Prisoners and advocacy groups oppose Sen. Loni Hancock’s prison reform bill, SB 892

This comes from the SF Bay View:
May 4, 2014

Lawyers from the LA-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law recently spent two days at Pelican Bay discussing with prisoners bills now introduced in the Senate by Sen. Loni Hancock and in the Assembly by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano dealing with solitary confinement. The Center’s lawyers met with Todd Ashker, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (R.N. Dewberry), Arturo Castellanos and Antonio Guillen, four of the prisoners in the Short Corridor who inspired the hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 that were joined by 30,000 other prisoners at their peak.

The Assembly and Senate bills are very different in their approaches to solitary confinement. Ammiano’s bill, which the prisoners support, is short and simple and is focused on one critical issue: prohibiting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct.

The prisoners believe that this bill addresses a major concern with California’s current policy and does so in a clean-cut and effective way. In legal discussions and letters to the Center, prisoners suggested two additions to the Ammiano bill: First, that it incorporate a provision that would prohibit CDCR from using the testimony of an inmate informant to place someone in a SHU (Security Housing Unit, where prisoners are held in solitary confinement) unless the inmate’s testimony was corroborated by independent third party evidence.

Second, they recommend that data-gathering provisions in Loni Hancock’s Senate bill be added to Ammiano’s bill so data can be obtained from CDCR which could be used in the future to advocate for changes in regulations or additional legislation. However, prisoners support the Ammiano bill even if these two proposals are not adopted.

On the other hand, prisoners have informed the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in personal interviews and letters that they do not support Loni Hancock’s Senate bill because for the first time in history it would put into state law authority for CDCR to place prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership without any accompanying serious misconduct. The prisoners believe this would be a major step backwards in the struggle to get California to follow other states that have terminated their “gang validation” policies as a basis for putting prisoners in solitary confinement.

They would support the Hancock Senate bill only if it adopted the Ammiano approach of prohibiting CDCR from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct. They would also want it to incorporate a provision that would prohibit CDCR from using the testimony of an inmate informant to place someone in a SHU unless the inmate’s testimony was corroborated by independent third party evidence.

Based on the prisoners’ positions, which seem fair and rational, several groups and community leaders, led by the California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, submitted a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee opposing the Hancock bill.

At a hearing before the Appropriations Committee held on April 28, Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights, testified against the Hancock bill on behalf of a number of groups and individuals, including CFASC, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Centro Legal de la Raza, Community Futures, Council on American-Islamic Relations – California (CAIR), Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS), Homeboy Industries, Homies Unidos, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 (ILWU), Justice Now, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), actor-activist Mike Farrell and labor leaders Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), and Mike Garcia, president of the Service Employees International Union–United Service Workers West (SEIU-West). No one appeared to testify in favor of the bill.

Notably, neither CDCR nor CCPOA, the guards’ union, voiced any opposition to Hancock’s bill – whereas they had shown up in full force to oppose Ammiano’s bill.

The full text of the letter presented to the Senate Appropriations Committee appears below. Over the next few weeks, CFASC and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law plan to intensify their lobbying and gather more support to block passage of the Hancock bill unless it is amended to prohibit CDCR from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct.

At the same time they will support passage of the Ammiano bill. “Whether we are fighting the gang validation policy in the courts or through public advocacy,” said Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights, “we are far better off fighting a policy of the administration than something enshrined into state law by the legislature for the next 10 to 20 years.”

The breadth and strength of opposition that has quickly built up against Hancock’s bill shows that over the next few months a powerful statewide coalition will form to block the Hancock bill unless it’s amended to prohibit the CDCR’s gang validation policy.

Letter to Senate Appropriations Committee

The following letter, dated April 25, 2014, was addressed to:

Sen. Kevin de Leόn, Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee, State Capitol, Room 5108, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Loni Hancock, State Capitol, Room 2082, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Jerry Hill, State Capitol, Room 5064, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Ricardo Lara, State Capitol, Room 5050, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Alex Padilla, State Capitol, Room 4038, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Darrell Steinberg, State Capitol, Room 205, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. William Monning, State Capitol, Room 4066, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Mark Leno, State Capitol, Room 5100, Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: SB 892 (solitary confinement)

Dear Sens. de Leόn, Hancock, Hill, Lara, Padilla, Steinberg, Monning and Leno:

This letter is submitted on behalf of the undersigned organizations and individuals.

The California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), which represents approximately 450 California prisoners in solitary confinement, as well as several other organizations, have previously communicated to Sen. Hancock concerns with certain provisions in SB 892 with specific suggested amendments. To date we have not received any response indicating whether Sen. Hancock will seek to amend her bill to address these matters.

We are writing to explain our concerns with SB 892 that now comes before the Senate Appropriations Committee. We are respectfully requesting that consideration of SB 892 be delayed for a few weeks to allow greater input and discussion about the intended and unintended consequences enactment of the bill will cause.

While well-intentioned, SB 892 fails to reform the widely condemned, inhumane, and outdated “gang validation” policy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Although the bill contains some positive provisions, it fails to include critical provisions needed to bring California law in line with modern prison security trends adopted in many other states – with successful results – and worse it institutionalizes “gang validation” as a basis for long-term solitary confinement for prisoners who have engaged in no serious wrong-doing while serving their sentences.

The cost of this program is estimated to be $44 million per year while 1) perpetuating the inhumane treatment of prisoners, 2) compromising the goal of rehabilitation and 3) causing hundreds of “validated” prisoners to suffer severe physical and mental disabilities – with added costs of treatment.

We are most concerned with the provisions of SB 892 that will memorialize into state law the widely condemned and outdated policy of the CDCR of placing inmates in SHUs for mere alleged gang association without any actual incidents of misconduct. Gang validation practices have been criticized by prison reform advocates throughout the country, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, American Bar Association, Amnesty International, the U.S. government and members of Congress.

While the bill proposes an indefinite number of “step-down” programs for “validated” prisoners after several years to be released from solitary confinement, both prisoners and prison security experts believe the proposed step-down program will be ineffective as proposed in SB 892. CDCR already follows a similar step-down program, but only a relatively small number of “validated” gang members have been released from solitary confinement through the program.

Prisoners and prison reform experts likewise agree that the minimal efforts in SB 892 to “improve” the due process rights of prisoners will be costly to the state while having little to no practical effect on prisoners’ rights. Overall, SB 892 would leave California with the largest population of prisoners in solitary confinement of any country in the world or state in the United States at enormous cost to the taxpayers.

SB 892 would leave California with the largest population of prisoners in solitary confinement of any country in the world or state in the United States at enormous cost to the taxpayers.

From a budget standpoint, enactment of SB 892 in its present form will increase the incidence of costly litigation challenging the law, likely lead to further costly hunger strikes by prisoners in solitary confinement, cost the taxpayers $44 million a year for maintaining prisoners in solitary confinement based on mere alleged gang membership, and cause untold additional medical costs as hundreds of these prisoners suffer mental and physical disabilities due to their confinement in segregated housing units.

In contrast, Assembly Bill 1652, introduced by Assemblymember Ammiano, is far narrower in what it attempts to achieve, is far better drafted to achieve reforms in solitary confinement and gang validation practices in California, and would save about $50 million per year in prison costs.

We respectfully request that the Senate Appropriations Committee delay consideration of SB 892 for a few weeks to evaluate whether amendments can be made that will save costs and potentially close the gap between the SB 892 and AB 1652

We urge you to please contact Dolores Canales, California Families Against Solitary Confinement, (714) 290-9077, and Peter Schey, President, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, 323-251-3223, to discuss whether consideration of SB 892 may be postponed for two to three weeks so that experts and family members may provide additional input for consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

California Families Against Solitary Confinement

Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights

Centro Legal de la Raza

Community Futures

Council on American-Islamic Relations – California (CAIR)

Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS)

Hermandad Mexicana Humanitarian Foundation

Homeboy Industries

Homies Unidos

Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace

International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 13 (ILWU)

Justice Now

League of United Latin American Citizens

Mexican American Political Association (MAPA)

Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community

Students Against Mass Incarceration (UC)

William C. Velasquez Institute

Father Gregory Boyle, Executive Director, Homeboy Industries

Rabbi Joshua Brumbach, Ahavat Zion Synagogue, Beverly Hills

Dolores Canales (son incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

Dennis R. Childs, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego

Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO)

Mike Farrell (Actor-Activist)

Mike Garcia, President, Service Employees International Union- United Service Workers West (SEIU-West)

Irene Huerta (spouse incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

James Lafferty, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild – Los Angeles Chapter

Sharon Martinas (prison reform advocate)

Sister Elisa Martinez, MSW

Heidi L. Rummel, Co-Director, Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP)

Kimberly Starr (prison reform advocate)

Sarah Torres (prison reform advocate)

Kimberly Rohrbach (prison reform advocate)

Beth Witrogen (life partner incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

Institutionalized racism and censorship are relatives

This comes from the SF Bay View, May 24, 2013:

Statement from the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement First Amendment Campaign
by Sondai Dumisani, Abasi Ganda, Mutope Duguma, Abdul O. Shakur, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

The San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper for March 2013, Vol. 38, Issue 3, was censored by staff at Pelican Bay due to an article titled “Prisoners’ peaceful protest to resume July 8 if demands are not met” on Page 3 in the “Behind Enemy Lines” section. The article was written by our four representatives, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Arturo Castellanos, Todd Ashker and Antonio Guillen.

Before it was sent to Willie and Mary Ratcliff for publication, it was sent to the following: Gov. Brown, the secretary and undersecretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and to the warden of Pelican Bay State Prison. The article was then forwarded to many news outlets, including the local news here in the Crescent City area.

Every prisoner with a TV watched it being aired three or four times, where it was also reported that we prisoners will be going back on our peaceful hunger strike on July 8, 2013, if our Five Core Demands are not met, as per our representatives, due to our long term confinement, torture and overall prison oppression, in which prisoners are made to suffer indefinitely in solitary confinement, administrative segregation and security housing units throughout California.

The article for which Capt. Puget stopped delivery of the SF Bay View is the exact same article that Lt. Diggle passed around the prison for the four representatives, per Associate Warden P.T. Smith. That is how it was able to be circulated throughout solitary confinement.

So it is very questionable how CDCr and PBSP can now state that the article is, and I quote, “a threat to the penological interests” under California Code of Regulations Sections 3006(c)(5) and 3135(c)(5). The rules read as follows:

“3006. Contraband. … (c) Except as authorized by the institution head, inmates shall not possess or have under their control any matter which contains or concerns any of the following: … (5) Plans to disrupt the order, or breach of security, of any facility.”

“3135. Disturbing or Offensive Correspondence. … (c) Certain correspondence, including but not limited to the following, is disallowed, regardless of values or morals, in order to ensure the safety and security of the institution/facility. … (5) Concerns plans to disrupt the order, or breach the security of any institution/facility.”

There has been a clear line of communication between our representatives and CDCr and PBSP. It is understood that all prisoners’ actions will always be peaceful. Under no circumstances can we see how on the one hand the CDCr and PBSP can kill us prisoners with oppressive prison policies, then turn around and say that they are concerned with the security of the institution but not the many human beings inside this institution who are being tortured and murdered by proxy.

The prisoners are not the culprits here. We are only responding to the horrible prison conditions that are sucking the very life out of us each and every day we spend wasting away in solitary confinement, under sensory deprivation that allows the prison officials to administer a very cruel form of physical and psychological torture.

The SF Bay View does not advocate violence, nor is it complicit in conspiring to advocate violence. The SF Bay View is a 21st century independent national Black newspaper that economically struggles daily to put this information out to the public.

It serves the interests of human beings who struggle day to day, especially those in the New Afrikan, Afrikan Amerikan and Latino communities, who are disenfranchised by the poor governing practices of the states. It is a newspaper that is serving the interests of all poor citizens of this nation. It has no political ties to no one. It caters to no establishment. It is a very small newspaper that is exercising its right to freedom of speech, a freedom that is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The CDCr and PBSP are trying to use their political power through the use of prison rules and policies to censor the SF Bay View. Why? No reason but racism, in order to suppress the voice of the prisoners and the people.

The PBSP SHU white male officers are obsessed with the SF Bay View. They go online and read its contents, and they converse with each other daily about it. They attempt to threaten, intimidate, as well as question prisoners who are writing these articles in the Bay View.

The lot of them, for the most part, see the Bay View as a threat to their interests personally. They sadly see only black and white. They have nothing good to say about the newspaper, despite it being representative of their own class interests. Yet they cannot see past their racism.

I asked one officer how many times have the L.A. Times, USA Today, Sacramento Bee or Triplicate been mail-stopped for printing the same rhetoric? He initially said he didn’t know, but once I pressed him, he said, admittedly, “Never.” I then asked him, “Why do you think that?” He immediately had an epiphany and went on the defensive.

These officers are reading the SF Bay View front to back, and they hate the fact that someone would even provide a platform for prisoners to express themselves, especially when those prisoners are talking about prison oppression. Any mention of torture inside solitary confinement kicks off their reaction, because these officers are the oppressors, the puppets who carry out the many atrocities perpetrated against the prisoners daily in the prison industrial slave complex.

To say the SF Bay View is a threat to the penological interests of the prison and that it plans to disrupt the order or breach the security of any facility is what those of us in this country who are conscious men and women of all nationalities call “institutionalized racism,” where institutions hide behind broadly interpreted prison rules, policies, laws, both state and federal, to suppress the people’s right to assemble in peaceful protest by exercising our freedom of speech, especially where there exists an outright abuse of power by the state and federal government.

The only defense that can protect the people is to assemble the power of the people. We are our only defense. We have suffered enough injustice at the hands of a very evil system – CDCr and PBSP – and it is time that we prisoners express that pain and suffering by all means at our disposal, because CDCr and PBSP are censoring SF Bay View in order to censor prisoners, because we are exposing the cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners.

We collectively commend and value the courage and commitment as well as the principled stand that the SF Bay View is taking to speak truth to power. But there must be real clarity brought to what is going on here, because throughout Amerika there are New Afrikan prisoners who are held in solitary confinement for refusing to become a-political, meaning to cease adhering to their political, ideological and philosophical beliefs, for which we are persecuted by the state, which is a practice that is in direct contrast to our First Amendment rights.

These cruel and unusual punishments are crimes against our humanity, and because we choose to exercise our constitutional rights, we are now being severely punished and tortured by the state of California, the same state that is now censoring the SF Bay View to further silence our voice.

We say that the SF Bay View must continue to fight against institutionalized racism, prisoner oppression, long-term solitary confinement and any other form of abusive actions by the state that uses its power to suppress the voice of the people, because the New Afrikans, Afrikan-Amerikans in Amerika, have no voice. We have been shut out of mainstream media politically, socio-culturally and economically since our inception into this nation, so that we have no outlet to convey our concerns and suffering, as they relate to our conditions inside of Amerika. We have been silenced as a people.

The current New Afrikan/Afrikan Amerikan newspapers, for the most part, only cover politicians who are Afrikan Amerikans and celebrities, along with stories that make the mainstream media or news where some injustice occurred that is so egregious that the world is forced to pay attention to it. Other than that, our voice as an oppressed class of people inside these prisons and in the free world is shut out.

So we ask every conscious human being to get a subscription to the San Francisco Bay View Black National Newspaper and all the unconscious human beings also need to get a copy of the SF Bay View. This way, Willie and Mary can continue to represent the oppressed people of this nation and the non-oppressed, while at the same time beating back the attacks by our oppressors.

We ask that the financially able individuals from all walks of life make generous contributions to the San Francisco Bay View in hopes that it can continue the struggle as the voice of the oppressed prison class and our communities by speaking truth to power where there is sincere need to do so and by all means support our Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement to end long term solitary confinement and prison torture, the death penalty and suicides inside these torture chambers.

We write this article on behalf of our First Amendment Campaign and we encourage people to join our “Hands Off the Bay View” campaign.

We encourage businesses to advertise in the Bay View.

Send our brothers some love and light:

  • Sondai Dumisani (s/n R. Elllis), C-68764, D1-223 (SHU), P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532
  • Abasi Ganda (s/n E. Jackson), C-33559, D2-107 (SHU), P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532
  • Mutope Duguma (s/n J. Crawford), D-05996, D1-117 (SHU) , P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532
  • Abdul Olugbala Shakur (s/n J. Harvey), C-48884, D1-119 (SHU), P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532
  • Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (s/n R. Dewberry), C-35671, D1-117 (SHU), P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532

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

A discussion in the wake of the Aug. 23 legislative hearing

From: SF Bay View, November 11, 2011

by J. Heshima Denham, Zaharibu Dorrough and Kambui Robinson of the NCTT Corcoran Security Housing Unit (SHU)

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. … We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Written Oct. 12, 2011 – These sage words by Dr. King are both appropriate to the discussion we’d like to have on indeterminate SHU confinement and cautionary as to who we are and what we allow as a society in these troubled times. This second point is very relevant to this discussion and we hope you’ll stick with us, as the subject matter is both broad and disturbing; it requires us to share some inconvenient truths.
[1]
At the rally in support of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s historic hearing on the hunger strike against SHU torture Aug. 23, Amber, the sister of a SHU prisoner told the crowd: “My brother has been in Pelican Bay SHU for the last 10 years. I’m here today to be the voice, not only for him, but for all of the prisoners who are suffering in the SHU and for all of the prisons in California. There are a lot of questions that I want answered. I want to know what our elected officials are going to do to change what’s being done? Why is it 30 days later (since the end of the first round of the hunger strike) and still nothing has been done when the CDC agreed to part of the prisoners’ demands? I want to know why my brother is tortured on a daily basis year after year. Why is he not fed correctly and why is he so pale and skinny? Why does my mom have to cry every time she goes to see him? Seeing everybody that has come out today just lights my fire, because I know that I am not alone and I can let him know that he is not alone.” – Photo and quote: Revolution Newspaper

Security Housing Units (SHUs) like those in Pelican Bay, Tehachapi and this one here in Corcoran are torture units. They are used to indefinitely house human beings in solitary confinement based on an administrative determination that they are “gang members” with impetus towards breaking their minds in hopes of eliciting information and coercing them into becoming informants or active agents in the state.

These units are the tombs of not only alleged “gang members” but political and politicized prisoners, imprisoned human rights activists and jailhouse lawyers alike, most anyone who, in the sole determination of institutional gang investigators and administrators, is not content to submit passively to his role as a commodity in the prison industrial complex.
These units are the tombs of not only alleged “gang members” but political and politicized prisoners, imprisoned human rights activists and jailhouse lawyers.

The U.S. and many of its media outlets, such as The New York Times and San Diego Union Tribune, prior to the U.S. War on Terror, routinely criticized China, Turkey, Syria and other nations for holding prisoners in indefinite solitary confinement under conditions of constant illumination, sensory deprivation etc. for expressing contrary political views. They universally condemned the practices as torture, citing the United Nations Human Rights Commission Treaty. Their hypocrisy was of course revealed after the policies of U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and numerous CIA blacksite prisons was exposed.

Yet what has been America’s dirty little secret is that years before Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, they were boiling men alive at Pelican Bay SHU, they were holding murderous “blood sport” style bouts here at Corcoran SHU and they had been holding people with left-wing political ideologies as “gang members” for decades in sensory deprivation torture units at Pelican Bay, Corcoran and Tehachapi SHUs. Yes, indefinite solitary confinement and constant illumination is being used right now in California SHU units, in conjunction with a program of systematic isolation and experimental behavior modification to torture prisoners every day, without end.

The California and U.S. Supreme Courts, in blatant indifference to international and constitutional law, have repeatedly refused to intervene in most cases on behalf of prisoners in Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHUs who’ve lived in solitary confinement under constant illumination and daily psychological stressors for 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years straight. This is gross hypocrisy wherein your nation is torturing its citizens in your names.

The “United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment” defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
[2]
Banners at the rally by hunger strikers’ families and supporters held on the capitol steps prior to the Aug. 23 hearing spoke truth to power.
This virtually defines the validation, indeterminate SHU confinement and debriefing processes, which are all interconnected. We are routinely told, quite frankly, at ICC (Institutional Classification Committee) hearings, “You’ll only get out of SHU if you parole, debrief or die”; at parole board hearings the line is no different: The panel of law enforcement officials states, “If you want a parole date, you may want to think about debriefing.”

When, after serving 24 years, most of that in these indeterminate SHU torture units, for a crime where he was simply a 16-year-old bystander and had not had a single rules violation in over a decade, had family and community support and several job offers, Sondai Ellis was told that very thing as he was denied parole again. I was, and continue to be, so furious that it is only through the discipline and adherence to principled conduct instilled in me by brothers like Sondai that I’ve been capable of keeping that fury in check at such bald-faced injustice.

To debrief one must become an informant, an agent of the state, and decades of torture and withholding of freedom are strong state sanctions to compel some of us to make something up or simply parrot what we are told to say to get out of SHU or support a law enforcement agenda. In at least two recent online articles, we see debriefers doing just this: actually advocating the merits of the very torture units that reduced them to broken men and made them thralls of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) and its various units and affiliates. They – the Institutional Gang Investigations (IGI), Investigations Services Unit (ISU), prison guards etc. – are the ones who have an economic and political interest in maintaining the symbolism of these torture units as the final abode of “predatory gang leaders and organized criminals.”

The U.N. Human Rights Commission has stated prolonged solitary confinement for purposes of extracting information is prohibited as torture. SHUs are by definition torture units and specialty, experimental, ultra-supermax isolation units like Pelican Bay SHU’s D-Short Corridor and Corcoran SHU’s 4B1L-C-Section short corridor are specifically engineered to warp reality for purposes of breaking men’s minds.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission has stated prolonged solitary confinement for purposes of extracting information is prohibited as torture. SHUs are by definition torture units.

Torture, no matter the supposed justification, is never an acceptable practice for a humane society. The U.N. Convention Against Torture states, “No exceptionable circumstances whatsoever, whether a state or threat of war or political emergency, may be invoked as a reason for torture.” As it stands, your correctional department, courts, some of your elected officials, and all law enforcement agencies do feel torture is justified as long as it’s applied to those they deem “gang members.”
Your correctional department, courts, some of your elected officials, and all law enforcement agencies do feel torture is justified as long as it’s applied to those they deem “gang members.”

But there is a much more insidious socio-economic and political motivation for the maintenance and expansion of SHU torture units and indeterminate SHU confinement based on “gang” validation. It is sustained by manipulating your perception of truth and humanity and by controlling your perception of these things. The prison industrialists dictate your actions, reactions and inaction to their impact on your lives and communities.

As you may know, we embarked on a historic 24-day hunger strike in July and at this writing are 17 days into a second hunger strike that began on Sept. 26 in solidarity with the Pelican Bay SHU D-Corridor collective and the five core demands recognizing our human rights. We were joined by some 6,600 other prisoners across the state, 12,000 in this second effort and countless others across the nation, and we garnered the support of principled people all over the world.

On Aug. 23, a hearing was held in response to those issues. I want to take this time to use some of the distortions, misrepresentations of fact and outright lies by CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan, a key prison industrialist, to illustrate just what we’re talking about here. There is an articulable basis why state-sanctioned torture units are maintained in California and throughout the U.S. And before we get into Mr. Kernan’s comments, it is necessary for you to have a clear understanding of what they are so you can understand why he would contradict himself and openly lie to a legislative oversight committee.

The purpose of SHU torture units – and “gang” validations resulting in indeterminate SHU confinement – is to ensure your financial and political support for the expansion and maintenance of the prison industrial complex as a viable business model by maximizing your fear and capitalizing on your ignorance. The foundational cornerstone of their success is convincing you that “gang members are depraved, inhuman monsters hell bent on the rape, murder and predation of innocent people,” and only they, the “gang experts,” know who these monsters are and how best to “protect” you from them.

The purpose of SHU torture units – and “gang” validations resulting in indeterminate SHU confinement – is to ensure your financial and political support for the expansion and maintenance of the prison industrial complex as a viable business model by maximizing your fear and capitalizing on your ignorance.

These so-called malevolent, irrationally violent and predatory organized “gangs” are the source of all of society’s ills and the very origins of crime in our communities. By creating these torture units and proclaiming they are the abodes of “the worst of the worst,” they have a symbolic manifestation of the validity of their claims.
[3]

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, chair of Public Safety Committee, speaks at the rally before convening his hearing on prison torture in the SHUs.
No one can refute their accounts or characterizations because transparency is non-existent. Prisoners have no voice. The CCPOA successfully lobbied to ban media interviews with prisoners so the public is left to a unilateral, state-sponsored view of prison conditions and their discontents. This allows them the ability to perpetuate the myth of the inhuman “gang member” unchallenged and, with tacit media support, to dehumanize an ever-growing segment of the underclass.

Have you not noticed how your local news reports on arrestees or incidents in these communities? If someone is arrested for DUI, a drive-by or petty theft, he or she is paraded on the news and the first identification made is “he’s a validated gang member.” When incidents occur in or around our children’s schools, the school is put on “lockdown,” a term derived from the California prison system to denote a prison yard being locked down after a riot or other incident.

These terms, “gang” and “gang member,” automatically conjure images of innocent drive-by shooting victims and prison rapes inspired by “Oz” and cinematic visions, divorcing these men and women from the human condition, dehumanizing them. These people, more often than not, were saddled with these characterizations because of the communities they come from and may well have never committed a violent or predatory act in their lives.

But you don’t know that. All you know is what you’ve been told by the TV anchor, police or CDCR spokesman. They know that because they’ve used millions of your tax dollars to engineer it that way.

The truth of the matter is there are no malevolent, irrationally violent predatory gangs roving the streets of your cities or the prison yards of CDCR, only desperate men and women forced to the bottom rung of society through institutional disparities in economic and race-based distribution of educational, employment and empowerment opportunities at virtually every point of human activity in the U.S.

Do gangs exist? Of course, but that’s not the relevant question. Where are they prevalent and why do they exist? This is what is of note. “Gangs” and, more centrally, gang violence are prevalent primarily in underclass – poor – communities.

The national unemployment rate – not counting the underemployed or those who’ve stopped looking – stands at 9.1 percent, yet in the New Afrikan (Black) community, it’s 17 percent and in the Latino community it’s 14.5 percent. Those without a high school diploma stand at 16 percent unemployed while those with a Bachelor’s Degree a mere 1 percent.

New Afrikans and Latinos make up 90 percent of the prison population but a scant 26 percent of the national population. The origin of crime is not gangs. Gangs are a social symptom of that origin. The origin of all crime is the disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege and opportunity in our society.

The origin of crime is not gangs. Gangs are a social symptom of that origin. The origin of all crime is the disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege and opportunity in our society.

This is not by chance or happenstance. It is by design. Wage-based employment and entrepreneurship are the only ways to “legally” create wealth in this society. When social conditions are such that a community contains a large population of surplus labor – either they are unemployed due to their lack of education or marketable skills, or the market simply cannot sustain that population of workers – the only alternative to survive is the underground economy, be that illicit services such as narcotics, the sex trade and gambling or predatory crimes such as extortion, robbery and identity theft.

There is a corresponding sense of socio-political impotence which accompanies the innate insecurity of poverty. Young men and women who have no power, no hope, no impact on their world form community-based organizations to fill that socio-political void in their existence. Those the state calls “gangs” and has decided to wage “war” on them, only furthering the isolation.

Young men and women who have no power, no hope, no impact on their world form community-based organizations to fill that socio-political void in their existence.

One of the reasons so few people vote in underclass communities is these disparities are institutional and systemic to U.S. capitalist economics. No matter who’s in office, their plight doesn’t change. Because these communities are a marginal constituency, public officials extend a corresponding indifference to their plight. [4]

Families and supporters of prisoners from across California held a rally prior to the Aug. 23 hearing called by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano on the torturous solitary confinement in California SHUs.

Instead of “protecting and serving” those communities, law enforcement, judicial, legislative and correctional officers all too commonly have a containment, suppression and adversarial relationship with those communities and those who come from them. Yet the bell-curve theories and notions that young men and women want to stand on a street corner selling crack or want to risk their lives and freedom by engaging in unprovoked gang violence are simply untrue.

You pick any prisoner in these SHU units validated as a “gang member” and offer him a job making $20 an hour, and I can guarantee you he won’t break the law. But the environment in these communities and most assuredly the environment in CDCR prisons are not structured to produce such success or opportunity, which brings me to my next point:

The California corrections system is an environment designed and maintained by its administrators. Thus, any failures must be attributed to those who have precluded an environment for success. CDCR effectively retards rehabilitation especially among SHU prisoners – those who by the state’s own admission most need rehabilitation – by withdrawing the vital tech-based vocational training and higher educational opportunity needed to compete in today’s high tech world. It was primarily through the successful efforts of the CCPOA that funding through Pell grants for higher education was taken from prisoners.
You pick any prisoner in these SHU units validated as a “gang member” and offer him a job making $20 an hour, and I can guarantee you he won’t break the law.

Of course, what followed this repeal of the inmate bill of rights was an unprecedented boom in prison building and a population expansion by 800 percent in the last 20 years. Racial antagonisms are encouraged so as to preclude broad class cooperation amongst prisoners like the unprecedented unity shown statewide in the recent hunger strike.

Underdevelopment while in prison, coupled with an emphasis on seeking most any impetus for “violation” by parole officers once out of prison, is designed to preclude successful re-integration into society, maximize recidivism rates, and undermine the underclass communities from which those ex-offenders hail – all to maintain the steady social dysfunction and economic desperation in these family units so a consistent flow of bodies is exiting these communities to enter our jails and prisons, court systems and probation departments, ensuring a recession-proof industry of profit and expansion for the prison market and those who depend on your tax dollars to sustain their privilege.

The very structure of CDCR regulations is designed to promote dependency, destroy ingenuity and self-determination and deter unity. They actually have rules which bar prisoners from running a business, which always boggled my mind in an economically depressed recessionary capitalist cycle. If there are prisoners with the insight, talent and entrepreneurial acumen to make a meaningful contribution to this state’s economy and job market, men and women who the courts have determined owe some debt to society, why would you codify a basis for them not doing so?
The very structure of CDCR regulations is designed to promote dependency, destroy ingenuity and self-determination and deter unity.

Outside of the same “potential for impropriety” rhetoric they use to justify accepting unsubstantiated confidential information and mere suspicion as a basis for SHU confinement, there exists no justification for such a regulation. The only basis that follows reason is to prevent independence and promote dependency on the state, thus promoting institutionalization.

If you combine this with the psycho-social decimation of men’s minds resulting from prolonged and, in some cases, endless isolation in conditions such as these, is it any wonder psychologists universally agree this type of torture effectively destroys one’s ability to function in society? Which is the point.

As we’ve stated before, the modern criminal justice system – and correctional departments in particular – are the biggest conflicts of interest in U.S. history. Those entrusted with reducing the number of criminal offenders and protecting public safety have their potential profit margin directly attached to maximizing the number of offenders under their control at any given time.

Those entrusted with reducing the number of criminal offenders and protecting public safety have their potential profit margin directly attached to maximizing the number of offenders under their control at any given time.

This is why the CCPOA fought so hard to stop out-of-state transfers of prisoners to reduce overcrowding. The more prisoners under their control, the larger their budgets, the greater their salaries and benefits, and the more overtime hours they can bill to your tax dollars.

But most vitally, the more prisoners held and for ever greater durations, the more ensured they are of their long-term job security no matter the fragility of the economy in this current crisis. To be sure, an economic downturn to the rest of us is an economic upturn for those in the prison industry. It means an inequitable increase in human commodities: prisoners.
An economic downturn to the rest of us is an economic upturn for those in the prison industry. It means an inequitable increase in human commodities: prisoners.

According to CDCR, they spend an average $78,000 to house us in these torture unit cells each year. Perhaps a little more due to the added isolation features in 4B1L-C-Section and D-Corridor. We assure you it does not cost $78K to feed us the two small trays and sack lunch we receive each day or to keep this light burning 24 hours or power our small 13-inch TVs.

Besides being escorted in chains to the K-9 style dog cages for yard two to three times a week and five minutes in the shower three times a week, we never leave these cells. So I assure you that money is not being spent on prisoners being housed in the SHU. No, it’s spent on guards – on their salaries, benefits, equipment, training, guns and bullets – NOT US. The guard working the SHU makes the most money and with all the overtime they have action at, they can in essence write their own checks on your buck and at the expense of our minds, our bodies and, sometimes it feels, our very souls. [5]

The CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association), the prison guards’ union, considers the California State Capitol in Sacramento its turf. It is the state’s most powerful lobby. No governor has dared challenge its power for decades, but the hunger strikers dared.
During the Aug. 23 legislative hearing, the CDCR panel representative, Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan, made such baseless, overly simplistic and outright false statements concerning prison life and conditions related to SHU and so-called “gangs” that they MUST be debunked with the truth. He stated “gangs” were responsible for “ordering ‘rapes’” in prison and are the primary threat for such heinous acts. This is not only an outright lie, but in fact quite the opposite is true.

For the vast majority of those housed in these SHUs, and virtually ALL those in these indeterminate SHU torture units, the forced sexual subjugation of anyone, not to mention another human in these conditions, is not simply frowned upon by SHU prisoners but forcefully opposed. Mr. Kernan’s assertion that men housed here would even condone such sickness is a testament to the fear and dehumanization-based rhetoric which has become the basis for prison industrialist propaganda over the past 20 years and is an insult to the humanity of all of us housed here.

We in the NCTT Cor-SHU collectively have over 100 years of experience existing in the most violent and reactionary prisons in California and can say with definitive confidence that the vast majority of the “8,000 assaults and stabbings the department has each year” has little to do with gangs, as Mr. Kernan states, and everything to do with overcrowded facilities and limited space.

Be it a dispute on the basketball or handball court, an unpaid gambling or dope debt, a cross word said in frustration at overcrowded conditions taken as disrespect, etc., these things have little to do with “gangs.” And in those instances where a gang member may be involved in a personal dispute – and according to CDCR everyone in CDCR runs with some gang – they report or record it as “gang related” when the “gang” in fact has nothing to do with the initial incident.

He went on to state “millions of tax dollars were ‘wasted’ each year, and ‘gangs’ would be identified as the primary problem.” Mr. Kernan has no factual basis for this statement. I can’t even conceive of the rubric by which he would venture this opinion when targeting educational and economic development programs in underclass communities and amongst criminal offenders has proven an effective means by which to reduce both predatory and market-based crime rates and reduce recidivism amongst prisoners, yet funding for such initiatives, due primarily to lobbying efforts by the CCPOA and their political cabal, has been repeatedly diverted to prison budgets under the auspices of public safety, an oxymoronic application of the term if ever there was one.

Mr. Kernan went on to state it’s “only 3,000 validated SHU prisoners in a population of 165,000 – that’s a very small number.” The Marquis de Sade is said to have tortured some 2,000 prisoners out of the 100,000 that passed through Elba – before honing his skills on women – when he was a gaoler (jailer) there. No one in the French aristocracy minded De Sade’s dalliances with prisoners much either. It’s this type of thinking that led to the use of CIA blacksites in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt and, yes, Libya under Qaddafi to imprison “under special conditions” terror “suspects” and torture them for years, continuing still, in the U.S. “war on terror.”
[6]

SHU survivor Jitu Sadiki speaks at the rally prior to the Ammiano hearing Aug. 23. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
Three thousand torture victims in a population of 165,000 is 3,000 too many. Mr. Kernan went on to state, “We don’t allow media to talk to individual inmates for fear of their sensationalizing their crimes, like Charles Manson or Scott Peterson” – a patently absurd notion he knows full well was untrue. First of all, it was the media that “sensationalized” Manson and Peterson’s cases, not Manson and Peterson themselves.

But, more importantly, no one here wants to “sensationalize” their criminal convictions or past lifestyles. In fact there is a significant segment of the indeterminate SHU population, such as the NCTT, the Freedom, Justice and Human Rights Initiative, George Jackson University etc., who have dedicated their lives to not simply atoning for the damage to our communities as a result of our ignorance and lack of consciousness in the past, but putting forward meaningful programs and initiatives to improve life in those communities, such as those mentioned above.

The only prisoners in SHU that Mr. Kernan allowed the media access to, and the only prisoners such media outlets as the Sacramento Bee seem to be interested in quoting are debriefers, informants and agents of the state. Mr. Kernan did not allow media access to the D-Short Corridor collective, like Sitawa Dewberry, Todd Ashker or Mutope Crawford, or the 4B1L-C-Section collective because he did not want politically and socially conscious prisoners articulating the true basis of SHU and reason for the hunger strikes and the inescapable deteriorating psychological effects of SHU.

This is simply another example of state controlled media in a society that purports itself to be “free and open,” yet another manifestation of CDCR’s successful gambit to monopolize the conversation. I found it ironic that Mr. Kernan attempted to dismiss and redirect the blatant human rights violations which torture units represent by stating “the violence the gangs perpetuate is the human rights violation,” when the vast majority of the “8,000 assaults and stabbings” occurring in the modern CDCR are occurring on “sensitive needs yards” (SNYs) by the very debriefers and protective custody prisoners IGI has relied on, or broken, to manufacture uncorroborated and unsubstantiated “confidential information chronos” to put, and keep other prisoners in indefinite SHU confinement.

To be sure, the most violent “gang” in CDCR is “2-5” – half of “5-0,” the “prison gang” made up of debriefers and informants who directly work for IGI, ISU, SSU (Special Services Unit) and other law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Kernan was adamant that the courts have upheld the validation process and “though harsh, the SHU is not torture.” We’ve established without doubt this IS torture, so that brooks no comment.

But as to the comments on the courts, that’s not entirely true either. California courts, most judges having been elected with the backing of CCPOA lobbying dollars, rarely uphold the Constitution where prisoners, and especially SHU prisoners, are seeking human rights protection. But there are exceptions. For example, in the Koch v. Lewis case that the Supreme Court took up to address the equally harsh SMU II torture unit in Florence, Arizona, the court found that Koch’s solitary confinement violated his right to due process under the 14th Amendment, which is applicable to states because there was no evidence that Koch had committed any overt act to warrant such torture. The claim that he was an Aryan Brotherhood member was insufficient.

Substantive due process requires that evidence used must bear a logical relation to the specific deprivations. As Judge Moran stated, “The labeling of plaintiff Koch as a ‘gang member’ does not itself create legal concerns. Rather it is the placement in SMU II as a result of the alleged association that is constitutionally significant.” After hearing evidence of SMU conditions – identical to California SHU conditions – and the psychological harm Koch and all prisoners faced, the court not only found a significant liberty deprivation but also that the very practice of sending inmates to supermax torture units based on status alone, with no charges or evidence of misconduct, violated due process.

The court concluded that there must be some evidence of misconduct, some overt gang-related act, to justify placing Koch in SMU II for an indefinite – and very likely permanent – term. Yet, as Mr. Kernan stated, virtually lifelong supermax detention for alleged “gang members” in U.S. domestic prisons continues to be judged constitutional here in California despite the ruling in the Griffith case. CDCR still has not released him from SHU despite multiple rulings to do so.

It’s not that they, or he, does not know these torture units violate basic tenets of humaneness; they simply have an overriding interest in their maintenance: money and control. Your money, their control. This assertion by Mr. Kernan that these torture units are not torture units is so outrageous and insulting, it recalls Bush era admonitions that waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, and CIA blacksites in foreign countries weren’t torturous either. It is an absurdity, and a dangerous one.
This assertion by Mr. Kernan that these torture units are not torture units is so outrageous and insulting, it recalls Bush era admonitions that waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, and CIA blacksites in foreign countries weren’t torturous either.

Mr. Kernan’s dogged assertion that “gangs” and more certainly those of us housed in these SHU torture units are the source of perpetual violence in CDCR ignores the inescapable reality of gross overcrowding, intentional underdevelopment and dependency and the structural conditions they’ve created in California prisons, which is the actual origin of prison violence. And until these structural fallacies are addressed, violence in California prisons will continue no matter how many prisoners are consigned to these torture units, and he KNOWS this. [7]

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano leaves the rally to convene his hearing on solitary confinement and related issues raised initially by prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU, whose hunger strike was joined by 12,000 other prisoners simultaneously. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Mr. Kernan stated the process being considered by “all state law enforcement, CCPOA, police, labor unions, national experts and the legislature itself” would allow prisoners to “earn a way out of the system by behavior and require the department to document when we feel it is not the case.” There are four things wrong with this approach:

1) the determining body developing the policy, outside of the legislature, consists exclusively of proponents of the prison industrial complex. Thus, whatever policy is developed will reflect the same draconian, profit-driven inhumanity that’s subjected us to these torture units thus far for decades without end;

2) most of us have not had any rules violations reports in decades. What do we need to “earn” through our “behavior” that’s not already been earned through a years-long proven record of disciplinary free conduct? Or must we subject ourselves to the behavior modification experiments developed in the Marion federal torture unit?

3) indeterminate SHU confinement cannot be allowed to continue to be based on what this department does or does not “feel is the case.” The primary issue here is the arbitrary nature of gang validation and subsequent indeterminate SHU confinement;

4) what Mr. Kernan is suggesting here is no different than the sham six-year inactive review that’s already in place.

Mr. Kernan stated the CDCR gang validation policy is “intended to protect inmates we are charged with and staff,” yet anyone who’s on this side of the door knows that’s a flat out lie. The CDCR gang policy is intended to maintain their control of prison budgets, silence prisoner critics, preclude prisoner unity and continue to scapegoat indeterminate SHU prisoners who’ve not had a single instance of documented misconduct in decades as a basis for extorting billions of taxpayer dollars through over-exaggerating the threat posed by prisoners housed indefinitely in SHU on the basis of gang validations.

The CDCR gang policy is intended to maintain their control of prison budgets, silence prisoner critics, preclude prisoner unity and continue to scapegoat indeterminate SHU prisoners who’ve not had a single instance of documented misconduct in decades.

As I’ve stated previously, if prisoners, staff and public safety were truly CDCR’s motive force, they would have developed a prison environment and programs geared toward true rehabilitation and successful reintegration and performance in society upon release. Such an environment runs contrary to their economic and political interests and unfortunately against a significant number of the peoples’ desire for vengeance against perceived offenders.

Now then, a particularly distressing lie Mr. Kernan relayed to the public safety panel was that “all evidence used to validate is corroborated.” Simply put, this is a flat out lie. There is no corroboration via independent sources of information of confidential informants’ statements or confidential informant chronos known as “1030s.” Why he would utter a lie that is so easily debunked is truly beyond me. [8]

A SHU survivor addresses the Aug. 23 rally outside the capitol in Sacramento.

To give you an example of what Mr.Kernan and the IGI deem corroboration, they have little boxes on the 1030 chrono listed a)-f) which state why they consider such a source reliable. In a 2008 1030 used to deny a validated indeterminate SHU prisoner “inactive status,” a debriefer – who was briefly housed with the brother – told IGI the individual spoke of the merits of socialism, the history of political resistance to racism and socio-economic inequality in Amerika, and of the validity of the political and socio-economic views of Frantz Fanon, Ho Chi Minh and George Lester Jackson. The IGI told the debriefer that the prisoner was providing “BGF education,” to which the debriefer quickly agreed and parroted what his IGI handler told him to.

Because the same prisoner wrote an article in California Prison Focus critical of CDCR and expressing some of these same political ideas (CPF Fall 2003), they considered this “more than one source independently provid(ing) the same information,” and “part of the information provided by the source has already proven to be true.” This expression of his political views and social criticism of the department’s practice of arbitrarily targeting and punishing left-wing political ideologies in prison in violation of the First Amendment and their own California Code of Regulations, Title 15, was sufficient to earn him another six years in SHU – though he in truth had no chance of release via inactive review.

Not only is political speech and expression protected by “the supreme laws of the land” – or is supposed to be – but it boggles the mind how an article in a publication CDCR not only allows into institutions, but the state delivers to our cell doors, can possibly be corroboration of a coerced informant’s scripted lies. This is what passes for corroboration in Mr. Kernan’s CDCR. The fact of the matter is there is no corroboration of evidence and no way to verify it if there was. IGI is the only one who gets to see the evidence used to consign men to these torture units forever.

Mr. Kernan went on to state, “These offenders are in the SHU with mountains of documentation of illegal criminal activities both out on the streets in public and in prison.” And it is just these types of irresponsible, intentionally dishonest statements which have cowed courts and legislators alike into turning a blind eye to wholesale psychological torture for decades in the California prison system. [9]

A panel of professionals firmly opposed to the torture of solitary confinement – Laura Magnani, Dorsey Nunn, Terry Kupers, Craig Haney and Charles Carbone – prepares to testify at Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s hearing Aug. 23. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

The truth of the matter is most validated indeterminate SHU prisoners haven’t had a single documented instance of misconduct or rules violation report for ANY criminal act in decades. I assure you if such a “mountain of illegal activities” was documented, you’d have an equally high mountain of rules violation reports, district attorney referrals and indictments. This is a lie specifically designed to put forward a non-existent justification for that which, according to “the rule of law,” is unjustifiable: indefinite psychological torture to coerce men into becoming informants, agent provocateurs and advocates for the same heinous practices which broke their minds and subsumed their wills.

To be sure, Mr. Kernan contradicted himself in his next breath by stating, in response to the statistical data showing gang violence has only increased as sensitive needs yards – inhabited exclusively by the debriefers, informants and other protective custody designees Mr. Kernan is singing the praises of – have expanded, that “the state’s gang problem has even increased, but separating those offenders we have in SHU has led to a decrease.”

Upon hearing this absurdity, even the assemblyman had to call him on the contradiction. As the hearing wore on and the objective evidence in front of the legislative oversight committee continued to contradict the lies and distortions Mr. Kernan was offering as authority, he stated, “Let’s not lose focus on the real public safety threat perpetuated by gangs in our system.”

And it is this narrow and intentionally ill-informed perspective on public safety which has produced an 800 percent increase in the California prison population, a dysfunctional correctional and nonexistent rehabilitation system, and led to the state’s use and expansion of domestic human experimentation, torture units on the victims of a socio-economic arrangement that has forced us from the bottom rung of society into the bowels of Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHUs. [10]

The lights in these SHU cells are never turned off, causing sensory deprivation that is another form of torture.

Mr. Kernan and the rest of the prison industrialists can lay the blame for society’s ills at the feet of “gangs” all they like, and the vicious cycle will only continue ebbing toward the inexorable decline of Western Civilization. Until such time as we all accept the fact that “gangs” are the inevitable outgrowth of capitalist contradictions, of educational and labor underdevelopment in underclass communities and your political and economic leaders’ unwillingness or inability to address the gross disparities between the haves and have nots as the true origin of society’s ills, “gang” violence and systematic criminality will continue to be part of the U.S. social fabric.

Luckily, as consciousness raising efforts like the global Occupy Wall Street Movement continue to sweep across the planet, these “leaders” will be forced to acknowledge the obvious. With a multi-billion dollar budget, Mr. Kernan and his department can make some significant contributions to a new approach. But as the continued intransigence of the department shows, true public safety is a remote concern of those you’ve invested with that responsibility.

The actual public safety threat lies in the underlying socio-economic relationship between poor communities and the prison industry, our society’s indifference to that conflict, and the apparent dogged pursuit of a law enforcement and correctional policy which has been both a dismal inhumane failure and economically unsustainable. The definition of “insanity” is pursuing the same course of action repeatedly and expecting a different result.

I’d like to address one final point Mr. Kernan raised that I believe is pertinent. He stated, “An offender that wants to rehab himself, he can’t because of an inmate telling him to go stab someone or he will be killed.” This is both a misrepresentation of truth and a dangerous exaggeration. There are numerous non-affiliates in the general population of CDCR and Mr. Kernan is well aware of it. Everyone in prison knows lumpen organizations or “gangs” in prison don’t force membership onto non-affiliates, because history has proven such prisoners always become informants, agents or are easily compelled to lie on those they formerly ran with.

But that’s not the core issue here. What is, is Mr. Kernan’s willingness to dispense such tripe as “facts” in hopes of somehow convincing the people that the perpetual torture of over 3,000 human beings is somehow legitimate. This type of thinking and speech MUST be confronted and debunked. Indefinite solitary confinement of humans in California, across the U.S. and throughout the world must be opposed, resisted and abolished.
Indefinite solitary confinement of humans in California, across the U.S. and throughout the world must be opposed, resisted and abolished.

In the wake of the atrocities of World War II, a document was drafted which stated “The protagonists of this practice of human experimentation justify their views on the basis that such experiments yield results for the good of society that are unprocurable by other methods or means of study. All agree, however, that certain basic principles must be observed in order to satisfy moral, ethical and legal concepts.” That was an excerpt from the Nuremberg Code. [11]

The most passionate and powerful testimony at the Aug. 23 hearing came from SHU survivors and prisoners’ family members, especially Earl Fears and Glenda Rojas shown here. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Have we as a society descended so far into the miasma of fear, hatred and dehumanization that we would condone the state-sponsored torture of thousands of humans from our communities, in our name?

I began this discussion with a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to illustrate the slippery slope we are on as a society. Maintenance of these torture units is an injustice; a continuation of the current law enforcement and correctional policy in relation to fundamental socio-economic disparities is inhumane. Injustice anywhere, even here in Corcoran SHU’s 4B1L-C-Section, is a threat to justice everywhere. Today it is us; tomorrow if may be someone you love or, God forbid, you yourself.
Have we as a society descended so far into the miasma of fear, hatred and dehumanization that we would condone the state-sponsored torture of thousands of humans from our communities, in our name?

It was Fyodor Dostoevsky who said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” How civilized is this society? And to answer that question with another: How civilized are you, the people who make it up?

If this second hunger strike effort has taught us anything, it is that the power to transform an intransigent industrial interest such as CDCR must come from the will of the people, from exercising your limitless power. Prison authorities were fully content to let us die this time and even modified their medical responses to maximize the chance of permanent injury or death to hunger strikers, which makes the broader aspects of this struggle so significant.
The power to transform an intransigent industrial interest such as CDCR must come from the will of the people, from exercising your limitless power.

This is not over. It is a protracted struggle that does not end, yet simply begins, with the abolition of SHU torture units. It is the intent of the NCTT to ensure not another human is done this way, not another soul lost to such greedy and heartless people. [12]

Participating in the first round of the hunger strike, 6,600 prisoners and in the second round 12,000 prisoners joined their comrades in SHU to demand an end to “gang validation” and the torture of solitary confinement.
It is our intent to fight for true rehabilitation and positive empowerment, not merely for current or ex-prisoners, but for the underclass communities we all too often hail from. If we can provide community-based initiatives and programs which address the inherent social inequalities in the class arrangement, this will eliminate the motive for property crimes – which make up 98 percent of all crime in the U.S. – and give us all safer and more prosperous communities, allowing us all to partake of the inalienable rights provided for in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The nature of California state and U.S. corrections must change. But to do that we must change society. Who dares to take up such a challenge? Who dares breathe life into the promise of the Declaration of Independence? Who dares champion the poor, the most disenfranchised and underdeveloped communities, the ghettoes, barrios and trailer parks of Amerika? Who dares champion the most vulnerable and urbanized in our society – the felon, the SHU prisoner, the poor?
Who dares champion the most vulnerable and urbanized in our society – the felon, the SHU prisoner, the poor?

Who dares do the right thing when the Scott Kernans of the world swear it’s wrong? Who dares to struggle? Who dares to win? We do, and we hope you do too.

Join us! This power to shape history and the future of the society is in your hands. We have faith you will uphold the highest standards of humanity. Our love and solidarity to all those who love freedom, justice and equality and fear only failure.

For more information on the NCTT or its work products and initiatives, contact Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, CSP-Cor-SHU 4B1L #53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212; J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, CSP-Cor-SHU 4B1L #46, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212; Kambui Robinson, C-82830, CSP-Cor-SHU 4B1L #49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212.

Related Posts

Letters from Hugo Pinell and other hunger strikers – Rally to support the hunger strikers

How the hunger strike started for me

George Jackson: Forty years ago they shot him down

Repression breeds resistance!

CDCR: Bay View is contraband for mentioning George Jackson and Black August

Article printed from San Francisco Bay View: http://sfbayview.com

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[8] Image: http://sfbayview.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/SHU-survivor-addresses-Ammiano-SHU-hearing-rally-082311.jpg

[9] Image: http://sfbayview.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Ammianos-Assembly-hunger-strike-hearing-panel-Laura-Magnani-Dorsey-Nunn-Terry-Kupers-Craig-Haney-Charles-Carbone-082311-by-Wanda1.jpg

[10] Image: http://sfbayview.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Pelican-Bay-SHU-cell-by-Adam-Tanner-Reuters.jpg

[11] Image: http://sfbayview.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/SHU-survivor-Earl-Fears-SHU-family-Glenda-Rojas-testify-at-Ammiano-SHU-hearing-082311-by-Wanda.jpg

[12] Image: http://sfbayview.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Rally-sign-Stop-the-torture-for-Ammiano-SHU-hearing-082311.jpg

Georgia prison strikers fight on

From: SF Bay View
June 11, 2011
Abdul-Mujahid-Khalil, aka Lester J. Smith Jr.

Dear Bay View,

The article that ran in the April 2011 Bay View in Behind Enemy Lines regarding the Georgia prison strike by Bruce Dixon of Marietta, Ga., was well needed. My name is Abdul-Mujahid-Khalil. I’m here with the brother Hamim, aka Shawn Whatley, and the rest of the guys mentioned in the article.

To get progress made on this issue and many more we face, litigation is a must. Reaching out to Commissioner Brian Owens and Gov. Nathan Deal is worthless.

I say that for the following reasons: One, this is nothing new; it’s been occurring. Two, these two individuals are what you call good ol’ boys, as in Jim Crow torch passers. Three, their job and duty to one another is to protect each other and their subordinates.

Do the homework and background check on Deal. You’ll find he was named in the Top 10 of corrupt people in politics. I’m filing two lawsuits myself regarding the neglect and treatment I’ve endured and continue to face.

These Southern dudes are lost mentally. If they would learn their rights as prisoners protected by the United States Constitution, they would be able to attack the Georgia Department of Corrections’ upper echelon and those who violate them.

Don’t get me wrong. Reaching out to Owens and Deal puts them on notice that eyes are on them, which is a temporary fix. The organizations that are here in the South do not stand up like those on the West and East Coasts. They are truly remiss toward our rights as a whole or individually.

Abdul-Mujahid-Khalil, aka Lester J. Smith Jr.

Send our brother some love and light: Lester Smith, 977285, P.O. Box 3877, GDCP, Jackson GA 30233.