Calipatria shows the way: ASU prisoners win their demands while on hunger strike

Sept 29th 2013, in: SF Bay View
by Kendra Castaneda
When the California prisoner hunger strike began on July 8, 2013, CDCR officials were repeatedly quoted in the mainstream media telling the world that CDCR does not negotiate with prisoners. CDCR portrays the organizers as gang leaders – terrorists whose demands are unworthy of consideration.
Calipatria State Prison signBut on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, the warden at Calipatria State Prison did negotiate with prisoners in the Administration Segregation Unit (ASU), a form of solitary confinement similar to the notorious SHUs (Security Housing Units). Those prisoners were hunger striking to have their own demands – unique to that institution – met while in solidarity with the five core demands made in 2011 and still to be negotiated.

On Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, the warden at Calipatria State Prison did negotiate with prisoners in the Administration Segregation Unit.

The warden promised that day that the agreement they worked out would be put into writing and implemented. On Sunday, Aug. 18, the Calipatria ASU prisoners resumed eating on the condition that if the state did not negotiate with the main reps from Pelican Bay State Prison who wrote the five core demands for some type of change to end perpetual isolation, then the men at Calipatria ASU were going to resume their peaceful hunger strike on Monday, Aug. 26.
Below is a letter from the Calipatria ASU hunger strikers written Aug. 20, shortly after they temporarily ended their hunger strike on the 41st day:
“Greetings to all in solidarity,
“High salutes, best wishes to all of the men and women who supported this historic peaceful movement for human rights, hunger strike 2013!
“Here at Calipatria we are counted and remain determined to bring humane treatment even if it takes sacrifice. Our personal demands have been promised to be met within a month, by the start of September: expansion of canteen; SHU privileges: pictures, sweaters and shoes; pull-up bars; two packages a year; and installation of phones in ASU.
“For these reasons we have stopped after over a month – 41 days – of hunger striking in high hopes the five core demands will be met soon along with all the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective’s demands. Most important, if we see no attention is being given to the five core demands, the majority of like minds will resume hunger striking in solidarity.
“We men are ready to jump back into the hunger strike full throttle to stop the torture to all men and women through peaceful demonstration. Just because our own personal, superficial demands are being met does not mean we lose focus on the five core demands. All five are just, reasonable and most important.
“In the meantime, the real ‘worst of the worst,’ CDCR officials, have shown their true colors, calling this peaceful hunger strike a hostage situation. Also, CDCR’s notice they will not negotiate – does that mean they’d rather see humans die? Only because we won’t sit back and be tortured in silence? Let alone Short Corridor prisoners have been tortured for decades upon decades – all because we want human contact with our love ones?
“Who is really the ‘worst of the worst’ [a phrase officials often use to describe the people they condemn to solitary confinement torture]? Under CDCR, California is in violation of international laws and treaties and with United Nation agreements.

We men are ready to jump back into the hunger strike full throttle to stop the torture to all men and women through peaceful demonstration. Just because our own personal, superficial demands are being met does not mean we lose focus on the five core demands.

“Where is Jerry Brown? Is he another bought politician under the belt of CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the guards’ union, often called the most influential lobby in the state) for the money they donate to his campaign? They do donate millions to protect their job security by keeping governors in their pockets.
“CDCR wastes double or even more taxpayer money to warehouse humans in torture chambers called SHUs and ASUs rather than in general population. The purpose of solitary confinement is big profit only! No type of rehabilitation is provided, period!
“Therefore, we remain steadfast in solidarity for the end to long term isolation. Si se puede is our motivation chant!
“Thanks to all the loved ones, activists, gente at rallies and protests in the rain or sunshine. All that support carried and fed bodies while we hunger struck. Muchisimas gracias! Si se puede! We thank you all.
“Humbly in solidarity,
“ASU Calipatria”
On Monday, Aug. 26, Calipatria ASU voluntarily resumed their peaceful hunger strike in solidarity, refusing meals due to CDCR Sacramento’s failure to keep their word to negotiate the five core demands. Resuming their hunger strike debunked what CDCR officials had told the press: that the main reps forced others to starve. Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “Hunger strike in California prisons is a gang power play”: “Don’t be fooled. Many of those participating in the hunger strike are under extreme pressure to do so from violent prison gangs, which called the strike in an attempt to restore their ability to terrorize fellow prisoners, prison staff and communities throughout California.”
Beard goes on to state: “Many say they want to resume eating but are afraid of the retaliation they will suffer at the hands of other inmates acting on orders from their gang leaders.”

On Monday, Aug. 26, Calipatria ASU voluntarily resumed their peaceful hunger strike in solidarity, refusing meals due to CDCR Sacramento’s failure to keep their word to negotiate the five core demands.

Calipatria ASU prisoners know the inhumane conditions those in the SHUs endure because they too live in horrific conditions daily with no rehabilitation in solitary confinement, and Calipatria is known for corruption at the hands of the prison guards, so why would these men have to be forced to starve themselves when they are being tortured too?
How is it that 30,000 prisoners – men, women and youth – throughout the state of California at numerous prisons refused meals on July 8, 2013, in peaceful protest to stop their inhumane conditions and torture in solitary confinement under CDCR, but on Sept. 5, when the strike was suspended, it was CDCR stating that only fewer than 100 prisoners were hunger striking?
That would mean what Beard told the Los Angeles Times about this hunger strike being a “gang power play” is not accurate, and Beard stating, “Many say they want to resume eating but are afraid of the retaliation they will suffer at the hands of other inmates acting on orders from their gang leaders,” is inaccurate as well. If the hunger strike was a gang power play that started with 30,000 participants and was suspended when fewer than 100 were still starving themselves, what happened to the other 29,900 prisoners throughout the state who resumed eating? How come they were not retaliated against as Beard predicted?

Why would these men have to be forced to starve themselves when they are being tortured too?

What Beard told the Los Angeles Times was a way to cover up the inhumane conditions these prisoners face daily for years, for decades upon decades, entombed within concrete walls in a dungeon. The only way for these human beings’ voices to be heard was to starve themselves to expose these CDCR officials, who claim rehabilitation but practice torture.
In the Aug. 19 Los Angeles Times article by Paige St. John, “Calipatria prison hunger strikers resume eating, get more calls, cable,” CDCR put its spin on the successful negotiations between the Calipatria warden and the ASU prisoners: “California prison officials insisted the expanded privileges at Calipatria State Prison, near the Mexico border, did not signal a willingness to negotiate with inmates.
“’The warden at CAL did not “reach an agreement” with the hunger strikers,’ said department spokesman Jeffrey Callison. ‘The warden simply informed the inmates that local issues would be discussed only after they ceased their involvement in this disturbance.’”
Contrary to what Callison told the LA Times, the Calipatria warden did negotiate with the men in ASU and verbally met their demands BEFORE they suspended their hunger strike. The demands were not met as a reward for abandoning the strike. Once their own unique demands had been promised, the men chose to temporarily suspend their strike to regain some of their strength but promised to resume it on Aug. 26 if the five core demands had not also been negotiated. They made good on that promise.
On Sept. 3, while the men in Calipatria ASU were again on hunger strike, an official memo was issued regarding Calipatria ASU living conditions in response to the ASU hunger strikers humane demands:
Calipatria memo granting demands 090313
Note: A5 is another segregation unit.
While CDCR officials publicly deny that the prisoners were hunger striking for better conditions, the warden at Calipatria issued and signed a memo during the hunger strike stating they are addressing the concerns about such issues as the cleanliness of their pods and showers. That memo confirms that Calipatria State Prison ASU prisoners have issues concerning cleanliness.
The fact that Calipatria ASU prisoners were indeed hunger striking on Sept. 3, the date of the memo, is proven by the medical receiver’s office daily updates reporting that some of those prisoners were receiving IV fluids due to starvation.
One statement in the memo, however, needs to be addressed and corrected: The Security Threat Group (STG) Pilot Program does not satisfy the five core demands, as the second paragraph implies. The warden’s statement, which must have been approved by CDCR, repeats similar assertions made throughout the strike. Here are the five core demands; compare them to the Security Threat Group (STG) Pilot Program and decide for yourself.
The original five core demands:
  1. Replace group punishment with individual accountability.
  2. Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
  3. Comply with the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.
  4. Provide adequate and nutritious food.
  5. Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates.
Inside Calipatria ASU video frame 0211 by KMYA Titan TV, web

The dungeon known as Calipatria ASU – Photo: KMYA Titan TV

The equivalency CDCR claims between the five core demands and the STG Pilot Program should be debated during the upcoming legislative hearings to be held beginning in October.

The fact is that 30,000 men, women and youth of all races went on a peaceful hunger strike in unity for all or part of 60 days, risking their lives to make their voices heard protesting their inhumane conditions. Why wouldn’t society believe them over state officials who repeatedly prove they are not credible?
If Calipatria State Prison can peacefully negotiate humane demands with prisoners in segregation, then I believe ALL California prisoners, especially those in the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU, need to be negotiated with, and CDCR needs to meet the prisoners’ demands – the five core demands – once and for all. These are human beings held in a system that’s supposed to rehabilitate. Let’s not forgot that.
Kendra Castaneda is a writer and prisoner human rights activist. She can be reached

CDCR has negotiated and has met Calipatria ASU’s Hunger Strikers’ Humane Demands

The ASU is the SHU of Calipatria State Prison (or: CAL). Kendra Castaneda, a loved one of a hunger striker in Calipatria, helped support the hunger strikers by calling the warden and offering on behalf of the prisoners to negotiate some much needed changes, as part of the larger package of the 5 core demands that the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective have formulated. Here is what the men and Kendra have accomplished:

By Kendra Castaneda
Background story:
On Thursday August 8, 2013, CDCR Secretary Beard ordered a special transfer for my loved one and 5 other men in ASU to go to Tehachapi SHU during day 32 of the hunger strike.  A van pulled up to the ASU building, the 6 men had 1 hour to pack their belongings, a van and 3 police escort cars drove for 7 hours straight to Tehachapi SHU in an attempt by CDCR to break the hunger strike and remove the main reps.
On Friday, August 9, 2013, I called the Administrative Assistant to the Warden Frank Chavez at Calipatria State Prison informing him I knew what CDCR had done.  The lieutenant spoke with me and said to me “well, your loved one is not here anymore therefore you won’t be having anything to do with Calipatria anymore.”  I spoke with him and he listened, I explained that I have volunteered myself to speak on behalf of the Calipatria hunger strikers in ASU and he was going to listen to every word I had to say about negotiating and the hunger strike, and I informed him he was going to contact Secretary Beard and CDCR Terry Thornton as well. 
I told the Administrative Assistant (former IGI) that if CDCR did not start negotiating with Calipatria ASU men within the next few days for their humane demands to be met, then they will have to negotiate with me, and I told them ‘no exceptions’.  I informed him that he was to relay my message to the Warden at Calipatria and to CDCR Sacramento a.s.a.p.  
To my knowledge, on 8/13/2013 the Warden at Calipatria State Prison started to negotiate with the hunger strikers in ASU, and on Thursday 8/15/2013 the Warden went into the ASU and spoke directly with the men while calling Sacramento during the negotiations. 

Confirmed: On 8/15/2013 Calipatria ASU hunger strikers successfully negotiated their humane demands and CDCR Sacramento and Warden Frank Chavez have agreed in writing with majority of ALL of what the men in ASU has asked for.
The new warden at Calipatria, Warden Frank Chavez had to get approval from CDCR Sacramento and they agreed to Calipatria ASU’s demands:
Expansion of tv-channels: Discovery Channel, This-TV, ESPN, TNT, PBS, History Channel were all approved.

The following items have been added to the ASU Canteen List and approved
Limit 2 packs of tortillas, 3 sausages, 2 pickles, variety of cookies, oatmeal, candy, honeybuns, granola bars, m&m’s etc…, cheese squeeze, chop stick, etc.

Phone calls:
In two months CDCR will install paid phone calls and allow people confined in the ASU 1 phone call a month, it’s been approved.

Colored pencils for Calipatria ASU have been approved.

CDCR said they would look into ‘pull up bars’ for installation for Calipatria ASU.
The only thing that was not ‘approved’ was the 5 core demands Calipatria ASU had added to their demands. Calipatria ASU men informed CDCR if they do not meet the 5 core demands then they will resume their hunger strike. 

This is where you have read it earlier: SF Bay View

To: CDCR Terry Thornton and CDCR Secretary Beard,
You have successfully negotiated with the Calipatria State Prison Hunger Strikers and have met majority of their humane demands; the hunger strikers have resumed eating but only under certain conditions:
CDCR, you have by this Wednesday, August 21, 2013 to start negotiations with the Pelican Bay State Prison main reps Legal Mediation Team/Attorneys for the 5 corehumane demands.  Then CDCR, you have no later than Friday, August 23, 2013 to have successfully negotiated with Pelican Bay State Prison main rep’s Mediation Team/Attorney’s and have it set legally in writing signed by CDCR that majority of all the 5 core demands have been met.
If by this Friday, August 23, 2013, CDCR has not successfully negotiated with Pelican Bay State Prison main rep’s Mediation Team/Attorneys and if nothing has been put into writing that the 5 core demands have been met: Calipatria State Prison in full are going to voluntarily resume their hunger strike on Monday, August 26, 2013.

Hunger Strike Updates Day 39-40

Report received per email:
CCI-Tehachapi SHU Hunger Strikers:
About 50 on hunger strike currently at CCI-SHU, they are segregating all whose starving in one building. and moving the ones not participating into another building.
Calipatria ASU Hunger Strikers:
I have just got word that Warden Frank Chavez and the administrative are currently negotiating with the men for their humane demands set by Calipatria ASU. 
An earlier report:

From: SF Bay View, August 15th 2013:
by Calipatria ASU hunger strikers
Aug. 13, 2013 – Calipatria ASU is holding strong and still pushing in this hunger strike. Even though many have resumed eating, approximately 30 men back here continue to push for humane change by starving ourselves. It’s devastating to see our own people fall and bow down to their captors and be a slave to the system.

Calipatria State Prison-4 by Kendra Castaneda
Calipatria State Prison covers 1,227.5 acres lying 184 feet below sea level in the Mojave Desert near the Salton Sea and the Mexican border, the hottest area in North America. The men in ASU have no air conditioning, even though temperatures can exceed 120 degrees in the summer. During the 2011 hunger strike, the warden, since replaced, ordered the heat turned on and the water turned off. It takes courage to survive imprisonment in Calipatria. – Photo: Kendra Castaneda

CDCr does not care to meet the five demands or anything else related to humane change as it shows in how these officials treat us.

Correctional officers and medical staff are now making comments to us that we are all stupid, and they say to us that they are going to let us starve to death. There were two men that went “man-down” today and the medical staff and COs took more than five minutes to respond even when we were yelling and banging on the cell doors.

The conditions currently in ASU are really bad. Six people were transferred out to Tehachapi SHU due to CDCr’s retaliation. CDCr is violating its own policy and procedures; CDCr cannot transfer an inmate who has medical conditions to a SHU (Security Housing Unit) due to his health.

Correctional officers and medical staff are now making comments to us that we are all stupid, and they say to us that they are going to let us starve to death.

There have been men sent to Centinela Hospital, Ironwood Hospital and even Corcoran Medical Hospital, yet they continue to hunger strike. Many men are filling up Central Health here at Calipatria.

To everyone reading this and still holding strong in this historic movement, we are here with you all. Our love and support to the fullest. We will continue to push for the five demands to be met while we continue to hunger strike in dignity.

In solidarity,

Calipatria ASU

Hunger strike organizer: Ad-Seg/ASU units are bad news – charges filed against peaceful hunger strikers by CDCR

Hunger strike organizer: Ad-Seg/ASU units are bad news
December 13, 2011
by Todd Ashker
In: SF Bay View

Written Dec. 4, 2011 – On Nov. 30, myself and several other men here – whom CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) has labeled as “leaders” of the peaceful protests – received serious rule violations, charging us with causing a riot or mass disturbance. They referred the charges for felony prosecution to the local D.A’s office. We’re all hoping the D.A. will file so we can expose these human rights violations even more.

Feeling as if he’s being buried alive, an unknown prisoner depicts the torturous effects of control units – called SHUs (security housing units), ASUs, Ad/Segs etc. – on the people confined in them. Fighting to end their use – or at least mitigate their abuses – is the purpose of the hunger strikes. – Drawing by unknown prisoner

With respect to Ad/Seg units having a voice, we’d included all SHUs and Ad/Seg units from the beginning in our formal complaint and in letters from me and others, and in the July protest, all the SHUs and many Ad/Seg units were referenced by the media.

It’s a good thing to have some exposure of related violations – torture going on in the Ad/Segs. We all need to be united and work together on making the wrongs in this system right!
It’s a good thing to have exposure of torture going on in the Ad/Segs. We all need to be united and work together on making the wrongs in this system right!

The Ad-Seg/ASU (Administrative Segregation Unit) units are bad news! I was never housed in them until being put in the one here on Sept. 29. This was CDCR’s retaliatory action against 15 of us here.

We were all isolated on a tier, in strip cells with nothing but a set of clothes and fish kit – spoon, cup, bar of soap etc. – with ice cold air blasting outta the vents! The warden personally told us, “As soon as you eat, you can go back to your SHU (Security Housing Units) cells.”

My “mattress” was not even a mattress. It only had lumps of padding in places and was only 50 inches long – on ice cold concrete. This was all intentional, by design. They know that when a person is subject to cold, the body requires more energy. When you’re not eating, the ice will cause your body to feed on muscle and internal organs and the brain etc. much faster. Permanent damage can happen a lot faster.

And the way it (the unit) is built, it’s next to impossible to get staff’s attention if one of us fell out in the cell. We’d have been through – DOA! We were there until Oct. 13, and I went from 200 pounds to 176 pounds. We were going to remain there to the death.

CDCR top administration begged us to come off of the hunger strike, promising real change soon, and made a presentation to our attorneys that satisfied them regarding CDCR’s sincerity. So we agreed to come off – we told our mediation team via phone conference on the 13th that our decision to end our hunger strike was ours alone, and it shouldn’t affect any other prisoners’ decision on their own hunger strike!

After my experience in the ASU, I can see the only major difference between ASU and here in PBSP SHU is the lack of a TV or radio in the cell. CDCR was supposed to retrofit the ASU cells for appliance capability since 2009 – I have the memo!

They’re able to buy the same canteen and get a yearly package after a year. Their yard cages actually are better than our cement ice box yards, because you can see and talk to other guys and have a better view of the outside.

Still, all of these lockup units are foul places to be – even temporarily. And the acts and omissions by staff in such units are illegal – in principle and especially in practice – long term!

It’s very important to include the ASUs in the SHU actions because it’s clear that when CDCR does revise (SHU) policy and men start getting out to general population, there’ll be a lot of abuses by some staff fabricating reasons to “investigate” such prisoners to getting off general population and they’ll be subject to a lot of ASU time – at least at first.

Once a pattern of such abuse of power is established, it can be exposed to the court. Therefore, if for no other reason, it’s critical to include ASUs in the process of challenging SHU issues!

Send our brother some love and light – he is one of the original organizers of the historic hunger strikes that involved over 12,000 California prisoners at their peak in late September, early October: Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP D1-119, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.
They continue to torture us like animals

by the men in Calipatria State Prison Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU)

Written Nov. 22, 2011 – They continue to torture us like animals. These high ranking officials continue to promise us some change to our living conditions. We continue to stare at four concrete walls with not much to do.

A gang of prison investigators searches for reasons to label California prisoners members of prison gangs so they can confine them to control units, called SHUs, ASUs and Ad/Segs. – Drawing: R. Garcia

One goes to committee and asks as to our transfers to Pelican Bay SHU, and Assistant Warden S. Anderson, IGI (Institutional Gang Investigator) Trujillo and Warden Leland McEwen simply state that they aren’t changing anything, so “parole, debrief or DIE.” That’s what everyone is getting back in response to these ICC (Institutional Classification Committee) hearings; that in itself is torture.

We would also like to express an individual just hung himself due to this psychologically torturous environment. It’s ugly back here. Now where’s the rehabilitation in that aspect?

The conditions definitely has not changed and the validations has yet to yield. IGI Duarte is one of the main individuals abusing his power, continuing to place men in indeterminate isolation.

Conditions in Calipatria ASU have not changed, and all we continue to hear is lies, lies, lies and more lies! With this we close with our appreciation and respect.