From Corcoran-SHU: Zaharibu Dorrough: we are being isolated in Corcoran-SHU! No medical checkups! Stripped of property!

From a letter by Zaharibu Dorrough to a friend:

From a letter by Zaharibu Dorrough to a friend:
7/14/13
Forgive me for not being able to write sooner. It has been very, very tiresome. [Thinking of you
all has been quite the motivator]

On Thursday, 7-11-13, the warden here ordered the supposed leaders of the protest be isolated from good people. That meant that the reps from each cultural group from the section that we were in: 4B-1L, C section have been moved. Myself, H., two Southern Hispanics, and two Northern Hispanics.

We are now housed in: 4A-3R. [And three of the guys have been housed in 4A-3L] These blocks are designated as SNY/PC buildings . All of the guys in this building [as well as 4A-3L] are informants. They have debriefed.

A day after we were moved here, mattresses were placed in front of our cell. This we designed to re-enforce, psychologically, the feeling of being isolated. And, I guess, to prevent us from receiving food or beverages from anyone. It’s so silly that is borders on being offensive. We have absolutely nothing at all in common with any of the people housed in the building. There is no reason at all to communicate with or accept anything from them. As is said, it’s a building full of stool pigeons. This is the CDCR’s version of sending us to a black site. The conduct of these guys would be comical were it not so disrespectful. You cannot help but hear the idiot shit that is directed at us. And it’s not just daily, it’s all day.

It’s an Absolute Madhouse.

Moving us down here was an extremely tense situation. The warden did authorize that force be used to move us. And it came very close to that happening. It was incredibly irresponsible of the warden. And a clear case of trying to provoke us into a military posture.

We were naturally stripped of our property. And, just as predictable, some of our personal property items came up missing. Thermals, photos [they took the only two copies of the photo I had of me],dictionary, stationary. I’ll have to replace some of it when I am eligible for my package. The Prison Focus, Bayview, gone! At this point it’s the kind of thing that causes you to think and say-when it’s too hot for everyone else, it’s just right for us!-

We have not been to yard in almost 2 weeks. We have not been allowed to shower in a week.

We received no medical attention. NO WEIGH-INS, NO vital signs checks-nothing. A nurse came to the cell this morning, stood approximately 3-4 feet from the cell, stated “drink plenty of water”, wrote something down and walked away. I called her several times in an effort to explain to her that we are both experiencing [assuming this is Zaharibu and Heshima] light headedness, extreme fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, cold chills, dizziness. The nurse just ignored me and kept walking. It was very obvious that she was reading from a script that she, perhaps all of them have been given. And it is either to not say anything at all to us-or only the bare minimum….

Ordinarily, efforts such as those being made by the state now [Everyone was issued a 128, a Chrono alleging that our participation in a statewide hunger strike with gang members and associates in support of “perceived overly harsh SHU issues”, is gang related activity. And our continued participation will result in progressive disciplinary action] occur in response to efforts, just as enthusiastic, by those of us who have been under the yoke of tyranny for far too long, resisting.

I know that it has been said before, but it is worth saying a thousand times …you all are amazing, brave and inspiring people. Whatever victories that result from this struggle will, in no small measure, be because of your contributions, support, and commitment.

                                                Please take care
                                                 Always with you

                                                             Love, hugs   Zaharibu

CDCR to prisoners: Submit to force-feeding to get demands met

From: SF Bay View, June 29th, 2013

by Paul Redd/Mume, Ruben Williams/Jitu Joka Kambon, Richard Wembe Johnson, Charles Coleman/Ghais

As a representative of the Pelican Bay SHU hunger strikes in 2011 and a signatory on the “Agreement to End Hostilities,” I have not written any articles for publication except a few pieces related to the hunger strikes posted on the internet. The reason being I felt our Brotha and the other three main representatives were articulating our peaceful nonviolent united fight to expose and end our torture, inhumane conditions and decades of indefinite long-term solitary confinement. I did not want to occupy more space saying the same things.

The main four representatives have also expressed our collective love and respect to all the unbroken prisoners who have volunteered to join this long-awaited united front with the peaceful nonviolent hunger strikes, including our humble respect for those prisoners who weren’t able to partake because of serious life-threatening health issues and still refused to accept some food trays in showing their solidarity to end this abuse.

They have also extended a heartfelt “thank you” beyond the walls to all our supporters in California and around the United States.

Although my personal condolence along with our brothas and other hunger strike comrades within my unit to the families has never been printed on the fallen hunger strike comrades’ deaths, our expression of condolence has never been in silence. But we speak with a united voice. Those deaths could have been prevented. But this is a reminder of these diabolical beasts we are dealing with who do not see us as human beings, but as caged-up animals.

These deaths of our fallen comrades has made us more enraged, more determined to let the outside communities and people all over the world to really see the faces behind the racism, racist policies and blatant abuse of power hidden behind CDCR titles.

Enough is enough. We are tired of CDCR officials, CCPOA, IGI, ISU and SSU continuing all this manipulation, deception with word games, lying to politicians to secure funding, lying to the media and the public in order to cover up the truth. The outcome of the two hunger strikes only exposed a little of their lies but enough to shock the world.

It’s an insult that it took two hunger strikes for CDCR officials to give us these small token trinkets that we should’ve had years ago. These things were only given because CDCR could not answer the questions from the outside communities about what provoked this massive hunger strike in California and around the United States.

The people on the outside were shocked and in disbelief when reading our core demands to find human beings were living in Pelican Bay supermax under the deplorable conditions exposed.

Suddenly, with the spotlight on CDCR officials, they claim our demands were reasonable, yet they are not meeting all our demands. During these ordeals CDCR officials have lied to the media, publicly stating hunger strikes are not the correct approach for presenting our grievances.

Enough is enough. We are tired of CDCR officials, CCPOA, IGI, ISU and SSU continuing all this manipulation, deception with word games, lying to politicians to secure funding, lying to the media and the public in order to cover up the truth. The outcome of the two hunger strikes only exposed a little of their lies but enough to shock the world.


What they did not tell the media and public, nor politicians, is that we prisoners filed many inmate 602 appeal grievances for years seeking these things and an end to the torture and inhumane conditions, only to have Pelican Bay officials and CDCR officials deny our grievances as meritless.

CDCR officials, in response to the attention and embarrassment they experienced because of the hunger strikes, quickly rushed to politicians for funding to implement another repressive structure called STG (security threat group, i.e., gang) and a step down pilot program to give the illusion they are trying to make changes and improve conditions.

Recently on April 18, 2013, in our class action lawsuit, federal District Judge Claudia Wilken, in a written order denying CDCR officials’ motion to dismiss our lawsuit, stated

1) CDCR cannot establish that the STG/SDP pilot program will irrevocably eradicate the effects of plaintiffs’ alleged violations; and

2) CDCR’s request to stay plaintiffs’ class action until the STG program has been fully implemented would prejudice plaintiffs by delaying the case unduly.

We’ve been called the “worst of the worst” throughout our confinement here and hunger strikes, but Judge Wilken noted that the CDCR SDP pilot program already found a lot of people were in the SHU who should not have been. That’s why CDCR officials et al. started with validated associates (rather than gang “members”) first, in hopes their motion to dismiss would be granted or their request for a stay to clean up their dirt.

Had they started reviewing and processing the validated members first, the public and the media would have seen hundreds of validated members who have spent decades in the SHU immediately released, justifying the peaceful nonviolent hunger strikes that brought us some major relief and total shame and disgrace to CDCR officials.

Judge Wilken further said we prisoners gave CDCR officials explicit notice of our injuries by way of administrative grievances, written complaints and, of course, the hunger strikes.

We’ve been called the “worst of the worst” throughout our confinement here and hunger strikes, but Judge Wilken noted that the CDCR SDP pilot program already found a lot of people were in the SHU who should not have been.


I am not going to waste my time exposing each of the lies told, but here’s a few that were most insulting during the two hunger strikes: 1) hunger strike representatives/leaders and gang leaders were forcing prisoners not to eat; 2) hunger strike representatives/leaders and gang leaders were ordering racial assaults on prisoners refusing not to eat; 3) hunger striking prisoners were stashing food and eating during the hunger strike; 4) some hunger strike prisoners were refusing to be weighed because they were eating; 5) another funny lie, hunger strike representatives/leaders and gang leaders were forcing prisoners not to participate in the SDP pilot program and/or sign the SDP contract.

These prisoners are grown men who are free to make their own choices whether to eat or not to eat, whether to participate in the SDP or sign the contract. Not one of those prisoners could ever be viewed in a negative light. It’s an insult upon us when CDCR officials make these false accusations to attempt to save face in the court of public opinion.

We feel it’s time to turn up the heat, so we are taking a scripture from the W.O.N. to rally that level of support.

Another truth that is secretly whispered to many of us prisoners: some CDCR officials, guards and other employees expressing to us prisoners they think we should be released from the SHU and/or our demands are reasonable and agree with them, yet they aren’t bold enough to openly state these words, and as prisoners we understand and know why.

However, the scripture says we are not going to be silent. The united front in these two peaceful, nonviolent protests has proven to be warranted and justified.

I have talked with some prisoners who have expressed they do not want to do another hunger strike, including myself. But it’s obvious CDCR officials wish to force a hunger strike.

What I have also heard, as well as other prisoners, is certain correctional supervisors and employees speaking confidentially, stating if we prisoners really want CDCR headquarters to meet our demands, force-feeding tubes would do it.

I guess correctional employees are really pissed off and upset with their own job cuts, pay cuts and whatever else, thinking force-feeding tubes would benefit them. I guess many of them do believe our demands are reasonable and we should be released from the SHU.

“Nothing can be solved if it can’t be faced.” – James Baldwin

Send our brothers some love and light: 
Paul Redd, B-72683, PBSP, D2-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532; 
Ruben Williams, B-72882, PBSP, D2-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532; 
Richard Johnson, K-53293, PBSP, D2-218, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532; 
Charles Coleman, C-60680, PBSP, D2-120, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532. 

This statement was transcribed by Adrian McKinney.
 

Force feeding British suffragette poster
The force feeding of imprisoned militant British suffragettes on hunger strike in 1909 outraged the public. Nine years later, the right to vote was granted to women over 30 and in 1928 to all women. But the victory was hard won. Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst wrote: “Holloway (Prison) became a place of horror and torment. Sickening scenes of violence took place almost every hour of the day, as the doctors went from cell to cell performing their hideous office. I shall never while I live forget the suffering I experienced during the days when those cries were ringing in my ears.”

Paul Redd: Prisoners, Unite! Community, Stand With Us!

From: SF Bay View
June 19, 2013

Interview by Sharon Martinas

Legendary jailhouse lawyer Paul Redd speaks out at this critical time from the Pelican Bay SHU.

Q: What is your name?

M: My name is Paul Redd. However, many friends and comrades call me P.R., Mume or Abbas.

Photo: Paul “Mume” Redd is a legendary jailhouse lawyer respected both inside and outside the walls. That proud brotherhood, whose work is essential in protecting the freedoms all of us cherish, is described and supported in this book by Mumia Abu Jamal, “Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the USA.”

Q: May I call you Mume?

M: Of course you may.

Q: Mume, you’re one of the 16 representatives of the 2011 Pelican Bay State Prison SHU hunger strikes in July and September?

M: Yes, I am.

Q: You also signed the Aug. 12, 2012, “Agreement to End Hostilities Between Racial Groups?”

M: Yes, I did.

Q: Let me travel back in time with some questions.

M: By all means.

Q: Where did you grow up?

M: I was born and raised in Oakland, California.

Q: Why are you in prison? And how long have you been in prison, including the SHU?

M: I was convicted in 1976 of first degree murder for the death of a local drug dealer in San Francisco. I am serving a seven years to life sentence with possibility of parole. I’ve been in prison now over 36 years. And 33 of these years have been spent in various SHUs. I have spent 25 years, minus a couple of months, in Pelican Bay supermax SHU.

Q: Mume, you said you were sentenced to “seven years to life with the possibility of parole.” What does that mean?

M: It means that I was eligible to be paroled (released) from prison any time after Dec. 21, 1982, which was seven years. Yet, the Parole Board continues to find me “unsuitable for a parole date” because of my commitment offense and my SHU status. Historically, the Parole Board has never found a prisoner in the SHU serving a life sentence with possibility of parole suitable for a parole release date, in spite of the fact that many of us have met the criteria to be paroled.

Q: How about others in the SHU who are not serving a life sentence with a parole release date?

M: Here is a clear illustration of an arbitrary unwritten policy.
For example: Prisoner A is a non-lifer in the SHU serving an indeterminate SHU term for “validation as a gang member” only. When his parole date arrives, he is paroled from the SHU back into the community.

Prisoner B is a lifer, eligible for a parole date in the SHU serving an indeterminate SHU term for “validation as a gang member” only. He is not given a parole release date. The only difference between the two prisoners: One has a parole release date; the other one does not.

Q: How have you grown as such an intelligent, highly skilled human being that prison officials, the IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) decided that your voice needs to be silenced behind the pit of hell concrete walls of PBSP supermax for so many decades? Why have you been separated from your community and from other incarcerated people with similar aspirations and visionary plans?

M: You asked a two-part question. My growth is owed to many direct and indirect experiences in my life, prior to prison and while in prison. When I came into the prison system in 1976 to DVI (Deuel Vocational Institution) in Tracy, California, I felt the need to be a part of something to bring about positive changes to benefit the Black prisoner population. I started by using what little outside influence I had with friends to bring live entertainment shows inside the prison.

At the same time, I met other positive brothers educating others about our history and culture, including teaching reading and writing. They shared books with me that really opened my eyes, exposing the blatant institutional racism from the administration, top to bottom.

I also called upon other prisoners to join me in donating a few dollars each to raise funds to purchase a large amount of canteen to send into the SHU/MCU to be shared among all Black prisoners housed there. It was important to those brothers living under those inhumane conditions to know that there were brothers out there in general population that were going to look out for them.

I saw other prisoners contesting these conditions and it was a natural thing for me to join that fight. That was the way I was raised, although my life took a different path. Prison brought me back to those natural things I saw as a kid growing up in West Oakland in the ‘60s.

I began filing prison grievances, reading law books – and finding myself wrongfully being placed in the SHU, based entirely on manufactured accusations by certain prison officials, just to remove me from the general population to stop the positive things I was doing.

While in the SHU, I joined major class action lawsuits, continued to file grievances, and assisted other prisoners with filing documents. Some prisoners would call me a “legal beagle,” a “jailhouse lawyer,” “the people’s lawyer.” I was far from developing my legal skills back then.

They fear us prisoners who have the ability to use our positive conscious minds to unite prisoners in a peaceful, non-violent movement to eradicate repressive conditions and arbitrary, discriminatory policies and regulations.

Anyway, many prison officials over the years and even today, have called me a “troublemaker,” a “thorn in their side,” “an agitator.” I welcome with a smile what CDCR officials call me. But two things they can never call me are (1) a liar, or (2) someone who embellishes the facts.

When prisoners speak out and stand up to challenge acts of injustice that prove to be an embarrassment to CDCR officials, the officials retaliate by placing you in a SHU on bogus accusations or charges in an attempt to discredit us. This is the case today behind the pit of hell concrete walls. But thanks to the united hunger strikes, our voices are being heard, and our undisputed truths revealed, causing greater embarrassment to the CDCR.

CDCR officials, from Sacramento down to the prison grounds, have always known that prisoners hold the solutions to solving prison conditions entirely. They fear us prisoners who have the ability to use our positive conscious minds to unite prisoners in a peaceful, non-violent movement to eradicate repressive conditions and arbitrary, discriminatory policies and regulations.

Q: What are your hopes now, in this time and in the near future?

M: My hopes are many, but my immediate hopes are as follows:

(1) Establish a campaign calling on all Afrikan prisoners in the California prisons’ general populations, SHUs and ASUs to unite together as one voice to help reduce and end the senseless Black on Black killings and violence in our neighborhoods, using our unity to help rebuild our families, foundations and neighborhoods.
We as a proud Afrikan race with a history can solve our own problems without any involvement from law enforcement.

I want to start with bringing all the Afrikan prisoners from the Bay Area to join this unity movement through a creative Bay Area workshop. The success of this workshop will be to set up all over the major urban cities from up North to Southern California, committed to rebuilding our families and neighborhoods.

(2) Unite all the California prisoners in the general population as addressed through our call ‘Agreement to End All Hostilities Between Races,’ reaching mutual common ground in order to focus on the bigger picture to better our conditions for pushing for greater changes: from CDCR regulations to Parole Board composition and decisions. And, more importantly, rebuild our communities through our united efforts.

(3) Unite serious committed jailhouse lawyers behind the walls as a power “think tank” in addressing issues affecting the class of prisoners and working with outside legal aid clinics, law firms and attorneys. This is a vision I have had for a long time. My attempt to create such a think tank was disrupted by prison officials who implemented new policies to prevent me and other jailhouse lawyers in Pelican Bay SHU from communicating with other JHLs within the SHU and outside of the SHU.

We as a proud Afrikan race with a history can solve our own problems without any involvement from law enforcement.

I was recently reading the book you sent me called “Jailhouse Lawyers” by Brother Mumia Abu-Jamal, and he said something very similar, reminding me just how important it is for us to build this JHL movement and connect ourselves to the outside. Let me close by paraphrasing Bro Mumia’s words: Jailhouse lawyers must look beyond the state’s imprisoning bars, bricks and cement to build relationships with others in the so-called “free” world to further and support social movements that spread liberating and progressive space within society.

These words are relevant today and equally applicable to our call for broader unity. We behind the concrete walls start this new progressive movement. But we need the outside support of our communities to stand with us. Thank you all! I can be contacted at the address below:

Building Social Change, In Solidarity,

Mume

Send our brother some lover and light: Paul Redd Jr., B -72683, Pelican Bay State Prison D2-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532.

Note from Sharon Martinas: Mume and I have been pen pals since the summer of 2012. Mume is one of the representatives housed in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU, in the Short Corridor. I am a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition (PHSS) and a coordinator of PHSS’s Human Rights Pen Pal program. We agreed that Mume would also write the interview questions, since he knows what he wants to share about his life, his beliefs and his visions for a better world.


—————————————————————————— 
Paul’s Testimony for the Legislative Hearing on Solitary Confinement, California Feb. 2013

From: Paulredd.org

February 8, 2013 To: Assembly Member Tom Ammiano
From:  Prisoner Paul Redd B-72683

Dear Committee Members,

Thank you for this brief opportunity to speak via letter. I understand we only have a couple of minutes in having our letters read which is impossible on PBSP SHU Inhumane Torture Conditions. So I’ll just go to the Main Issues.

1.      My name is Paul Redd, I am a New Afrikan prisoner serving a seven years to Life Sentence W. Possibility of Parole on a 1976 senseless murder conviction of a local drug dealer.

2. I’ve been held here at PBSP – SHU since September 5 1990 to present except for a brief 60 days period when I won my SHU release on December 29, 2000. Only to be fraudulently placed back into a SHU on March 12, 2001 without Due Process.

3. I have been held in California Prisons for the last 36 Years. I have spent 33 of those years in a SHU.

4. Again, it’s impossible for me to give a brief description of what my experiences of Solitary Confinement have been like here in two minutes.

Let me tell like this: The Architectural SHU Design at PBSP was intentionally designed to inflict physical and psychological torture on our bodies and minds. I have seen some prisoners lose their minds in a short period of time, while others it took more years.

I have had some prisoners from all races, whom debriefed, tell me they made up information on some prisoners or / and went along with what Gang Investigators wanted them to say on specific individuals. They told me they couldn’t take living in this SHU anymore. I have seen some prisoners harm themselves to Get Out of this SHU or get on psyche medications just to get moved out of this SHU. I have seen prisoners health deteriorate, – Died etc.

What effect this Long Term Solitary Confinement has done on me:
Escalating health problems such as:

– Taking several pills to treat high blood pressure,

– Enlarged Thyroid Gland and partial removal of the right Thyroid Gland.

– Two (2)times right knee surgery.

– Short term memory loss more frequently.

– Distorted hearing.

– Lack of sleep due to the loud noises of cell doors / pod doors opening / closing.

– Loud noise from toilet flushing.

– Bad vision, double right eye vision.

– Last Year I was diagnosed with right eye double vision and given special lenses called Prisms, which I blame these perforated cell doors (small holes) for messing up our eye sight.

5. This  Security Threat Group (STG) and  Step Down Program (SDP) do not serve any legitimate purpose. It’s Racist inside and outside and Ridiculous on its Face. It completely suppresses what little First Amendment Rights we are supposed to have. It does not afford any meaningful due process safeguards before any impartial Fair Review / Hearing Panel.

It allows for more arbitrary and discriminatory decisions cloaked under the erroneous pretext confidential informant information or / and current gang activity.

Most importantly it allows for more new abuse of power by those administering this racist profiling policy that changes nothing nor improves nothing.

This STG / SDP is manipulative and designed to mislead the Legislative Members to approve more wasted unnecessary fundings.

This STG / SDP should be rejected and not funded. The SDP is not voluntary. But – to be forced on us Prisoners

WHY? Because CDCR Officials / IGI / OSC know:

NO PRISONERS WOULD VOLUNTARILY PARTICIPATE IN THIS SDP.

We prisoners have real valid reasons backed with undisputed evidence to justify ourconcerns why it must be shut down.

– Let us have some Legislative Hearings under Oath that will review / examine our evidence given to us for Indeterminate Placement, “CDC 1030” Disclosure Forms, that are vague and NOT satisfying Due Process Requirements, IGI Validations Packages. Six Years Inactive Reviews.

– Hear live Testimony from both Prisoners and CDR Prison Officials, Captains, LT’s, Sgt’s and IGI Staff Behind these already existing Programs causing years of long-term Solitary Confinement.

– Ask the hard questions that have been covered up for decades. Most of you think the Hunger Strikes of 2011 exposed shocking inhumane conditions, discriminatory practices and abuse to follow Court Rulings. CDC Policies.

It was shocking to learn many of us prisoners have spent 30 to 40 plus years in the SHU with no acts of violence against prisoners nor CDCR staff. I hit a prisoner one time with my fist in 1984 on a SHU Yard. I received a CDC-115, I pled guilty and accepted responsibility for my actions. That’s the only assault I have on a prisoner and none on any staff. That was almost 30 years ago!

It’s funny CDCR Officials / Gang Officials tell the Media and Legislature, we use other prisoners to commit our violence. Yet they failed to produce any evidence to connect you to the incidents. 

They also fail to tell the Media and Legislature that the prison’s own investigations into certain incidents has cleared our names of any involvement. So, instead of releasing us from the SHU, they use group punishment with validation membership to warehouse you for decades in the SHU.

6. Since this New CDCR Regulations, staff have, in the last 3 to 6 months, issued more  ridiculous “CDC-128” chronos, “CDC-115”  and stating the information should be considered during the prisoner’s Six Years Inactive SHU Review.

A final note: CDCR budget has been cut in some areas. Now they are attempting to implement this STG / SDP to seek funding for it and going to turn it into more funding, because the reality is it will be a failure.

Our proposed MCUProposal is based on already existing programs within CDCR and reduces spending and not ask for more funding etc. Yet CDCR Officials rejected our proposal.

Thank You For Your Time.

Paul Redd Jr B – 72683

Pelican Bay State Prison – SHU
D2-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532

Letter to Warden John Katavich, Wasco State Prison, by prisoners, declaring support for, and solidarity with the hunger strike representatives

This was sent by email from Ed Mead, editor and publisher of The Rock, on June 15th, 2013:

Ed, Greetings from those of us in Wasco State Prison! I wanted to send you a copy of the letter delivered to the warden here at Wasco State Prison this week, declaring our support and our intent to stand in solidarity with the hunger strike representatives and all of those who stand alongside them. There are approximately 5,000 prisoner housed here at Wasco and the vast majority will stand in solidarity with hunger strike reps until the five core demands are met, along with the 9 additional demands exclusive to Wasco State Prison.

[Name withheld by Ed]

Letter to Warden John Katavich, Wasco State Prison

The purpose of this letter is to inform you of our intent to support and stand in solidarity with the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Representatives [names of reps omitted here] by engaging in a peaceful protest beginning July 8, 2013. We here at Wasco State Prison (WSP) will stand in solidarity with those protesting at Pelican Bay State Prison throughout the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation by engaging in a peaceful protest which will consist of a hunger strike and work stoppage. We will refuse to eat or engage in inmate labor until the hunger strike representatives five core demands are met, as well as our demands concerning prison reform here at WSP. We are prepared to starve ourselves to death if need be in order to bring about change here at WSP, as well as the penal institution which create the body of CDCR, with special emphasis being paid to those inmates housed in Security Housing Units (SHUs), who are subjected to many years of forced isolation, sensory deprivation, and inhumane and tortuous conditions. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere, threatens justice everywhere.”

We feel enough is enough! The abuse and psychological torture must stop, the injustice of indeterminate SHU term and extreme isolation must be brought to an end here and now! We not only ask that the PBSP hunger strike reps five core demands be met, but also the abolishment of the farcical Security Threat Group (STG) and Step Down Program (SDP), as well as addressing the following issues here at WSP[nine demands omitted by Ed due to laziness, but the last one has to do with freedom of speech].

We respectfully request that CDCR meet the PBSP SHJU representatives’ five core demands, as well as the nine demands that are exclusive to WSP, in a timely manner. We stand together as ONE here (South, North, East, West, Black, White, etc.) in a cohesive group in order to bring about the long overdue changes here in CDCR. Once initiated, the unprecedented, non-violent peaceful protest will continue indefinitely—until all five core demands are fully met.
[Signed by 14 prisoners]

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

Please spread this flyer, thank you! Also follow NCTTCOrSHU.org, Californiaprisonwatch.org (this site), Stopmassincarceration.org, SFBayview.com, Prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com, and other sites with updates.
Also actions of solidarity are planned in other states (Louisiana for one, Ohio may follow). CDCR should at least hear and talk with the prisoners and their representatives!

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

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

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

press@ccrjustice.org

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

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

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

Write a letter:

Synopsis

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

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

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

A HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM

We hope it is not too late (it is never too late to join a pen pal group and be one!)

Received via email:

Occupy 4 Prisoners (O4P) is hosting a new project we hope will spark interest among activists and people of conscience alike.  Join us in a Human Rights Pen Pal group, a program combining prison correspondence, political education, and sharing what you’ve learned. See below for a detailed description.

Please consider becoming a pen pal to a person imprisoned in California’s solitary confinement cells and fighting for their human rights.  If interested, please contact Denise at deniselynn777@gmail.org by March 8 to receive an application.

And please help us spread the word to other interested folks.

In solidarity,

Denise Mewbourne & Molly Batchelder
Occupy 4 Prisoners

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A HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM:
A Project of Occupy 4 Prisoners (O4P)

WHAT IS THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM?

“How can any of us stand idly by while our public officials stride the world stage touting the inalienable rights of man, and criticizing other nations for their alleged human rights abuses, when the US is operating the largest domestic torture program on earth in SHU’s like Corcoran?”
-New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalist Collective Think Tank, Corcoran SHU

“A wall is just a wall;
It can be broken down.”
-Assata Shakur

The Human Rights Pen Pal program is an anti-racist, grassroots organizer training program in solidarity with incarcerated activists fighting for the human rights of people imprisoned in California’s solitary confinement cells. It is based on the model created and piloted this year by the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) coalition, and promotes principled relationships between people in solitary confinement and supporters outside the walls. The program combines solidarity practice, political education, community organizing skills, and evaluation.

The Human Rights Pen Pal program is specifically intended to support the ongoing work of Occupy 4 Prisoners (O4P), as well as the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) coalition. O4P arose as a powerful coalition combining the powerful new energy of the Occupy movement with established Bay Area activist groups working in solidarity with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. The PHSS works to end solitary confinement, otherwise known as SHUs (Security Housing Units) and Ad Segs (Administrative Segregation), as well as to address the human rights of people imprisoned in these torture chambers.

WHAT WILL THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM LOOK LIKE?

Solidarity: The program is designed to foster pen pal relationships between people inside and outside the walls, in the interest of a mutual exchange of support, shared information and inspiration. We will energize each other in this struggle! It also assumes that developing relationships will lead to a growing commitment of those ‘outside the walls’ to work in solidarity with activists on the inside and their human rights campaigns.

The ‘outside the walls’ O4P group will be limited to 10-12, with each pen pal writing to one or more people in solitary confinement, from prisons with SHUs throughout California. The pen pals group will meet monthly, and the meeting will have two major components: political education and social/logistical support for the act of corresponding itself.

Political Education: The political education component will include readings and discussions about California prisons, solitary confinement, the history of resistance by incarcerated people, and strategies of solidarity used by local and national anti-prison organizations.

Supporting each other: This includes: sharing in the group what we’re learning from our pen pals (without necessarily using their names); exchanging ideas for responding to their letters; discussion of tactics and support for spreading awareness about solitary confinement to our friends and family; evaluating our work together. In order for this work to be as sustainable as possible, the group will include emotional support as needed.

Sharing what we’ve learned in the larger world: We intend to foster human connections and the understanding that when anyone is tortured and oppressed within a society, it reverberates throughout the entire culture as social trauma. The humble act of letter correspondence with imprisoned people, especially when we share what we have learned with others, is crucial to breaking down the societal compartmentalization that enables this kind of oppression to endure.
‘OUTSIDE THE WALLS’ PEN PALS WILL BE ASKED TO COMMIT TO:

(1) Regular correspondence with your ‘inside the walls’ pen pal(s) twice monthly.

(2) Attending a three hour monthly meeting. These meetings will continue from March through August (6 months). The Oakland location is TBD, and rides will be organized if needed.

(3) Actively participating in the interactive political education component, which consists of reading suggested short essays, preparing questions for discussion at the group meetings, and keeping abreast of O4P, PHSS and other anti-prison events and activities.

(4) Sharing your experiences as a pen pal participant with your own friends and networks.

(5) Consider continuing your correspondence with your prisoner pen pal for at least a year, with discussion of whether or not the structured pen pal program should continue and, if so, in what form.

HOW TO APPLY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM
(Deadline March 10)

For more info and to receive an application, contact Denise at deniselynn777@gmail.com Leave your email address and phone number. Deadline for returning applications is March 10. The first Pen Pal meeting will take place the fourth week of March 2013.

Sacramento hearing exposes CDCR’s hidden agenda

From: SF Bay View, March 5th 2013

by Denise Mewbourne
Almost two years later, the ripple effect of the 2011 hunger strike organized by the Short Corridor Collective in Pelican Bay prison continues to reverberate throughout California. In protest of solitary confinement torture in California’s Security Housing Units (SHUs), 12,000 people in prisons throughout the state participated in the hunger strike.

Assembly hearing on SHUs Daletha Hayden speaks at rally 022513 by Denise Mewbourne, web
At the rally outside the Capitol in Sacramento before the Assembly Public Safety Committee’s hearing on solitary confinement Feb. 25, Daletha Hayden, one of many prisoners’ loved ones who came, spoke passionately about her son in the Tehachapi SHU. He has not been able to see or touch his 15-year-old son since he was 3. “This is painful, and it tears families apart,” she said. “We have to fight so our loved ones can be treated as well as animals! My son needs medical treatment, and SHU officials refuse for him to have it.” – Photo: Denise Mewbourne

California currently holds 12,000 people in some form of isolation and around 4,000 in long-term solitary confinement. Around 100 people have spent 20 years or more in these hellholes, including many who are activists against prison abuses, political thinkers and jailhouse lawyers. People imprisoned in the SHU have described it as “soul-crushing,” “hellish,” a “constant challenge to keep yourself from being broken” and “a concrete tomb.”

As a result of the strike, the first legislative hearing in Sacramento occurred in August 2011, and at the grassroots level family members of those inside formed California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC) to continue the work they had done during the strike. The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) began strategizing how best to provide support well in advance of the hunger strike and continues its mission of amplifying the voices of people in the SHUs.

The strikers’ five core demands around abolishing group punishment, eliminating debriefing, ending long term solitary confinement, adequate and nutritious food, and constructive programming are still far from being met, although the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) claims to be implementing new policies on how people are sentenced to the SHU as well as how they can exit.

The hearing in Sacramento on Feb. 25, 2013, provided an opportunity for legislators in the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee to hear representatives of CDCR present their new policies and weigh the truth of their claims. The occasion also featured a report back from the Office of the Inspector General about onsite inspections conducted at Pelican Bay, as well as a panel of advocates.

Chaired by Tom Ammiano, the committee had a chance to question the panelists, and at the end there was a scant 20 minutes for public input. Attendance of grassroots activists, including family members and formerly incarcerated people, was organized by California United for a Responsible Budget (CURB). The CURB coalition focuses on reducing the number of people in prison as well as the number of prisons throughout California.

The rally

Beginning with a rally held on the capitol steps, it was an emotional day for many, especially for family members of those suffering in the SHUs and prison survivors. The voices of those in the SHU were powerfully present, both in stories told by family members as well as statements they had sent for the occasion.

Assembly hearing on SHUs rally crowd 022513 by Urszula Wislanka
Prisoners’ families and advocates turned out for a rally followed by the Assembly hearing Feb. 25. The next opportunity to persuade state lawmakers to “stop the torture” is bound to draw far more of the hundreds of thousands of prisoners’ rights supporters from around California. – Photo: Urszula Wislanka

The opening of the letter Gilbert Pacheco read from his brother Daniel in Corcoran Prison summed up the solidarity of the day: “Allow me to expend my utmost respects along with my utmost gratitude and appreciation to all of you who are out here supporting this struggle and allowing mine along with thousands of other voices to be heard! Gracias/Thank you.”

Family members from all over California spoke about loved ones who were being unjustly held for 10, 15, even 25 years or more in solitary confinement, how they were entrapped into solitary and the conditions they face. Marilyn Austin-Smith of All of Us or None, an organization working for human rights of formerly incarcerated people, read a statement from Hugo Pinell, surviving and resisting solitary confinement for 42 years.

Daletha Hayden from Victorville, Calif., spoke about her son who has been in SHU in Tehachapi for four years. He has missed 12 years of his 15-year-old son’s life, having not been able to see or touch him since he was 3. She said, “This is painful, and it tears families apart. We have to fight so our loved ones can be treated as well as animals! My son needs medical treatment, and SHU officials refuse for him to have it.”
Karen Mejia’s fiancé has been in SHU for six years. She stated that to her knowledge, the CDCR never got input from anyone imprisoned in the SHUs regarding their new policies. She went on to say that “if they followed their own policies, the SHU would be half empty, and they don’t want that because of their salaries and budget.”

Recently, they subjected her fiancé to particularly humiliating treatment. After she visited him, they punished him for being “sexually disorderly” with her. She said, “They painted his cell yellow and forced him to wear a yellow suit, which they do for sex offenders. In general population, he could have been killed for that.”

Assembly hearing on SHUs rally Sundiata Tate, Marilyn Austin-Smith reading letter from Hugo Pinell, Bato Talamantez 022513 by Azadeh Zohrabi
Marilyn Austin-Smith of All of Us or None, flanked by Sundiata Tate and Bato Talamantez of the San Quentin 6, read from a letter by Hugo Pinell, recognized internationally as a political prisoner and the only member of the San Quentin 6 still in prison – now for over 42 years in solitary confinement, most of it in the dreaded Pelican Bay SHU. His name was raised repeatedly in public testimony at the hearing. – Photo: Azadeh Zohrabi

Looking at the hypocrisy in the U.S. around torture and human rights, Dolores Canales from CFASC angrily noted that in a recent case, “All it took was a federal order to stop chimpanzees from being held in solitary confinement. It has been determined it’s detrimental to their mental and physical health, because they are social animals and have a need to see, hear and touch each other. Aren’t humans also social beings?!”

Luis “Bato” Talamantez, one of the San Quentin 6, said, “Sending your love to the people inside and helping them to stay connected and spiritually alive is the most important thing you can do with your life right now.”

The rally ended on a positive note with Luis “Bato” Talamantez, one of the San Quentin 6, saying, “Sending your love to the people inside and helping them to stay connected and spiritually alive is the most important thing you can do with your life right now.”

The crowd then filed into the hearing room, which filled up quickly, so around 40 people viewed it in an overflow area. For the next three hours, a few of the legislators, the human rights-focused panelists and the public in attendance did their best to sort through the obfuscations, omissions, misrepresentations and outright lies told by the CDCR and colleagues.

The lies from CDCR

One mistaken idea the hearing quickly cleared up was that any real oversight might come from the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board (CROB) in the Office of the Inspector General.

Speaking from CROB was Renee Hansen, who became executive director of the board in 2011, after 20 years of working for CDCR. Perhaps that explains the board’s less than thorough attempt at a real investigation of conditions in the SHUs and the glowing report she gave. When asked by Ammiano if they had conducted any surprise visits, she replied they had not.

Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing on SHUs 022513 by Sheila Pinkel, web
Every seat was filled for the California Assembly Public Safety Committee’s historic hearing on SHUs Feb. 25, and dozens more watched on TV in an overflow area. Besides the legislators in the hearing room, many more watched in their offices and said they were aghast at what they heard. – Photo: Sheila Pinkel

One of the myths the CDCR uses to justify SHUs is that they house the “worst of the worst,” and this hearing was no exception. Michael Stainer, CDCR deputy director of facility operations, testified: “The offenders in the SHU are 3 percent of the entire population. They have an inability to be integrated because of violence, and are affiliates of dangerous prison gangs. It’s necessary to isolate them to protect the other 97 percent.”

But Canales said: “My son is in there, and he has certificates in paralegal studies and civil litigation. At Corcoran he was Men’s Advisory Council representative, when one person from each ethnic group gets voted in by their peers, and others go to them for help with prison issues.” And it’s not just her son who doesn’t fit the “ultra-violent” profile. “A lot of the guys in there have all kinds of education and are helping others with legal work. Many of them have been using their time to educate themselves.”

Hansen testified they found no evidence of retaliation for the hunger strike. Yet Charles Carbone, a prisoner rights lawyer who testified on the panel, said, “Make no mistake about it: Participating in a hunger strike can get you in the SHU.”

Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell asked, “How can participation in an act of peaceful civil disobedience like a hunger strike be construed as gang activity?” Ominously, Kelly Harrington, associate director of high security transitional programming (STP) for CDCR, said, “Hunger strikes can be viewed as violating institutional security.”

Marilyn McMahon with California Prison Focus reports letters from people in SHUs about food quality going down and portion sizes shrinking, especially after the administration heard of the potential resumption this summer of the hunger strike. “I suspect,” she said, “they may be trying to get them very hungry before the strike, so they will have less desire to do it.”

Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing on SHUs panel, legislators 022513 by Sheila Pinkel, web
Assembly Public Safety Committee members Nancy Skinner, Holly Mitchell and Reggie Jones-Sawyer listen to Charles Carbone, Laura Magnani and Irene Huerta (Marie Levin, also on the panel, is out of view) on the prisoners’ advocates panel. Assemblywoman Mitchell’s understanding of the prisoners’ situation and tough questions for CDCR were a highlight of the hearing. – Photo: Sheila Pinkel

In another bold mockery, CDCR claimed their new policies include substantial changes in the process of “gang validations,” the categorizing of people as “gang members or associates,” resulting in SHU placement for indeterminate sentences. In the past, the validation process has been based on points given for tattoos, possession of books or articles the CDCR deems gang-related, having your name on a roster, and/or the confidential evidence of a “debriefer,” another desperate soul who has identified you as a gang member to get out of the SHU himself. Three points is enough to send you to the SHU. According to many reports from SHUs around the state, it often happens that people get sent to there for things that are purely associational and in complete lack of any actual criminal behavior.

In point of fact, items given points toward validated gang status are often related to cultural identity and/or political beliefs. Some examples are books by George Jackson or Malcolm X, Black Panther Party books or articles, materials about Black August commemorations, the Mexican flag, the eagle of the United Farm Workers, articles on Black liberation, political cartoons critical of the prisons, Kwanzaa cards and Puerto Rican flags, just to name a few.

The CDCR gave a list of their own officials when asked who was doing the gang classifications, and Ammiano noted they were all internal to CDCR, with no independent verification. Family members at the rally spoke of many unfair instances of gang validation points given to their family members. Irene Huerta’s husband was validated for a “gang memo” that was never found!

Carbone confirmed in his testimony that there was no real change in the source items given points, that still only one of your point items even needs to be recent and the other two can be 20 years old, and that “the new program actually expands rather than restricts who can be validated, by the addition of two categories. Initially we just had gang ‘members’ and ‘associates,’ but now we also have ‘suspects’ and ‘to be monitored.’” He went on to say “only the CDCR could call expansion reform.”

Charles Carbone, a prisoner rights lawyer who testified on the panel, said, “Make no mistake about it: Participating in a hunger strike can get you in the SHU.”

As Pacheco says from Corcoran Prison: “This validation process is not about evidence gathering that contains facts. It’s hearsay, corruption and punishment to the point of execution. It’s close to impossible to beat these false accusations on appeal. They know how to block every avenue. In other words, there is no pretense that rights are respected. Shackled and chained we remain.”

The centerpiece of the CDCRs deceptive “reform” is the “Step Down Program,” in theory a phased program for people to get out of the SHU. The program would take four years to complete, although they said it could potentially be done in three. It involves journaling, self-reflection and, in years three and four, small group therapies.

In a statement issued for the event by the NARN (New Afrikan Revolutionary Nation) Collective Think Tank or NCTT at Corcoran SHU, the writers roundly condemned the program, saying that CDCR “has, in true Orwellian fashion, introduced a mandatory behavior modification and brainwashing process in the proposed step down program.”

Abdul Shakur, who is at Pelican Bay and has been in solitary confinement for 30 years, calls it the “equivalent to scripting the demise of our humanity” in his article “Sensory Deprivation: An Unnatural Death.”

Assembly hearing on SHUs Marie Levin, Irene Huerta 022513 by Becky Padi-Garcia, web
The passionate testimony of Marie Levin and Irene Huerta will help bring an end to the torturous entombment of their loved ones in the Pelican Bay SHU. – Photo: Becky Padi-Garcia

At the hearing, Laura Magnani from the Friends Service Committee strongly agreed. Magnani pointed out that only in the third and fourth year does very limited social interaction start to happen, that having contact with one’s family continuing to be seen as a privilege instead of a right is fundamentally wrong and that the curricula itself is “blame and shame” based, an approach proven to be damaging. To add insult to injury, she said that what you write in the notebooks can be used against you.

Marie Levin with the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition spoke about her brother Sitawa N. Jamaa at Pelican Bay, a New Afrikan Short Corridor Collective representative and a political thinker. He told her his concerns about the step down program: “The workbooks are demeaning and inappropriate. No one with a gang label will be reviewed for two years of the program, and no phone calls for two more years is far too long.” He’s concerned about CDCR evaluative power over journals, fearing they won’t allow progression if they don’t like the answers, or that they will accuse people of insincerity.

Sundiata Tate, one of the San Quentin 6 and a member of All of Us or None, said: “In terms of CDC, it seems like they’re trying to put a cover on what they’re actually doing. If you take someone who’s been in the SHU for years or even decades and say they have to go into a step down program that will take four years, that’s really just adding cruelty to cruelty. It’s actually more torture.”

In an attempt to deflect blame from the destructiveness of their own policies, Kelly Harrington, associate director for high security transitional programming, admitted that some people did not want to participate in the step down program. When asked why, he said, “We have intelligence that people are being instructed not to participate in the program by leaders.”

Canales noted that CDCR is trying to cast blame on the leaders, when in reality the program itself forces people to sign a contract agreeing to become an informant.

Assembly hearing on SHUs overflow 'room' in hallway 022513 by Dolores Canales
About 40 people who couldn’t be seated in the hearing room watched in the hallway, the closest thing the capitol could come to an “overflow” room. The activists agreed that prisoners’ families should have first priority for the hearing room. – Photo: Dolores Canales

The contract is arguably the most insidious part of the step down program. In order to complete the program, people would be forced to sign it in Step 5. It includes the stipulation that the signer become an informant on gang – or, in the new language, “security threat group” (STG) – activities, making it in effect no different at all from debriefing and putting the informant in danger of retaliation.

In the CDCR’s defense, there’s one lie they didn’t tell – that they care about people in the SHUs being able to have a supportive relationship with their family members. It’s very clear they don’t. One of the more frightening elements in this expansion disguised as reform for families with loved ones in the SHU is that the new STG classification is no longer for just inside the prisons.

Family members are wondering if they will at some point be “validated” as gang members on the streets. If that happened, they could be barred from visiting or writing to their loved ones in the SHU, even more completely isolating people in solitary confinement and cutting them off from an important source of support in case of hunger strike.

Of watching the CDCR representatives speak at the hearing, Manuel La Fontaine of All of Us or None said it was “so infuriating and very hard to watch. Honestly, it was re-traumatizing for me. Although comparisons can be dangerous, I began to imagine the feelings of a survivor of the holocaust watching the Nazi regime justify their actions.”

Jerry Elster, also of All of Us or None, said: “They pretty much showed who the worst of the worst really are. The guys inside are calling for peace and an end to hostilities between races, and the guys (at CDCR) have complete disregard for human suffering.”

Jerry Elster, also of All of Us or None, said: “They pretty much showed who the worst of the worst really are. The guys inside are calling for peace and an end to hostilities between races, and the guys (at CDCR) have complete disregard for human suffering.”

The most powerful moment of the public comment portion of the hearing came when Cynthia Machado spoke of her late brother Alex. Formerly a bright and articulate man who helped others with legal work, he was driven to suicide after years of paranoia, degrading conditions and mental deterioration. She said: “We received letters from him indicating he was afraid. He reported seeing demons. Although they knew he was allergic to peanuts, they gave him peanut butter to eat.

“He wrote the family a suicide letter in February 2011 and attempted it in June. On Oct. 24, after screaming for 24 hours, he was found hanging in his cell.” Looking at the legislators, she demanded to know, “Where is the rehabilitation in that? Where is it?”

The missing framework of torture

Sundiata Tate said after the hearing that “some of the assembly members asked good questions and the CDC tried to say they were changing. But they aren’t even addressing the question of torture! That really stood out for me. They aren’t recognizing it as such. The only way they will is if their hands are forced, by the courts or the legislature or the people. I really think the CDC should be forced to release all those people and pay them damages.”

Assembly hearing on SHUs 'Stop the Torture' poster 022513 by Bami Iroko
“Stop the torture” was the topic around the Capitol during the hearing on Feb. 25 and Lobby Day on Feb. 26. – Photo: Bami Iroko

People imprisoned in the SHUs and those who advocate for them have a deep understanding that solitary confinement is a horrific form of torture with long-lasting and highly detrimental emotional and physical effects and as such needs to be abolished. Their family members also have a bone-deep knowledge of this, feeling keenly as they do the pain that comes when loved ones are suffering unjustly.

In addition, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, the U.N. Human Rights Committee and Amnesty International, among others, all recognize solitary confinement as a form of torture whose use should be extremely limited if used at all. The U.N. Special Rapporteur has state 15 days should be the maximum.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, the U.N. Human Rights Committee and Amnesty International, among others, all recognize solitary confinement as a form of torture whose use should be extremely limited if used at all.

So the question many are left with after the hearing in Sacramento is what will it take for the California legislature to catch up with this knowledge? And, more than that, what will it take for them to act to create some genuine accountability for the CDCR officials who are perpetuating the torture? And to act eventually to abolish the practice?

Lobby Day

The following day around 40 people remained to lobby the legislators in teams, speaking to them about solitary confinement as well as upcoming legislation relevant to organizations within CURB. All of Us or None in particular was supporting AB 218, another version of the Ban the Box bill that would take the “Have you ever committed a felony” checkbox off initial job applications, and AB 149, mandating when people are released from incarceration they be informed of their voting rights and given a voter registration card. Senate bills supported included SB 61, limiting the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, and SB 283, restoring CalWORKS and CalFresh to those released after serving time for drug-related felonies.

Lobby Day after Assembly SHU hearing 022613 by Emily Harris, web
Activists from all over California who attended the Feb. 25 hearing on solitary confinement joined with women from the Center for Young Women’s Development who came for lobbying day. Back row: Dolores Canales, Margaret Laffan, Milton Rudge, Marilyn Austin-Smith, Denise Mewbourne, Sundiata Tate, Andrés Abarra, Jerry Elster, Acacia Ainsworth, Elizabeth Evans, Daletha Hayden. Middle row: Sheila Pinkel, Penny Schoner, Margaret Ramos, Kenya Taylor, Paula Robles, Nicole Powell, Keithia Martin, Brittany Jones. Front: Emily Harris, Elvira Zayas, Marlene Sanchez, Diana Zuniga

One of the highlights of the day was the attendance of a group of young women from the Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco, an organization working “to empower young women who have been involved with the juvenile justice system and/or underground street economy to create positive change in their lives and communities.” They got their first experience that day of talking to legislators.

At the end of the day many of the teams reported lots of talk around the capital about the hearing the previous day and that many of the legislative aides they had spoken to said they honestly had not known what kind of abuses were happening with solitary confinement in California.

Where do we go from here?

Ammiano has promised there will be more hearings, and Mitchell added she would like to see the next one delve more deeply into conditions inside the SHU. Attorney Carol Strickman from Legal Services for Prisoners with Children informed those at the rally that the class action lawsuit on behalf of those in solitary confinement for longer than 10 years at Pelican Bay – over 500 people – will have a hearing on March 14, 2 p.m., at the Federal Building in Oakland, 1301 Clay St. A rally will begin at 12, and the hearing is at 1:30.

“We need to let the world know that California is torturing their prisoners.”

CDCR will be arguing for a dismissal, and trial dates will be set. She encouraged people to attend if possible, to let them know the interest level of the public

Lobby Day after Assembly SHU hearing 022613 by Sheila Pinkel, web
The day after the hearing was Lobby Day. Dolores Canales of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement reports: “CFASC had a very productive day lobbying with CURB and bringing up the hearing and the issue of solitary confinement. It was surprising to hear how many legislators were in their offices watching the hearing. Sen. Ron Calderon said they have ‘never seen a hearing like the one yesterday’ and ‘it was the talk of the offices; everyone was talking about it.’ ‘A lot of light was shed.’” – Photo: Sheila Pinkel

Many are calling for an independent review of the gang validation process, used as a rationale to place people in solitary confinement as well as to hold them there indefinitely. La Fontaine said: “This review needs to be placed in more objective hands. Dr. James Austin, for example, is a renowned corrections expert with a more impartial analysis – he would be a better consultant on this.”

To underscore the impossibility of an independent review internal to the CDCR, he said: “The prisons and the military have a lot of shared best practices. There are lots of CDCR goon squads, including the Institutional Gang Investigation guys, who are truly scary people. They’ve been hired into the system because they have military experience working against international so-called terrorists.”

Regarding further organizing, Marilyn Austin-Smith of All of Us or None said: “I do wish more people were there. It would be great to fill the whole lawn and take over the capitol for one day, so we can make them understand how many people care about this. We need to do community outreach to those most affected and encourage people to come out and support their loved ones. And we need to let the world know that California is torturing their prisoners.”

“What was most inspiring to me was the unity, the way everyone, all ethnicities, came together,” said Canales. “If the men in there have agreed to end hostilities, how can we not do our best to come together out here? As long as we can stay together, we can have victory. It’s especially important for Black and Brown communities to work together more closely around this and realize we do play a part in our own oppression.”

And if the prisoners’ five core demands remain unmet, people still suffering and continuing their resistance inside the SHUs will begin another hunger strike this coming July.

As the NCTT Corcoran SHU writers say in their statement for the event: “Will you allow them to erect this new bureaucracy and extort an ever greater portion of your tax dollars to enrich themselves and expand their influence in your daily lives? If freedom, justice, equality and human rights are truly values you hold dear, let it be reflected in the actions of your legislators. Each of your voices, when raised together, can tumble walls of stone. Remember Jericho. Thank you for your time, and our prayers and solidarity are with you all.”

“What was most inspiring to me was the unity, the way everyone, all ethnicities, came together,” said Canales. “If the men in there have agreed to end hostilities, how can we not do our best to come together out here? As long as we can stay together, we can have victory. It’s especially important for Black and Brown communities to work together more closely around this and realize we do play a part in our own oppression.”

Denise Mewbourne is a proud member of All of Us or None and Occupy 4 Prisoners (O4P) and is currently launching a Human Rights Pen Pal group for O4P, based on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Committee’s model. She feels blessed to be part of a passionately dedicated Bay Area community working for racial justice and an end to mass incarceration with all its myriad evils. Denise can be reached at deniselynn777@gmail.com.

Does 22 1/2 hours alone in an 8-by-10 cell every day amount to torture?

This is an article by Michael Montgomery for Center for Investigative Reporting/KQED, from Feb. 25th, 2013 – they also have a video on the site.

“I haven’t seen the moon since 1998.”

That’s inmate Jeremy Beasley, talking to me while sitting – shackled – in an interview room at Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s highest security lockup.

Beasley, a convicted murderer, was clearly surprised by my presence – he told me he hadn’t met with a visitor since 1994, when he was incarcerated.

It’s not just the moon Beasley hadn’t seen in 15 years. During that time, in fact, Beasley rarely glimpsed the outside world. Before being transferred to another prison, he was held in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, a windowless, bunker-like facility that houses more than 1,000 California inmates.

For 22-and-a-half hours a day, each inmate here is locked, usually alone, in an 8-by-10-feet cell. For 90 minutes the inmate is allowed to exercise in an adjacent room with 25-30 feet high walls. And that’s his entire day – every day.

“I’ve seen guys lose their minds back here,” Beasley tells me.

[photo: Units at Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Units have no windows so inmates’ only regular view of the outside world is through the top of the exercise pens.
Credit: Monica Lam/Center for Investigative Reporting]

Today in Sacramento, lawmakers will delve into a growing national controversy over special security units like Pelican Bay’s that are used to isolate thousands of inmates from the regular prison population. Civil rights groups say long-term isolation amounts to torture, while state corrections officials say the units are necessary and the conditions are humane.

Around the state there are four of these Security Housing Unit facilities. Pelican Bay’s is the most controversial.

Conditions in the units are one part of the debate. Many inmates are held in windowless cells and have been denied everything from calendars and sweatpants to phone calls. Also at issue: criteria that determine which prisoners are placed there and how they can get back into the regular population again.

Then there is the long amount of time some inmates spend in the facilities. More than 500 California prisoners have been locked in the special units for 10 years or longer, according to state data. Of those, 78 prisoners have been held inside for more than 20 years.

Over the years, authorities have allowed media into Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, but access has been limited and the inmates carefully selected by the prison staff.

However, top corrections officials granted unusual access to a team of reporters and videographers from the Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED. We visited all areas of Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit except for a section that houses leaders of a 2011 hunger strike.

Using a small camera mounted to a wall, our team recorded Beasley exercising with a rubber handball in the small concrete pen (prison staff began allowing the balls last year). At all other times – day and night – he was held in his cell, alone. While skylights allow filtered sunlight into the units, there are no windows.

class-action lawsuit filed last year by a coalition of civil rights groups states:

California’s uniquely harsh regime of prolonged solitary confinement at Pelican Bay is inhumane and debilitating. Plaintiffs and class members languish, typically alone, in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell, for 22 and one-half to 24 hours a day. They are denied telephone calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational or educational programming.
Defendants persistently deny these men the normal human contact necessary for a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. These tormenting and prolonged conditions of confinement have produced harmful and predictable psychological deterioration among Plaintiffs and class members.
The solitary confinement regime at Pelican Bay, which renders California an outlier in this country and in the civilized world, violates the United States Constitution’s requirement of due process and prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the most basic human rights prohibitions against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Indeed, the prolonged conditions of brutal confinement and isolation at Pelican Bay cross over from having any valid penological purpose into a system rightly condemned as torture by the international community.

But state corrections officials maintain that conditions in the special units are humane; that they do not practice solitary confinement; that inmates are “segregated” but not “isolated”; and that there is a valid purpose for keeping prisoners in the units – protecting other inmates, staff and the public from men who have been linked to violent prison gangs.

“These are the men who are propagating the violence, the drug trafficking, the extortions and the murders throughout the larger communities of our state,” said Pelican Bay warden Greg Lewis.

Without conceding any shortcomings, however, corrections officials are embarking on a new policy to bring in more educational and self-help programs, and to reduce the amount of time some inmates spend in the units.

Since last October, officials have reviewed the cases of 144 inmates and determined that 75 should be transferred immediately to regular prisons because they were not active in gangs. Some of the inmates have been held in the special units for more than 20 years, according to Kelly Harrington, an associate corrections director.

Pelican Bay inmates who led the 2011 hunger strike, as well as some prisoner rights groups, have denounced the new policy and are threatening more protests this summer. Amid a long list of demands, they are seeking shorter, fixed terms for inmates in the special units (currently, most are held there on “indeterminate” terms), more programs and more frequent visits with family members.

[photo: Inmate Jeremy Beasley has spent nearly 15 years in the special security unit at Pelican Bay State Prison.
Credit: Singeli Agnew/Center for Investigative Reporting]

For his part, Jeremy Beasley said that while the conditions at Pelican Bay are awful, he doesn’t think they amount to solitary confinement. Although he can’t see other inmates from his cell (doors are made of perforated steel and face a wall), Beasley says he can carry on conversations with them.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “It sucks in here. I hate it. But some prisoners have found that they can get a lot of attention by exaggerating how bad it is.”

Beasley said he was an active member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white-power gang, and committed assaults on behalf of the group. He agreed to drop out and provide authorities with incriminating information about other members, a process known as “debriefing.” In exchange, officials recently transferred Beasley to a different prison.

“I believe that some people should be isolated. If they were to cut me loose before I debriefed and I went back to the mainline,” he said, using the term for the general prison population, “I would have killed somebody or at the very least I would have stabbed somebody else.”

Other Pelican Bay inmates see it differently.

“There is only one option to get out of here and that is to make up lies about other people,” said 39-year-old Henry Albanez, who is serving a 27-year sentence for kidnapping. Albanez said he expected the department’s new policies would fail.

“How do you expect to take all of these guys out of the SHU (Security Housing Unit) and throw them in the same yard and expect them to get along when you have all this sensory deprivation?” he said.
Still, Albanez said he probably would take part in a new step-down program that begins later this year. Corrections officials have said the program allows inmates to earn their way out of the special units in two to four years without being required to renounce the gangs they have been affiliated with. Instead, they must declare that they won’t participate in gang activity.

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who visited Pelican Bay early this month, said he found the prison clean and professionally staffed but was troubled thinking that some inmates are locked up for decades in small cells with little or no regular human contact. Inmates must also be shackled whenever they are outside their cells and in the presence of another individual.

“I do think it’s psychologically devastating to be in such a tight space for so long,” Ammiano said.
What, then, about the question of torture?

Ammiano said the strangest thing he saw at the prison was a group therapy room where inmates are locked in small cages during sessions.

“Could I say that’s torture? Perhaps I could,” he said. “But did we witness any torture? No.”

You can listen to Michael Montgomery report from California’s most controversial, highest security lockup on The California Report, on the following stations around the state. The report will also be archived at the show’s website.

This story was produced in collaboration with KQED.

Prisoners’ families and advocates to speak out at legislative hearing Feb. 25 on solitary confinement and plan to renew hunger strike

From: SF Bay View

Feb 22nd 2013
Rally starts 11:30 Capitol West Side, Assembly Hearing on Security Housing Units in Room 126 at 1:30
by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
[Prisoners’ families and advocates rallied, lobbied and testified frequently during the 2011 hunger strikes. This march was held Oct. 15, as the second hunger strike was concluding after CDCR promised it would meet the prisoners’ demands. That year-and-a-half-old promise has not been kept. – Photo: Bill Hackwell]
Family members, advocates, lawyers, activists and others from across California will travel to Sacramento on Monday to speak out against the state prison system’s continued use of solitary confinement. Hundreds are expected to gather for a rally outside the Capitol Building and will then attend a California State Assembly Public Safety Committee oversight hearing, convened to review the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) “revised regulations” of its notorious Security Housing Units (SHU). The Capitol is located at 1315 10th St. at L Street, Sacramento.
“I went to Pelican Bay earlier this month. Officials presented their case for how the prisoners are being treated, but some questions about conditions remain,” said Public Safety Committee Chair Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco.
The hearing follows up on a 2011 hearing triggered by a prisoner hunger strike to protest conditions. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation promised to study the situation and implemented policy changes in 2012.
Hundreds are expected to gather for a rally outside the Capitol Building and will then attend a California State Assembly Public Safety Committee oversight hearing, convened to review the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) “revised regulations” of its notorious Security Housing Units (SHU).
“As chair of Public Safety, I want to know whether conditions are humane, but I also want to know whether the stringent policies of CDCR are effective,” Ammiano said. “What are the goals and what are the effects? The taxpayers should have this information.”
The hearing will include three panels with the following panelists:
Renee Hanson, California Deputy Inspector General
Michael Stainer, Deputy Director, Division of Adult Institutions, CDCR
Kelly Harrington, Associate Director, High Security/Transitional Programming, CDCR
Michael Ruff, Special Agent in Charge, Office of Correctional Safety, CDCR
Charles Carbone, J.D., Prisoner Rights Attorney
Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
Two family members of current SHU prisoners
This rally preceded the last hearing called by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, held Aug. 23, 2011. Prior to this upcoming hearing Ammiano visited Pelican Bay State Prison to see for himself what prisoners are subjected to. – Photo: Revolution
The hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. in Room 126 of the State Capitol. It can be seen online and on cable on the California Channel.While the CDCR has claimed to have made reforms to its SHU system – how a prisoner ends up in the solitary units, for how long and how they can go about getting released into the general population – prisoners’ rights advocates point out that the CDCR has potentially broadened the use of solitary confinement and that conditions in the SHUs continue to constitute grave human rights violations.
The California prison system currently holds over 10,000 prisoners in solitary confinement units, with dozens having spent more than 20 years each in isolation. Conditions in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU sparked massive waves of hunger strikes in 2011 that saw the participation of 12,000 prisoners in at least a third of California’s 33 prisons.
This rally, held outside CDCR headquarters in Sacramento on July 18, 2011, when 6,600 prisoners had joined the hunger strike begun July 1, amplified striking prisoners’ Five Core Demands. Days later, CDCR prompted suspension of the strike by promising the prisoners their demands would be met. By then, many striking prisoners had lost more than 40 pounds. – Photo: Grant Slater, KPCC
“Prisoners themselves, their loved ones, legal advocates and social justice organizations have done so much in the past couple of years to help people understand that California’s current use of prolonged and indefinite isolation is a form of torture,” says Azadeh Zohrabi of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, a lead organization in the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

“While prisoners and their supporters have forced the CDCR to address the crisis it has created, at the end of the day, their new regulations still allow for prisoners to be confined in extreme isolation for decades. We are converging on the Capitol to continue to push for fundamental changes to this horrendous system.”

Prisoners themselves have vowed to renew a hunger strike along with a work stoppage this summer if their demands from 2011 continue to go unmet by the CDCR. In a statement issued last week, prisoners in Pelican Bay’s SHU said, “It is clear to us that the CDCR has no intention of implementing the substantive policy changes that were agreed to 15 or 16 months ago.”

The statement continues:

“We presently have no available alternative avenues to obtain the long overdue changes, in a timely manner, other than giving the CDCR until July 8, 2013 – as a deadline – to meet our stated demands. Failure to come to a legally enforceable agreement will be deemed as just cause for us to resume our indefinite, nonviolent, peaceful protest action(s) until the changes are made.”

Prisoners themselves have vowed to renew a hunger strike along with a work stoppage this summer if their demands from 2011 continue to go unmet by the CDCR.
Meanwhile, a landmark class action lawsuit against the state of California will continue in federal court on March 14. Filed in May 2012 by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus and other organizations on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay, the suit alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violates prisoners’ right to due process.
Family members and supporters of prisoners held in solitary confinement will be traveling to Sacramento from Los Angeles, the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Monday’s 11:30 a.m. rally will feature signs, banners and lively speakers – former prisoners, their families, prisoners’ rights advocates and others. Expert testimony will also be given during the 1:30 p.m. Public Safety Committee hearing.
In Oakland, carpools will leave the MacArthur BART Station at 8:30 and 9 a.m. In San Francisco, visit Megabus.com right away for bus tickets leaving the Caltrain Station at Fourth Street and King at 8:30 a.m., returning at 5:50 p.m., for less than $5 each way. For more information, visit https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/.
Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, is a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. He can be reached at (510) 444-0484 or isaac@criticalresistance.org. Bay View staff contributed to this story.