, he evolved on death row from a high school dropout into an accomplished writer and student of the humanities.”

A lot of history is evoked by Steve’s hunger strike. San Quentin’s infamous Adjustment Center is where “Soledad Brother” George Jackson was housed when he was assassinated Aug. 21, 1971, the day commemorated every year in Black August. In turn, George Jackson, probably the most famous and influential U.S. prisoner of all time, was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s excuse for executing Stanley Tookie Williams.

The governor wrote in denying clemency to Tookie, triggering his execution hours later, on Dec. 13, 2005:

“The dedication of Williams’ book ‘Life in Prison’ casts significant doubt on his personal redemption … (T)he inclusion of George Jackson on the list [of Black heroes in the book’s dedication] defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems.”

Steve Champion’s “Gang validation: The new inquisition” begins by reporting a cell search and the confiscation of his legal materials and other writings “for possible gang validation. The reason for the action, I was told, was my possession of a Kiswahili dictionary and the book ‘Soledad Brother’ by George Jackson” – this after 28 years on San Quentin’s death row, with that book in his cell for most of those years.

Recalling the rebellion of Aug. 21, 1971, and fearing a repeat in response to Tookie’s execution 34 years later, San Quentin authorities confined Tookie’s closest friends, Steve Champion and Anthony Ross, to the Adjustment Center, an extremely restrictive form of solitary confinement much like the infamous Pelican Bay SHU. Thus, now that solitary confinement is recognized worldwide as torture, the particularly intense torture endured by Steve Champion is purely retaliatory. Steve is being tortured for his friendship with Tookie and Anthony and their admiration of George Jackson.

Steve writes in “Gang validation: The new inquisition”: “Prison administrators know that if even one prisoner shuns George Jackson’s books or other leftist material because he thinks he might be labeled a gang member and placed in the SHU, then the strategy of suppression is effective. …

“[Even] ‘apolitical’ prisoners will recognize on a general level that their own existential condition can be compared to George Jackson’s. It is this identification with George Jackson that makes him symbolically powerful and very much alive. And for this, he must be vilified and punished, over and over again – suppressed and chased away from anyone who dares consume his words.”

In the same essay, Steve also addresses what is likely to become – only three days from now – the number one prison story across the U.S.: the “end of hostilities” between prisoners in California declared by the leaders of last year’s hunger strike housed in the Pelican Bay SHU. That declaration is contained in “California prisoners make historic call for peace between racial groups in California prisons and jails,” published in the October Bay View.

Steve writes: “What also facilitates the suppression of political consciousness is the unending cycle of ethnic and sectarian violence that permeates the U.S. prison system. Violence is micromanaged to perpetuate racial hatred and division among prison groups.

“And let me be honest: Prisoners make it easy for prison administrators to accomplish this when they fail to redress the stark contradictions between their intransigent conflicts against each other and the repressive and often brutal treatment meted out to them by the prison regime.”

Solidarity among prisoners and between prisoners and all who believe in justice is the way to stop the madness of mass incarceration. Steve Champion’s hunger strike is a prime opportunity for showing prison administrators a better way.

The Bay View urges readers to flood San Quentin and CDCR with messages similar to the letter sent today by Professor Tom Kerr to San Quentin Warden Kevin Chappell with a link to Steve’s list of demands:

“Dear Warden Chappell,

“As Steve Champion’s friend and editor, I am writing to comment on the hunger strike that I understand he began on Oct. 4. Steve’s CDCR number is C-58001.

“Judging by his writing, by my nearly nine years of correspondence with him as his editor and friend, and by my several personal visits, Steve has, in 30 years on death row, become a remarkable person.

“I know that he would only resort to an action as dire as a hunger strike if he felt it were the last resort to get legitimate, if negotiable, grievances addressed. I know that he has long endeavored to work within the system, even when he has been critical of it.

“I hope you will view his hunger strike as an opportunity to reconsider or revisit the prison’s position on some of the issues he describes in his 602 petition and listed in his article in the San Francisco Bay View this past July: http://sfbayview.com/2012/the-struggle-never-stops/.

“I hope you will also ensure that Steve is treated respectfully and appropriately, as he protests against policies and procedures that he strongly believes to be excessively degrading and punitive, even in the extreme situation of death row. I trust that you will both respect the convictions and integrity driving his protest and work quickly toward a constructive solution.

“Thank you for considering my thoughts.

“Sincerely,

“Tom Kerr, PhD, Ithaca College”

Your message may also be as simple as the one noted above: “We are aware of Steve Champion’s hunger strike and concerned for his health. We look to you to respond to him promptly, constructively and appropriately.”

For ease of reference, here are Steve Champion’s demands:

by Steve Champion

“You can measure the level of a civilization by entering its prisons.” – Fyodor Dostevsky

On July 1, 2011, men held captive and confined in Security Housing Units (SHU) in Pelican Bay State Prison went on an unprecedented hunger strike to peacefully protest torturous, inhumane, barbaric and draconian-type conditions they were subjected to live under. Prisoners who were languishing in SHU isolation and administrative segregation throughout California heeded the call by the Pelican Bay hunger strikers and joined them. Most of the death row population isolated in the infamous adjustment center (AC) in San Quentin supported and participated in the hunger strike as a way to show solidarity.

A second hunger strike was called by the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement in September 2011, because top California Department of Corrections (CDC) administrators in Sacramento began dragging their feet and back-tracking on previous promises and agreements they made. In the end, CDC made minor concessions but terribly failed to act in good faith in addressing the most critical issues, like indefinite SHU isolation, the debriefing process and gang validation.

In fact, what CDC did do is craft together a flimsy step-down program that doesn’t deal fairly with the issue. See the article published in the April 2012 Bay View titled: “Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement presents counter-proposal opposing CDCR ‘Security Threat Group Strategy.’”

In spite of the ongoing negotiations between the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement and top CDC administrators, the San Quentin administration is resisting any attempt to improve the plight of death row prisoners housed in the AC. Unlike Title 15 – California’s Code of Regulations for all California prisoners – San Quentin top officials have concocted and enacted an exclusive code of regulations called the 608s, which mandate that death row prisoners are under the control of the warden of San Quentin. It is this illegal and repressive code of regulations that AC death row prisoners are vigorously challenging.

There have been several attempts by the San Quentin administration to discourage our goal to file a group 602 petition. It has been returned on two occasions and cancelled once. They sought to sublimate and obscure our grievances by trying to insist each individual must file a personal 602 even though our issues are collective grievances supported and endorsed across racial and ideological lines. The group 602 is still wrapped up in a labyrinth of bureaucracy. [Enclosed with Steve’s letter is a Group Appeal, CDCR 602-G, signed by 43 death row prisoners.]

Here are the nine core issues death row prisoners in the adjustment center are struggling to bring attention to and will fight to bring into existence:

1) Abolish the 608 or amend it to be in alignment with Title 15: In 2008, the Thompson decree, a code of regulations that governed California death row inmates, was abolished by the U.S. District Court. In the same year the San Quentin administration created their own code of regulations for death row inmates under the arbitrary control of the warden at San Quentin.

One of the rules included in the 608 is an “indetermined SHU” program for anyone found guilty of two serious rules violation reports or one serious and two administrative rules violation reports within 180 days. The 608 needs to be abolished or amended. California death row inmates should be placed under Title 15, which is the California Code of Regulations for all California prisoners.

  • Cease the discriminatory practice of holding new death row arrivals in the Adjustment Center for an indeterminate amount of time without just cause. There should be no more than a 90 day “observation” period for new arrivals before institutional classification committee renders a decision on an inmate’s status.
  • Cease the use of confidential informants or 1030 disclosure forms to deny inmates access to Grade A programming, Grade B programming in East Block or access to a group yard in AC.
  • Cease the use of confidential informants or 1030 disclosure forms to label inmates as “prison gang members,” “gang associates” or involved in gang activity, unless there is factual corroborating evidence, in which case San Quentin’s staff shall and must follow the regulations by issuing a rules violation report affording the inmate his due process as required by law. The San Quentin staff must specify the rules and criteria clearly – no vagueness or contradictory rules. The Castillo should be used and the most recent criteria created and implemented stemming from the hunger strikers in PBSP or from LEIU (Law Enforcement and Investigation Unit).
  • End long-term confinement in the AC: Some death row inmates have been in AC for 20, 15 and 10 years. Create a program for these inmates and other AC inmates who have been disciplinary free for a year and grant them some form of privileges as given Grade A inmates.
2) Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for the AC death row inmates. For example:
  • Expand visiting to two hours for people traveling over 250 miles.
  • Allow two telephone calls per month.
  • Allow inmates to take four photos per year.
  • Allow four yearly packages per year, or increase the unit to 50 pounds.
  • Allow more TV channels – channels of substance like the history and discovery channels.
  • Raise the number of personal books condemned B are allowed to have to 10.
  • Allow us to get our education (GED) and take college courses.
  • Allow a proctor to come in to test us in our studies within the unit.
3) Cease the policy of group/collective punishment and hiding behind the policy of safety and security. For example, in 2007, the AC administration implemented a policy to collectively punish and humiliate all AC inmates. All AC inmates were required to wear leg restraints and shower shoes only whenever being escorted outside their cell or unit. We were also required to be strip searched outside at yard recall time. After two years the wearing of leg-restraints was rescinded. This entire policy was supposed to be temporary. We want:
  • To be able to wear personal tennis shoes, or state shoes, to and from the yard; and on all escorts inside or outside the unit.
  • To be able to wear state clothing to the law library, especially during inclement weather; T-shirt and underwear during rain storms are both inhumane and not required in any other part of San Quentin.
  • To cease being strip searched on the exercise yard when it’s raining or during inclement weather.
4) Provide healthy, nutritional and adequate food, and expand the canteen.
  • Allow AC inmates to be allowed to purchase vitamin supplements and protein meal supplements from approved vendors without it being counted as an annual package.
  • Cease the practice of removing the plastic covers off the bread, cookies and chips, which is required in order for daily freshness to be preserved.
  • Oversee how the meals and trays are being prepared; too often the breakfast/dinner food trays are not adequately cleansed.
  • Bring back the “hot food cart.”
  • Increase spending limit for canteen and offer a wider selection of food items.
5) Provide exercise equipment on the group yards and group yard program.
  • Return the basketball court.
  • Return the pull-up bar; place a dip bar and two tables on each yard.
  • Allow items to be brought out to the yard, such as soap, shampoo, coffee, lotion and a tumbler.
  • Provide the group yard with activity items – checkers, chess, cards and handballs.
6) Medical: Honor all medical chronos issued from and approved by the chief medical officer. Custody staff should have no say so on any medical needs of prisoners. If the medical need of an inmate cannot be met in the AC, then the inmate should be housed in a unit where his medical needs can be accommodated.
The AC unit staff must not be permitted to impose unjust punishments upon prisoners who have proven a necessity for medical appliances. When it is deemed medically imperative for modified cuffs, staff puts the prisoner on leg restraints claiming “safety and security,” when in fact it is an attempt to discourage prisoners from seeking medical appliances by punishing them with unnecessary, painful, degrading and excessive mechanical restraints.

7) Clothing and grooming: The AC administration has been derelict in their duty to provide and exchange linen on a timely or regular basis.
  • Allow AC inmates to purchase their own white boxer underwear, T-shirts and socks from approved vendors.
  • Allow us to purchase rain jackets, since the AC seems unable to provide them to all AC inmates on anything other than “first come first serve” basis.
  • Allow us to have a mirror and comb, provided by the state, in the cell.
  • Allow us to shave when scheduled for a visit as is done in other SHU programs in California.
  • Allow us to order thermals from approved vendors.
8) Legal law library: Since the AC staff (the sergeant) has taken control of assigning and scheduling AC inmates for SHU law library, it’s been inconsistent.
  • Return the scheduling of AC inmates for SHU law to the SHU law clerk.
  • Scheduling and rescheduling AC inmates for SHU law takes too long. There are enough holding stalls when utilized that can allow an inmate (when he signs up) to be assured law library twice a month.
  • Provide regular access to the main library.
9) Hobby craft: We want to be allowed color pencils and pens and color paper.

Steve Champion is on California’s death row at San Quentin. Send our brother some love and light: Steve Champion, C-58001, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin CA 94974. 
And read his book, “Dead to Deliverance: A Death Row Memoir,” available at amazon.com or Split Oak Press, splitoakpress.com.