From the SF Bay View:
· San Quentin Warden Kevin Chappell, Kevin.Chappell@cdcr.ca.gov or (415) 454-1460
· CDCR Press Secretary Jeffrey Callison, Jeffrey.Callison@cdcr.ca.gov
· CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thorton, Terry.Thornton@cdcr.ca.gov.
“Steve Champion, death row prisoner and author of ‘Dead to Deliverance, A Death Row Memoir,’ has been held in administrative segregation, without phone and other privileges, since just prior to the execution of his friend Stanley Tookie Williams in December 2005,” writes Steve’s friend, Professor Tom Kerr of Ithaca College, in an afterword to Steve’s essay, “Gang validation: The new inquisition,” published Feb. 18, 2011.
“Steve Champion, in his death row memoir, describes his early life in Los Angeles and the allure for him of the Crips street gang, his incarceration and experience in the U.S. prison system, his life on death row, and his growth and struggle as a human being. He also offers a critical analysis of the prison system, especially capital punishment, and describes how through sustained collaboration with Stanley Tookie Williams and Anthony Ross, he evolved on death row from a high school dropout into an accomplished writer and student of the humanities.”
“The dedication of Williams’ book ‘Life in Prison’ casts significant doubt on his personal redemption … (T)he inclusion of George Jackson on the list [of Black heroes in the book’s dedication] defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems.”
“[Even] ‘apolitical’ prisoners will recognize on a general level that their own existential condition can be compared to George Jackson’s. It is this identification with George Jackson that makes him symbolically powerful and very much alive. And for this, he must be vilified and punished, over and over again – suppressed and chased away from anyone who dares consume his words.”
In the same essay, Steve also addresses what is likely to become – only three days from now – the number one prison story across the U.S.: the “end of hostilities” between prisoners in California declared by the leaders of last year’s hunger strike housed in the Pelican Bay SHU. That declaration is contained in “California prisoners make historic call for peace between racial groups in California prisons and jails,” published in the October Bay View.
Steve writes: “What also facilitates the suppression of political consciousness is the unending cycle of ethnic and sectarian violence that permeates the U.S. prison system. Violence is micromanaged to perpetuate racial hatred and division among prison groups.
“And let me be honest: Prisoners make it easy for prison administrators to accomplish this when they fail to redress the stark contradictions between their intransigent conflicts against each other and the repressive and often brutal treatment meted out to them by the prison regime.”
Solidarity among prisoners and between prisoners and all who believe in justice is the way to stop the madness of mass incarceration. Steve Champion’s hunger strike is a prime opportunity for showing prison administrators a better way.
“Dear Warden Chappell,
“As Steve Champion’s friend and editor, I am writing to comment on the hunger strike that I understand he began on Oct. 4. Steve’s CDCR number is C-58001.
“Judging by his writing, by my nearly nine years of correspondence with him as his editor and friend, and by my several personal visits, Steve has, in 30 years on death row, become a remarkable person.
“I know that he would only resort to an action as dire as a hunger strike if he felt it were the last resort to get legitimate, if negotiable, grievances addressed. I know that he has long endeavored to work within the system, even when he has been critical of it.
“I hope you will view his hunger strike as an opportunity to reconsider or revisit the prison’s position on some of the issues he describes in his 602 petition and listed in his article in the San Francisco Bay View this past July: http://sfbayview.com/2012/the-struggle-never-stops/.
“I hope you will also ensure that Steve is treated respectfully and appropriately, as he protests against policies and procedures that he strongly believes to be excessively degrading and punitive, even in the extreme situation of death row. I trust that you will both respect the convictions and integrity driving his protest and work quickly toward a constructive solution.
“Thank you for considering my thoughts.
“Tom Kerr, PhD, Ithaca College”
by Steve Champion
“You can measure the level of a civilization by entering its prisons.” – Fyodor Dostevsky
One of the rules included in the 608 is an “indetermined SHU” program for anyone found guilty of two serious rules violation reports or one serious and two administrative rules violation reports within 180 days. The 608 needs to be abolished or amended. California death row inmates should be placed under Title 15, which is the California Code of Regulations for all California prisoners.
- Cease the discriminatory practice of holding new death row arrivals in the Adjustment Center for an indeterminate amount of time without just cause. There should be no more than a 90 day “observation” period for new arrivals before institutional classification committee renders a decision on an inmate’s status.
- Cease the use of confidential informants or 1030 disclosure forms to deny inmates access to Grade A programming, Grade B programming in East Block or access to a group yard in AC.
- Cease the use of confidential informants or 1030 disclosure forms to label inmates as “prison gang members,” “gang associates” or involved in gang activity, unless there is factual corroborating evidence, in which case San Quentin’s staff shall and must follow the regulations by issuing a rules violation report affording the inmate his due process as required by law. The San Quentin staff must specify the rules and criteria clearly – no vagueness or contradictory rules. The Castillo should be used and the most recent criteria created and implemented stemming from the hunger strikers in PBSP or from LEIU (Law Enforcement and Investigation Unit).
- End long-term confinement in the AC: Some death row inmates have been in AC for 20, 15 and 10 years. Create a program for these inmates and other AC inmates who have been disciplinary free for a year and grant them some form of privileges as given Grade A inmates.
- Expand visiting to two hours for people traveling over 250 miles.
- Allow two telephone calls per month.
- Allow inmates to take four photos per year.
- Allow four yearly packages per year, or increase the unit to 50 pounds.
- Allow more TV channels – channels of substance like the history and discovery channels.
- Raise the number of personal books condemned B are allowed to have to 10.
- Allow us to get our education (GED) and take college courses.
- Allow a proctor to come in to test us in our studies within the unit.
- To be able to wear personal tennis shoes, or state shoes, to and from the yard; and on all escorts inside or outside the unit.
- To be able to wear state clothing to the law library, especially during inclement weather; T-shirt and underwear during rain storms are both inhumane and not required in any other part of San Quentin.
- To cease being strip searched on the exercise yard when it’s raining or during inclement weather.
- Allow AC inmates to be allowed to purchase vitamin supplements and protein meal supplements from approved vendors without it being counted as an annual package.
- Cease the practice of removing the plastic covers off the bread, cookies and chips, which is required in order for daily freshness to be preserved.
- Oversee how the meals and trays are being prepared; too often the breakfast/dinner food trays are not adequately cleansed.
- Bring back the “hot food cart.”
- Increase spending limit for canteen and offer a wider selection of food items.
- Return the basketball court.
- Return the pull-up bar; place a dip bar and two tables on each yard.
- Allow items to be brought out to the yard, such as soap, shampoo, coffee, lotion and a tumbler.
- Provide the group yard with activity items – checkers, chess, cards and handballs.
- Allow AC inmates to purchase their own white boxer underwear, T-shirts and socks from approved vendors.
- Allow us to purchase rain jackets, since the AC seems unable to provide them to all AC inmates on anything other than “first come first serve” basis.
- Allow us to have a mirror and comb, provided by the state, in the cell.
- Allow us to shave when scheduled for a visit as is done in other SHU programs in California.
- Allow us to order thermals from approved vendors.
- Return the scheduling of AC inmates for SHU law to the SHU law clerk.
- Scheduling and rescheduling AC inmates for SHU law takes too long. There are enough holding stalls when utilized that can allow an inmate (when he signs up) to be assured law library twice a month.
- Provide regular access to the main library.
And read his book, “Dead to Deliverance: A Death Row Memoir,” available at amazon.com or Split Oak Press, splitoakpress.com.