Representatives: Continued ignoring of Five Core Demands could prompt resumption of peaceful protest

From: SF Bay View

December 28, 2012

Part 1: Open letter to CDCR and PBSP officials

To: CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) Undersecretary of Operations Terri McDonald, PBSP (Pelican Bay State Prison) Warden Greg Lewis, PBSP Associate Warden P.T. Smith

From: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellaños, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa/Dewberry, Antonio Guillen

Subject: PBSP SHU Prisoners’ 2011 Five Core Demands

On behalf of myself and those similarly situated, I request your attention and responsive action with respect to the issues stated below relevant to our 2011 Five Core Demands.

Briefly summarized, it’s been nearly 14 months now since we suspended our non-violent, peaceful protest hunger strike actions of July and September-October 2011, wherein we presented CDCR with our Five Core Demands for reforms to be made regarding SHU and Ad Seg policies and practices – all of which your predecessor, Scott Kernan, admitted were reasonable. He made this admission during our negotiations as well as when he met with our Mediation Team and the public. Mr. Kernan promised that our demands would be meaningfully addressed, in substantive ways, in a timely fashion.

 

To date, the bulk of our Five Core Demands have not been met in meaningful, substantive ways, as per our understandings and agreements during July, August and October 2011 negotiations, some of which you were personally present at via phone conference.

This lack of good faith effort to meet our 2011 demands is a big problem and needs to be rectified in the not so distant future. In a nutshell, our first three core demands –

No. 1: individual accountability;

No. 2: policies on debriefing and denial of inactive status and related denial of release from SHU based on innocuous association and alleged intelligence without formal charges;

No. 3: an end to long term indefinite SHU and Ad Seg and related reforms recommended in 2006 by the Commission on Safety and Abuse In America’s Prisons – have not been met.

The CDCR’s Oct. 11, 2012, STG Pilot Program Instructional Memo fails to meet our first three core demands for reasons best exemplified in the included document titled, “Responsive Opposition to CDCR’s Oct. 11, 2012, STG Pilot Program.”

With respect to our core demands No. 4, Food and Nutrition, and No. 5, Programming Privileges, the following are examples of problems that continue to be unresolved. It’s important to remember one of the main principles relevant to these demands is that many of us have been in SHU for administrative reasons for 10 to 40 years. All parties acknowledged during our negotiation process that many of the restrictions were redundant and unnecessary in the content of the promised change in policy and practice to a system of individual accountability and focus on humane treatment and conditions in SHU and Ad Seg units.

To date, the bulk of our Five Core Demands have not been met in meaningful, substantive ways, as per our understandings and agreements during July, August and October 2011 negotiations.

We would like to point out that although PBSP SHU Associate Warden P.T. Smith has attempted to work together with us in keeping with the above principles, based on his nearly 30 years of experience in CDCR and with SHU prisoners, his efforts are largely futile based on CDCR headquarters and/or SHU warden’s non-recognition of the above referenced principles and continual focus on maintaining SHU and Ad Seg policies and practices that are redundant in a system based on individual accountability.
Below are examples, and in the future we will provide a more detailed list:

Re Core Demand No. 4: Food and Nutrition Issues. This issue remains a major problem at Pelican Bay State Prison, with small portions of either poorly prepared and/or inedible, rotten food items.

Re Core Demand No. 5: Programming and Privilege Issues. We presented CDCR with a list of EXAMPLES of reform measures regarding SHU and Ad Seg program and privilege issues, as follows, with notations about continued lack of meaningful progress:

A) Expand visiting, regarding amount of time and adding one day per week. This hasn’t happened yet, in spite of Scott Kernan’s July-August presentation that extra time would be permitted when visiting slots were open. PBSP IGI (Institutional Gang Investigations) insists on having three separate visit slots for SHU in order to keep Short Corridor prisoners separated from Long Corridor and C Facility prisoners. This makes extra time impossible here.

There’s no need for three visit slots when visiting is closely monitored by ICI, and a system of individual accountability means prisoners involved in prohibited actions at visiting can be sanctioned individually.
Between 1989 and 2006, PBSP SHU had two visit slots and often allowed extra time when slots were open, especially for visitors coming a long distance.

You can direct PBSP to go back to the two slots and permit extra time when slots are open, or direct the D Facility visiting room to be re-activated and used on weekends and holidays.

B) Allow a weekly phone call – hasn’t happened yet!

C) Allow two annual packages a year – hasn’t happened! We had asked in the Five Core Demands for allowance for one 30-pound package of food and beverage items and one package of non-food items, such as sweats, thermals, cosmetics, earbuds etc. For those held in SHU and Ad Seg for more than one year, who are free of any serious disciplinary notices for 12 months, these prisoners should be allowed TWO 30-pound packages of food and beverage items and one package of non-food items per year.

D) Expand canteen and package items allowed. Some new items have been allowed; however, there are more that can be added.

One of the items that we need as soon as possible, that CDCR has not given the OK for, is lotion. We were able to get lotion for years, but this year it was taken from our canteen and packages, on the excuse that it was “not on property matrix.” We need it here and medical refuses to give it out.
Another need is sweat shorts, so that we have the dignity of not being paraded about in boxer shorts while escorted to medical line or yard.

We are also seeking to be able to buy two cases of Top Ramen and woodless colored pencils, which could be added to canteen.

E) More TV channels – denied by Warden Lewis. CDCR and PBSP keep falsely claiming that we have 27 cable channels. We actually have three cable channels and five network channels, which is less than all other SHU units across the state. We’re asking for two or three more channels.

F) Allow hobby craft items: art paper, colored pens, small pieces of colored pencils, watercolors, chalk etc. We have gotten paper, pens and chalk so far, but many can’t work with the chalk. We’ve found that Walkenhorst’s sells “woodless colored pencils.” See Walkenhorst’s 2012 Fall Catalogue, page 136, item E.
We have asked Pelican Bay staff to notify Walkenhorst’s that SHU prisoners are allowed to purchase these sets of 12 and 24 woodless colored pencils for our packages. Associate Warden P.T. Smith tells us that only Sacramento CDCR headquarters can notify Walkenhorst’s about allowing us to have items.
Thus, we are asking you to notify Walkenhorst’s that we are allowed to have the woodless colored pencils in our packages.

G) Install pull-up and dip bars on SHU yards – has not happened yet!

H) Additional issues: Warden denied our request to participate in “charity bake sales” stating “Get out of the SHU!” Unfair, and no kind of security risk. And the PIA mattresses being issued now equal NO mattress at all!

Again, the above are examples of problematic issues regarding our Five Core Demands. A more detailed list dealing with issues in demands Nos. 4 and 5 will be forthcoming.

Your time, attention and assistance with the above is much appreciated.

Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellaños, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa/Dewberry, Antonio Guillen
Nov. 28, 2012

Part 2: Responsive Opposition to CDCR’s Oct. 11, 2012, STG Pilot Program

Submitted Dec. 3, 2012, by Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellaños, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa/Dewberry, and Antonio Guillen

To whom it may concern:

The CDCR’s Oct. 11, 2012, Security Threat Group Pilot Program Instructional Memo IS NOT ACCEPTABLE! It fails to meet our 2011 Five Core Demands and is herby rejected for reasons briefly summarized in the examples below of the problems we have with the STG Pilot Program and what the CDCR needs to do to meet our demands and thereby keep their word.

See also our related oppositions to CDCR’s March and June 2012 STG proposals. [See Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement presents counter-proposal opposing CDCR ‘Security Threat Group Strategy’ regarding the March proposal and Open letter to Gov. Jerry Brown: Stop the torture now regarding the June proposal.]

We have repeatedly made clear that the heart of our first three core demands is the requirement for substantive changes to SHU and Ad Seg policies and practices, which must include:

  1. An individualized accountability, behavior-based system when it comes to grounds for placement or retention in CDCR’s SHU or Ad Seg solitary confinement cells. This means such cells are reserved for those prisoners who are charged with and found guilty of committing a serious, felonious type of rule violation that merits a “determinate” SHU term. Individual accountability also applies to privilege restrictions when such are abused by an individual. This equates to a demand for an end to “indeterminate” SHU confinement.
  2. Related demands for an end to progressively punitive SHU and Ad Seg policies and practices for the purpose of coercing prisoners into agreeing to become state informants: This demand includes our call for an end to the “debriefing” policy.
  3. A demand for humane treatment and conditions in the SHU and Ad Seg units, with a focus upon meaningful program opportunities and ability to gain privileges, based on criteria that are realistic and reasonable – the purpose being to assist the prisoners with being able to return to the general prison population in the shortest amount of time possible; e.g., the voluntary participation in SHU programs equates to meaningful, additional privileges and the ability to earn good time off one’s sentence in order to shorten the determinate SHU term.

The CDCR’s Oct. 11, 2012, Pilot Program is not responsive to our above summarized demands, as exemplified below:

For more than 25 years the CDCR has used an alleged “gang management” policy and practice consisting of placing validated prison gang members and associates in SHU and Ad Seg solitary confinement cells – indefinitely – wherein prisoners are subjected to progressively more punitive conditions, for the purpose of coercing them into “debriefing” – becoming a state informant to gain release from solitary by providing gang unit staff (IGI, or Institutional Gang Investigations) with verifiable information that harms other gang affiliates.

Between 1986 and 1999, the only way to get out of solitary was to parole, die, go insane or debrief. In 1999, in response to a court ruling, the CDCR came up with another alleged avenue for SHU release, wherein a prisoner able to go six years with zero documented gang activity can achieve “inactive” gang status and thereby might be released to general population. The “inactive” avenue for SHU release has proven to be a sham!

Notably, most of the prisoners in SHU for the past one to 40 years based on a “current active” validation have never been found guilty of committing an illegal, gang-related act. We’re talking about decades of indefinite, punitive solitary confinement, based on alleged current active gang involvement, consisting of innocent association or political type activity and/or the unsubstantiated allegations of involvement in illegal gang activity by debriefer, confidential informants, deemed “reliable” by IGI – but no charges were filed!

IGI’s validations are rubber-stamped by the Office of Correctional Safety (OCS) and/or Special Services Unit (SSU), UCC (Unit Classification Committee) and all levels of the 602 appeals process, as per admissions by former PBSP Warden McGrath during his testimony in the 2009 Lira trial.

California prisoner hunger strike solidarity drawing by Rashid Johnson, Red Onion Prison, Va
Linked arms showing multi-racial solidarity around symbols of  hunger-striking California prisoners became the icon of the 2011 hunger strikes. At the end of this statement, the “main reps” announce their intention to call for a resumption if their almost two-year-old demands are not met. – Drawing: Rashid Johnson, then a prisoner at Red Onion State Prison in Virginia, now transferred to an Oregon prison

The Oct. 11, 2012, STG Pilot Program claims to “change” the present SHU policy and practice in the following ways: To “provide individual accountability of offenders” (Pilot Program Memo, page 1, Purpose) based on “a new behavior-based system, which will serve to enhance the existing intelligence-based validation system. The implementation of this process will include an STG behavior-based disciplinary matrix, which will provide for additional procedural due process safeguards and a system of individual accountability” (page 2, Key Revisions).

However, the truth is that the Pilot Program fails to change the present policies and practices at issue in any substantive meaningful ways, and it will actually result in a significant expansion of the numbers of prisoners kept indefinitely in SHU and Ad Seg solitary confinement torture cells. The numbers will expand to tens of thousands, because the CDCR STG Pilot Program targets not only prison gang affiliates, but OCS will now target any and all groups of three or more prisoners who are deemed to pose a “potential” threat (Pilot Program Memo, pages 1 and 9). This failure to change the present system is also demonstrated by:

A) The prisoners validated as STG-1 members (i.e., prison gang members) will continue to be subject to automatic, indefinite SHU confinement, solely based on the validation. There is no requirement that a formal charge of gang related misconduct be filed, nor any related requirement for a formal hearing to take place to determine guilt or innocence as per the preponderance of credible evidence standard, as required by CDCR’s formal rule violation hearing process. One’s only avenue for release from the SHU is to parole, die, go insane, debrief or successfully complete the four-year minimum Step Down Program (Pilot Program Memo, Sections 200.2; 500; 600.3; 700; 1200).

Additionally, any and all prisoners validated as STG affiliates will continue to be placed and/or retained in SHU and Ad Seg solitary confinement cells indefinitely, based on alleged intelligence indicating “confirmed STG behavior or activity,” defined as “STG behavior which is discovered and confirmed to have occurred.

Confirmation can be obtained through two processes:

1) a guilty finding in a STG rule violation report; and/ or
2) any document that clearly describes STG behavior/activities incorporated within the validation or continued STG behavior package, submitted to the OCS for Special Agent assessment and recommendation; and which is affirmed by an STG Unit Classification Committee” (Pilot Program, attachment A, STG definitions at “Confirmed STG Behavior.” See also definitions for Step Down Program, Steps 1 and 2, regarding use of intelligence and these steps housing prisoners based on influence.)

The above is also supported in the Pilot Program Memo at Section 600.3: Validated Affiliate with Confirmed STG Behavior Outside the Disciplinary Process:

“(a) A STG affiliate determined to have confirmed STG behavior or intelligence, … which occurred outside … formal disciplinary process shall be documented in a CDCR form 128-B, General Chrono (confidential chrono, if appropriate). The activity or behavior must have occurred within the last four years. Investigators shall establish reliability per CCR Section 3321 when confidential information is used and shall be recorded within the chrono. This confirmed STG behavior or activity shall consist of the following:

“Behavior, activity or intelligence items as indentified in Section 600.1: Validation Source Criteria totaling at least 10 additional points and identified subsequent to the validation process. This process shall only be utilized if the circumstances cannot be otherwise addressed through the disciplinary process.”

Everyone familiar with CDCR OCS, SSU and IGI’s SHU and Ad Seg policies and practices over the course of the past 10 to 40 years will recognize the above referenced Pilot Program. “Changes” to the present policy and practices equate to NO substantive changes at all.

The facts are CDCR staff have always been required to issue Rules Violation Reports to prisoners who are alleged to have violated a rule, when such is supported by credible evidence, per CCR, Title 15, Section 3312, et seq. In spite of this long standing regulation, most of the prisoners have not been charged with nor found guilty of an illegal gang related act! We’ve been subjected to decades of SHU isolation based on the criteria referenced above regarding “confirmed STG behavior outside the disciplinary process.”

With the above in mind, the only “change” to the current policy is a four-year review in the absence of being found guilty of an STG related Rules Violation Report, wherein documented and confirmed STG behavior or activity, totaling at least 10 additional points (over the course of four years) will be cause for continued indefinite SHU confinement, as compared to the present six-year review for consideration of inactive gang status, so long as there is no documented gang activity (over the course of six years).

The above process will be applied to those prisoners presently serving an indeterminate SHU term based on their validated status and they “shall be afforded a Departmental Review Board (DRB) hearing, to determine their appropriate placement and/or retention within the SHU/Step Down Program or potential release to general population … (T)he DRB will conduct an assessment of the preceding four years to determine the existence of on-going STG behavior” (Pilot Program Memo, page 3).

Based on all of the above referenced Pilot Program points, we can expect the DRB criteria used for their “assessment” of the preceding four years “to determine the existence of on-going STG behavior” will be the same criteria used for a six-year active/inactive review, with a focus on finding any alleged “documented items of current behavior or activity” occurring within the past four years totaling 10 or more points (i.e., a “continued STG behavior package” type of assessment) whereupon they will determine what step one is eligible for in the Step Down Program.

The DRB will utilize the sections of the Pilot Program referenced above because most of the validated affiliates – in SHU and Ad Seg for decades – have no STG related rule violation guilty findings. So they’ll have to utilize Pilot Program Section 600.3 (referenced above) because the CDCR and OCS have no intention of releasing certain STG affiliates to general prison population – e.g., those in PBSP Short Corridor who are there based on “influence,” which in turn is based on confidential informants’ or debriefers’ claims and/or IGI’s subjective opinion, which is impossible to disprove! See Pilot Program Memo, page 41, re SDP, Steps 1 and 2, reference to “influence.”

All of the above referenced Pilot Program points are NOT ACCEPTABLE!

What it basically boils down to is a CDCR OCS sentence enhancement of four years to life for alleged STG behavior or activity, without a requirement for any related formal charge(s) or guilt of committing any illegal, gang-related act! Remember, this sentence enhancement can be applied to STG affiliates for minor non-criminal associational activity (e.g., Pilot Program Memo, Section 600.2 (a), (b), (c) and 600.1, Disciplinary Matrix, bottom four boxes, re tattoos, roll call, group exercise, greeting cards and art work, acting in a leadership role, displaying behavior to organize and control other inmates etc.). Being deemed “guilty” of such innocuous and/or vague activity is cause for a minimum of four years of indefinite solitary confinement and inability to earn good time credits off one’s sentence, in addition to all the other punitive conditions such confinement entails.

This amounts to a minimum of four years of subjection to conditions that are psychologically and physically torturous to prisoners and their loved ones on the outside for the purpose of coercing them into becoming state informants via debriefing – without being formally charged and/or for insignificant violation(s) of minor, associational-type activity!

The truth is that the Pilot Program fails to change the present policies and practices at issue in any substantive meaningful ways, and it will actually result in a significant expansion of the numbers of prisoners kept indefinitely in SHU and Ad Seg solitary confinement torture cells.

The above points exemplify the CDCR OCS’ intent to maintain the present status quo of confining thousands of prisoners in long term solitary cells, subject to progressively punitive conditions, for coercive purposes. What is worse is they insist on doing this in spite of the fact that such practices violate U.S. constitutional and international laws and treaties, as well as state law regarding enhancements and sanctions for gang-related activity. (The applicable California Penal Code is 186.22, as interpreted by the California Supreme Court. See for instance People v. Castenada, 23 Cal. 4th 743 (2000), the leading case. See also People v. Moreno, 68 C.A. 4th 1198 (1998), and People v. Gardeley, 14 Cal. 4th 605 (1996), and People v. Gomez, 235 Cal. Rptr. 2d 957, 971.)

Again, this is not acceptable, nor is it a sensible, responsible use of the taxpayers’ money to utilize costly SHU and Ad Seg cells for an indefinite time period of at least four years for such minor infractions of CDCR OCS’ made up rules. These sorts of small infractions can be addressed in the general prison population via progressive levels of restrictions on various programs and/or privileges. SHU and Ad Seg cells are approximately $20,000 costlier than general population cells per year!

B) The Pilot Program memo also claims the change in policy will provide “additional layers of procedural due process” regarding validation(s) and continued STG behavior and related SHU placement, retention and Step Down Program issues (Pilot Program Memo, page 1, Purpose, and Sections 100 and 400-800).

For the past 25-plus years, many SHU and Ad Seg prisoners have received CDCR’s version of “procedural due process” wherein IGI’s decisions and recommendations are automatically upheld by all levels of review by OCS, committees and prisoner grievance process 602 appeals. The Pilot Program changes nothing, because each level of review will still be conducted by CDCR employees who are trained and directed by OCS, SSU or IGI.

Therefore, this part of the Pilot Program is NOT ACCEPTABLE! Real due process requires substantive as well as procedural aspects and at least one level of meaningful review by a neutral third party, a qualified monitor who conducts a thorough, substantive, procedural review.

C) The Pilot Program memo claims the four year (minimum) Step Down Program (SDP) will provide STG affiliates with a way to earn release from indefinite solitary confinement without having to debrief (Pilot Program Memo Sections 700 et seq.).

CDCR’s SDP is NOT ACCEPTABLE! Four years is too long and the proposed programs and privileges for each step are not realistic, reasonable or meaningful.

CDCR presents the SDP as “an incentive based multi-step process for the management of STG affiliates. This program will assign, transition, and monitor inmates who by their behavior have demonstrated the need for CDCR’s utilization of special strategies for their management.

“The SDP shall normally be completed in five steps and provides a process for inmates engaged in STG behavior or activities to demonstrate their ability to refrain from this type of behavior, preparing them for return to non-segregated housing and eventual release to the community” (Pilot Program Memo Section 700).

Unfortunately, the CDCR Pilot Program for an SDP is structured in a way that is demonstrative of their true intent of maintaining and greatly expanding upon the current policy and practice of keeping thousands of prisoners in punitive solitary confinement cells indefinitely, until they die, go insane or debrief.

The first three and a half years of CDCR’s SDP entails a type of solitary confinement wherein the prisoners spend virtually 24 hours a day alone in a cell on the small-cell yard. The CDCR states this will be “a period of observation” during which the prisoner will be expected to keep his bed made and complete in-cell, self-directed journals and earn incentive-based privileges (Pilot Program Memo, Sections 700 through 700.5, pages 40-50).

This makes no sense! How can you “closely observe” someone for the purpose of assessing their behavior or activity, when they are in a type of solitary confinement 24/7? How does a minimum of three and a half years of doing self-directed journals for basically trivial and insignificant privileges prepare them for return to non-segregated housing and eventual release to the community?

A Step Down Program should be a maximum of 18 months in duration for the purpose of enabling prisoners to shorten their determinate SHU terms. In today’s SHU and Ad Seg units and Level 4 general population prisons, the prisoners are closely monitored 24/7. Any SDP needs to be based on realistic, reasonable adult programming criteria and meaningful incentives for each step.

For example, Step 1 can be a maximum of 90 days of basic in-cell type of programming. Step 2 can be a maximum of six months of more meaningful, interactive type of programming, such as small group activities in cages, small group yard etc., where observations of prisoners’ behavior and activities actually mean something towards assessing one’s potential for successful transition to general population. Step 3 can be for a maximum of nine months of small group programming, larger group yard, dining together. Step 4 can be for monitored status in a general population type of setting.

The incentives for each step need to be realistic and meaningful – for example, the ability to earn good time credits, regular phone calls, contact visits, additional packages, canteen, property etc., beginning at Step 2. Once in the SDP, sanctions for STG behavior or activities must be solely based on a formal charge and guilty finding for a serious rule violation linked to a STG.

Additionally, the CDCR’s mission priority is founded upon the principle of promoting and protecting public safety and the related operation of a reasonably safe and secure prison system. CDCR presently has the opportunity to back up these catch phrases with action by creating a sensible program for the purpose of transitioning the present long term SHU prisoners to a general population prison environment in a reasonably safe and secure manner. Their presence in general population will enhance the safety and security of the prison system as a whole, which will enable CDCR to provide prisoners with meaningful rehabilitation type programs and thereby help prisoners be better prepared for achieving success upon their parole to the community (see Aug. 12, 2012, Agreement to End Hostilities).

The CDCR can do this right now, at little to no cost, via the creation of the MCU [MAX-B] type program that we detailed in our March 2012 Counter-Proposal.

It’s a simple matter, for Pilot Program start-up purposes, to review all PBSP SHU prisoners’ files. Those on indefinite SHU status for validation, who have not been found guilty of a formally charged, gang-related offense – a serious RVR (Rules Violation Report) – in the last two years, who are three to five years or less from their parole date or parole eligibility hearing are immediately released to the MCU (Management Control Unit) on PBSP B Facility, where they can still be closely observed while actually interacting with each other and staff in a less restrictive yet still controlled environment. This is a model for success!

Conclusion

It has been more than 13 months since we agreed to suspend our non-violent, peaceful protest hunger strike actions in response to CDCR’s top administrators’ admissions that all of our Five Core Demands were reasonable and would be responded to via substantively meaningful changes to the policies and practices at issue.

This has NOT HAPPENED, as summarized in the above examples. (See also our related opposition and rejection statements responding to CDCR’s March and June 2012 STG proposals.)
To date, the CDCR’s top officials have acted in bad faith, including ignoring our prior opposition points and counter-proposal.

Therefore, at this point, we request a face-to-face meeting with the top CDCR officials, authorized and able to make decisions on the spot, for the purpose of changing the Oct. 11, 2012, STG Pilot Program Memo in ways responsive to our Five Core Demands, in line with the examples set forth in this document.
This meeting can be in person or via video conference in PBSP SHU.

Let this serve as notice that failure to change the Pilot Program in ways that are responsive to our Five Core Demands, as exemplified in this document, will be deemed to be just cause for our collective resumption of our non-violent, peaceful protest action(s).
Thank you for your time and attention.

Send our brothers some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP SHU D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532, and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa/Dewberry, C-35671, PBSP SHU D1-117L, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532. Mail to Arturo Castellaños and Antonio Guillen remains severely restricted. These four men are the “main reps” for the California prison movement best known for the 2011 hunger strikes that involved 12,000 prisoners at their peak.

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Reflections on our accomplishments so far – no more suffering in silence

From: SF Bay View
Dec. 23rd 2012

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

We as an oppressed prison class being illegally held in solitary confinement must reflect on our struggle and how we are to continue forward in that struggle. The first thing that I would insist is that we all reflect on our accomplishments.

Prior to our two hunger strikes, we were all suffering in silence, while understanding that each and every one of us was and is being subjected to a daily dose of both physical and psychological torture. Unfortunately, many have succumbed to the CDCR’s blunt force of torture over the past 30 years. Those of us who continue to remain under such torture today have chosen to resist peacefully against our treatment.

Though we have yet to obtain our Five Core Demands, no one can deny how much we have achieved since our initial July 1, 2011, hunger strike. For the most part our movement for human rights has made much progress, but patience is required, for we are engaged in a protracted struggle that demands our resilience.

Our keepers are going to employ stall tactics with the hope that we lose faith in our pursuit for justice. We cannot afford to give up now. Success is not far away. Don’t lose sight of what we as a class have already accomplished:

1. July 1 to July 20, 2011: hunger strike with over 6,000 participants.

2. July 1 hunger strike made national and international news.

3. American people rejected torture outright in its institutions and in every sector of our society. Celebrities, religious groups, educational institutions and countless activist organizations spread the word and went to work for us.

4. The Public Safety Committee in the California Assembly held a hearing on Aug. 23, 2011, on solitary confinement and torture, lasting a whole day, as a direct result of our July 1, 2011, nonviolent, peaceful hunger strike against CDCR’s deliberate indifference toward our human suffering.

5. The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and lead attorney Peter Schey filed a petition before the United Nations on March 12, 2011, on behalf of California’s segregated SHU prisoners.

6. State Sen. Darrell Steinberg ordered the Office of the Inspector General to hold an investigation of the former CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan for not keeping the promises he made to implement our Five Core Demands.

7. Sept. 26, 2011, to Oct. 14, 2011, more than 12,000 prisoners participated in our nonviolent, peaceful second hunger strike for human rights equality.

8. October 2011, CDCR created a Warden’s Advisory Group (WAG) to meet and work with the SHU and Ad-Seg prisoners about local prison concerns.

9. February 2012, meetings with the associate warden of Ad-Seg and SHU began and have continued monthly ever since then, in an attempt to improve on local issues. This is supposed to be happening throughout all SHU and Ad-Seg units in the California penal system.

10. There are also intangibles that most prisoners are not aware of as a direct result of our sacrifices via both hunger strikes. For examples, we now have a media team and a legal team. Newsletters have formed: PHSS News, CFASC News, ROCK. You prisoners have made this possible through your individual and collective sacrifices.

11. We prisoners illegally held in CDCR’s Ad-Seg and SHU units have a class action lawsuit before the Northern District of California Federal Court to address our Five Core Demands, specifically numbers one, two, three and four, to free us from long time isolation – i.e., indeterminate SHU – based on alleged gang affiliations or affiliates.

12. Our professional and experienced legal team is comprised of
– 1) Carol Strickman, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children;
– 2) Marilyn McMahon, California Prison Focus;
– 3) Anne Butterfield Weills, Siegel & Lee law firm;
– 4) Charles Carbone and Evan Greenberg, Law Office of Charles Carbone;
– 5) Jules Lobel, Alexis Agathocleous and Rachel Meeropol at the Center for Constitutional Rights. And we just got six more attorneys to assist our legal team from one of the most prestigious law firms in the world. So it just might be a fair legal fight for a change.

13. Although Gov. Brown vetoed the AB1270 media bill that would have allowed the media to interview prisoners of their choice, this validates our claim that Gov. Brown is complicit in the torture of prisoners whom CDCR labels as alleged gang members or associates throughout the state of California. The state knows that transparency would expose these criminal acts against prisoners. Still, the media bill actually made it to the governor’s desk.

14. The model SHU, built by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition members, has been to demonstrations in Northern California and we are truly grateful to our loyal supporters.

15. California Families Against Solitary Confinement, CFASC, opened their chapter in Southern California to gather family members and ex-prisoners to support their rallies and projects like transporting families and loved ones by vans and buses to distant prisons, beginning with Pelican Bay. CFASC’s work with legislators in Southern California and in Sacramento has been highly valuable to new lobbyists from other parts of the state.

16. June 18, 2012, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by Illinois Democrat Dick Durban, held the first ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement in the United States federal and state prisons.

These are not small accomplishments. We must all be aware of what is before us and continue our struggle by being wise and patient – i.e., disciplined. We have four representatives for each racial group, who are very smart and between them they have over a 110 years of prison experience. We have another 12 alternate representatives to help achieve our objectives.

We said this is a protracted struggle. Therefore, our collective power is essential to changing our oppressive conditions throughout the whole CDCR. Be mindful that our success will depend on our collective resolve and determination to put an end to this system of human torture.

Amnesty International has recently published a report that 34 prisoners died each year from 2006 to 2010 within the CDCR. Fourteen of these deaths occurred in these torture chambers call SHU units. Whereas men commit suicide, this alone should raise the alarm that something is drastically wrong with this system.

We have the intellect to clearly understand the value of our unified efforts to address the ills of SHU and Ad-Seg, that CDCR must stop its sensory deprivation and intentional indeterminate housing based upon illegal, false allegations by the corrupt IGI personnel. All California prisoners, women and men, are in this protracted struggle, seeking U.S. constitutional rights, as well as California’s guaranteed constitutional rights.

All prisoners and citizens of California must protest against Gov. Edmund G. Brown and interim Secretary of Corrections Martin Hoshino with emails and letters to their offices forthwith! (Contact Gov. Brown at http://gov.ca.gov/m_contact.php and interim Secretary Hoshino at (916) 323-6001 or Martin.Hoshino@cdcr.ca.gov. Jeffrey Beard, the newly appointed secretary of CDCR, is awaiting Senate confirmation.)

Release all SHU and Ad-Seg prisoners who have been illegally held on non-violent, non-behavior charges over the past five, 10, on up to 20 years!

Send our brother some love and light: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (R.N. Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP SHU, D1-117L (Short Corridor), P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

Prisoners reject CDCR proposal; threaten new hunger strike

From: Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Dec. 17th 2012

The Short Corridor Collective at Pelican Bay State Prison has asked us to publish a letter denouncing the reforms proposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The collective remains in steadfast opposition to the proposal, which they rejected in March of this year. This statement responds to the CDCR’s July proposal revision, saying: “We remain 100% opposed to CDCR’s revised proposal for the same reasons stated publicly [last March].” More pointedly, it also says: “We cannot accept the garbage proposal from CDCR!”

This latest rejection does not come softly, as it also threatens “return to non-violent, peaceful protest actions in the form of indefinite hunger strike and no work” if the CDCR doesn’t shift directions and revamp the reforms to appeal to the internationally recognized human rights framework.

Short Corridor Collective letter:

Greetings from the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective to all who stand with us in solidarity and support our struggle to force an end to this nation’s draconian practice of subjecting tens-of-thousands of prisoners to the torture of long term isolation cells… via an ongoing nonviolent peaceful effort, inside and out.

This is an update on the current status of our struggle here in California, wherein upwards of 14,000(+) prisoners are presently held in isolation cells, several hundred have been held indefinitely in isolation (SHU) cells for the past 10 to 30 years, solely based on “status”, rather than illegal behavior – specifically, on decades of SHU isolation is based on a CDCR gang classification label, i.e. “status of a label”, without ever being found guilty of committing a gang-related criminal act! Notably, our CDCR-OCS/IGI gang validations, and related decades of SHU torture, are based on what CDCR claims to be “intelligence-based evidence of criminal gang activity” consisting of: (a) innocent associational/political type activity; and/or (b) confidential prison informants “unsubstantiated allegations” of involvement in criminal activity!

We remain in the SHU and were not impressed after receiving and carefully reviewing CDCR’s June 29, 2012 revised proposal re: Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy, which they plan to begin as a pilot program in October.

We remain 100% opposed to CDCR’s revised proposal for the same reasons stated publicly – in response to this March version, the proposal fails to meet our five core demands, and violates our October 2011 argument with CDCR undersecretary Kernan , wherein, among other things, we agreed to suspend our hunger strike activism in order to give CDCR additional time to change SHU policies and practices into a reasonable individual accountability/behavior-based system (e.g. SHU would be reserved for prisoners charged for, and found guilty of, committing a serious offense… a felony!).

Instead of this agreed-upon policy change, we patiently sit here for another year only to have CDCR come at me with more of the same garbage we rejected in March… Thereby making clear to us that obtaining real changes will require us to resume our non-violent, peaceful protest actions; in the form of a hunger strike and no work, protests to the death if necessary! Our decision to do so has not come lightly, and is supported by the following facts and circumstances.

Beginning in February 2010, we became united in our efforts to collectively expose and bring a peaceful end to the CDCR policies and practices reference above, based on our position that they constitute a form of torture, and a violation of basic human rights principles. This is when we created a “formal complaint” document, copies of which were sent to numerous lawmakers, organizations, groups and individuals, including former Governor Schwarzenegger and CDCR Secretary Cate. [To review our formal complaint, go to http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/formal-complaint/].

As of early 2011, the formal complain had resulted in no relief, and our conditions in SHU had become more oppressive! Therefore, we decided that our sole avenue for gaining the mainstream exposure and outside support for our case – to end our torture – was for us to put our lives on the line via peaceful protest hunger strike action. In May/June 2011, we served governor Brown, and Secretary Cate with another copy of a formal complaint and our final notice of the July 1st hunger strike (with the five core demands, available now at www.prisons.org; click on Prisoners’ 5 Core Demands in the left column).

True to our words, we began our hunger strike July 1, 2011, which lasted until July 20, 2011 (and included supportive participation by more than 6,600 prisoners across the state). Our hunger strike action was temporarily suspended on July 20th, in response to our face-to-face negotiation with CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan, et al, who admitted early on in the process that our five core demands “were all reasonable”, and CDCR “should have made changes twenty-years ago”… and who promised to make timely, substantively meaningful changes, responsive to all five demands.

All parties understood that CDCR needed to change policies so that SHU confinement would be reserved for prisoners who are charged with, and found guilty of, committing a serious rule violation, meriting a determinate SHU term! (i.e. a system based on individual behavior).

As of early September 2011, we believed CDCR was not acting in good faith resulting in our return to hunger strike on September 26, 2011. The response was for CDCR to take retaliating actions, including the subjection of fifteen of us to additional torture (Todd Asher, C58191; Arturo Castellanos, C17275; Charles Coleman, C60680; Mutope Duguma/James Crawford, D05996; Sitawa Nantamu Jamaa/Dewberry, C35671; J. Brian Elrod, H25268; George Franco, D46556; Antonio Guillen, P81948; Paul Jones, B26077; Louis Powel, B59864; Paul Redd, B72683; Alfred Sandoval, D61000; Danny Troxell, B76578; James Baridi Williamson, D34288; and Ronnie Yandell, V27927). We were placed into more isolative Ad-Seg strip cells, without adequate clothing or bedding, and with ice-cold air blasting out of the air vents! Then Warden Lewis informed us, “as soon as you eat, you can go back home to your SHU cell.”

This second hunger strike action was joined by more than 12,000 prisoners at its peak! It was again temporarily suspended on October 13, 2011, after CDCR made a presentation of their good faith efforts toward making the policy changes agreed to in July… which was satisfactory to our outside mediation team.

Between October 13, 2011 and now, the CDCR has failed to honor their end of our prior agreements to substantively change SHU policies and practices, no such policies and practices are in line with our five core demands; and they have made it clear that they have no intension of doing so… by moving forward with their June 29, 2012 revised proposal, in spite of our March 2012 written opposition to their related March proposal – and presentation of our counter-proposal (available here).

Our outside mediation team and the Prison Law Office also presented CDCR with related written opposition to the proposal (mediation team statement available here; PLO opposition available here). In typical fashion, the CDCR totally disregarded the above referenced oppositions and counterproposal!

At this point, we remain opposed to CDCR’s proposal based on their refusal to bring the policies and practices at issue into line with our five core demands, as demonstrated by the below, briefly summarized, examples:

Core demand #1 – “Eliminate group punishments…” CDCR’s revised proposal fails to honor this demand and makes it clear that prisoners validated as STG-I Members will automatically be subject to indefinite SHU confinement… until they successfully complete the four year minimum step-down program, or debrief (see CDCR’s June proposal at p#22). This is status-based group punishment!

Core Demand #2 – “Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria…”. The main points of this demand are:

(a) the debriefing policy is illegal! Especially in the context of subjecting SHU prisoners to indefinite, progressively more torturous conditions for the purpose of coercing them to become state informants (which in turn, places them and their families in serious danger!); and, it produces fabricated allegations from prisoners desperate to get out of SHU!!

(b) prisoners being denied inactive status, and release to General Population, based on CDCR, OCS-IGI’s version of “intelligence”-based documentation of involvement in gang activity (i.e. innocent associational/political type activity; and/or, confidential prisoner debriefer-informants “unsubstantiated allegations” of involvement in illegal activity), without any formal changes being filed!We’ve repeatedly made it clear that SHU confinement must be reserved solely for prisoners who are charged for and found guilty of serious rule violation – meriting a reasonable determinate SHU-term! This is non-negotiable!!

CDCR’s revised proposal fails to honor this demand by maintaining their illegal debriefing policy; and, making it clear that SHU-STG prisoners will remain indefinitely confined in SHU “… based upon intelligence and/or confirmed behaviors” (see proposal, pp# 7, 8, 9);

“…while in the program, if the STG-I Member (or Associate), exhibits STG behaviors, staff shall report the behavior using appropriate documentation. Once documented by the IGI the subject will be referred to the STG-Committee and ICC for a program, privilege or housing review. The behavior may lead to a loss of privileges, retention in the currest step, or regression to a previous step.” (Id. Proposal at P# 34)…

“Documentation may be in the form of disciplinary reports, compelling changes, confidential memorandum and/or other sources documenting behaviors and intelligence”. (Id. Proposal, p# 21).

Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the same policy and practice used and abused by CDCR, OCS-IGI for the past 13 years to deny us inactive status!! (See CCR Title 15, at pp# 2020-222 re: basis for denying inactive status!).

This constitutes a blatant violation of our October 2011 agreement and is 100% unacceptable!!

Core demand #3 – Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006), calling for an end to long term solitary confinement…”CDCR’s revised proposal makes a mockery of this core demand! The authors of the proposal insult everyone’s intelligence by changing titles and words, while actually changing nothing re: policies and practices at issue that have been used and abused repeatedly… resulting in our subjection to decades of torture in these SHU/Ad-Seg solitary cells!!

Importantly, if the proposal is allowed to stand, it will result in many more prisoners being subject to the torture of long term isolation by way of the STG designation(s), and related criteria for indefinite placement in SHU!! All prisoners across the state need to make a collective stand and peacefully protest this proposal, because it will adversely impact all prisoners and our loved ones outside!!

We have made it clear that we shouldn’t have to jump through more hoops to be released from SHU! We’ve already been tormented and tortured in SHU for decades!! The Step-Down Program should be for prisoners serving determinate SHU terms to be able to shorten their SHU term; it should be no more than eighteen months from start to finish; needs to begin with meaningful incentives that include the ability to earn time off their sentence, opportunity for out-of-cell contact with other prisoners, regular phone calls and contact visits, and programs that prepare the prisoner for return to, first general population and ultimately civilian life!! We oppose CDCR’s proposed version of a Step Down Program… Four years is too long, and the incentives are a joke!!

The above points illustrate CDCR’s failure to act in good faith in response to our five core demands, and related agreements with CDCR Undersecretary Kernan, et al, during our July-October negotiations! Last year we made it clear to CDCR, and the world, that we were drawing the line and would no longer silently accept the torture upon ourselves and our loved ones outside!

We let it be known that our plan was to use non-violent, peaceful protest activity in the form of an indefinite hunger strike – to the death if necessary – in order to achieve our goal of forcing an end to CDCR’s illegal policies and practices at issue, via our own sacrifice, and related mainstream expense and solid outside support!

We’ve had some success regarding worldwide exposure, and we have solid outside support standing with us in solidarity… And – we have patiently pursued all available avenues to try and get CDCR to honor our reasonable demands; and presently, our final avenue is an open letter to governor Brown, asking him to order Secretary Cate to get right! If this is not successful, we will have no other option than to return to non-violent, peaceful protest actions in the form of indefinite hunger strike and no work!!

We cannot accept the garbage proposal from CDCR! We cannot allow the four prisoner deaths in support of our cause to be forgetting and many of us are fully committed to making the same sacrifice if need be to force meaningful changes to this corrupt system… and we will be serving CDCR with our notice of intent to resume our peaceful/non-violent protest actions in the near future, and if CDCR continues to refuse to act right on our five core demands, as spelled out above!!!

We want to extend our heartfelt appreciation to all of our outside supporters, including but not limited to the people with the following organizations: LSPC, CPE, Rock, SF Bayview, CFASC, JRA Advocate, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), and Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Amnesty International. The latter two organizations have selflessly supported our cause via the March filing of our UN petition (CHRCL), and the May filing of our class action suit (CCR et al); these efforts are greatly appreciated, and are very beneficial to our cause (e.g. helping provide continued worldwide exposure, etc, etc, etc)!! However, the UN hasn’t acted on our petition, and the Federal Court process moves very slowly…

The bottom line is: We are ultimately the ones responsible for continuing to force reforms via our collective efforts in here!!! It’s time to move forward and make it happen!!!

In memory of: Johnny Owen Vick, Hozel Alonzo Blanchard, Christian Gomez, and Alex Machado, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our cause (PBHRM)… make no mistake, none of us wants to die, but, we are prepared to, if that’s what it takes to force a real reform!!!

Onward in struggle, with solidarity and respect

PBSP Short Corridor Main Representatives

Todd Ashker,
Arturo Castellanos,
Antonio Guillen,
Sitawa Mantambu Jamaa (Dewberry)

Families Trek From SoCal to Pelican Bay In Hopes of Seeing Loved Ones Held in Solitary Confinement

From: Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Dec 7th 2012

Press Contact:  Azadeh Zohrabi
Cell:  310.612.9706

Interviews and photos available by request

San Francisco – A group of family members of prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Units (SHUs) have organized a charter bus to offer free rides for other family members to visit their loved ones at Pelican Bay. The trip is being organized by California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) in an effort to support families who have been unable to make the long trip to Pelican Bay due to financial restraints. The trip will begin in Los Angeles leaving at 3:00 a.m. on Friday, December 7th, and will stop briefly in San Francisco to pick up other families. They will return from Pelican Bay on Sunday, December 9th, after the last visits around 3:00 p.m.

The bus is full, and taking 55 family members including children to Pelican Bay. Organizers plan to reunite families before the winter holidays. It takes roughly 16 hours to drive from Los Angeles to Pelican Bay. “The long distance and costs associated with travel make it incredibly difficult for family members to visit their loved ones who are locked up at Pelican Bay. The state says our family members that we love are the ‘worst of the worst’, which not only gives the state power to lock them in cages in horrible conditions, but empowers the state to make visiting with those they love – and those who love them – almost impossible,” said Dolores Canales, whose son is in Pelican Bay’s SHU.  “We organized this trip without expectations, and found so much motivation and interest among family members that we have to drive a full car along with the chartered bus, and there’s not space for some people at all.”

As a result of the difficulties involved in visiting family imprisoned in Pelican Bay, many of the family members on this shared bus ride are visiting their loved ones for the first time, some after 10 or more years of separation.  “CFASC is creating this amazing opportunity for me. My brother was taken away from us years ago, and since he’s been at Pelican Bay, I haven’t been able to afford to visit much. His isolation has totally devastated our family. This is an incredible experience that I’m hoping can be repeated in the future,” says Marie Levin, whose brother lives in Pelican Bay’s SHU and is one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit filed with the Center for Constitutional Rights which alleges that the use of solitary confinement in California violates due process and amounts to torture. He was also among the first prisoners to call for hunger strikes in July, 2011.

Prisoners in Pelican Bay began a hunger strike last year to protest the conditions of extreme isolation in the SHUs. One of the demands that they issued to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation included expanded visiting privileges. The prisoners housed in SHU’s across the state are only allowed to visit with their families for one to two hours behind glass each weekend if the family can afford the time and expense of the three day trip. Many of these prisoners have not felt another human’s touch in decades.

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Human Rights Pen Pal Program: A Project of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS)

From: Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity weblog/site

Dec 5th 2012

A Project of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition  (PHSS)

WHAT IS THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM?
“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 the human rights of prisoners in California’s solitary confinement cells.  The program will promote principled relationships between prisoners in solitary confinement and supporters outside the walls; and combine practice, political education, beginning community organizing skills, and evaluation.

The Human Rights Pen Pal program is specifically intended to support the ongoing work of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition which works to end solitary confinement and address the human rights of prisoners confined in SHU’s (Security Housing Units) and Ad Segs (Administrative Segregation), California prisons’ names for solitary confinement.

The Human Rights Pen Pal program complements and supports other forms of pen pal programs, all of which are crucial for transcending the walls between activists outside and inside the prisons, and for winning some justice for all prisoners in California.

WHAT WOULD THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM LOOK LIKE?

            The program is centered around the relationship between the pen pals inside and outside the walls. It assumes that the developing relationships will lead to a growing commitment of those ‘outside the walls’ to work in solidarity with the prisoners and their human rights campaign.

The ‘outside the walls’ group would be small, limited to 6 to 8 pen pals. Each pen pal would write to a minimum of one person in solitary confinement.  Priority for prisoner involvement would go to people in Pelican Bay and Corcoran Prisons who are already in contact with PHSS.

Our monthly meeting would include political discussions about California prisons, solitary confinement, prisoners’ resistance, questions that arise from prisoners’ correspondence, and strategies of solidarity used by local and national anti-prison organizations.

We would exchange ideas for responding to prisoners’ letters, write our letter to our pen pal in solitary, invite each other to local anti-prison activities, suggest ways that each of us can share our experiences as pen pals with our own friends and networks, and evaluate our work together.

‘OUTSIDE THE WALLS’ PEN PALS WILL BE ASKED TO COMMIT TO:

(1) Meeting once a month for 6 months, for about 3 hours, at a San Francisco apartment;

(2) Corresponding with his/her/their ‘inside the walls’ pen pal twice a month: once during the monthly group meeting, and once in between group meetings;

(3) Actively participating in the interactive  political education component by reading suggested short essays, preparing questions for discussion at the group meetings, keeping abreast of PHSS and other anti-prison events and activities, and learning how to do constructive evaluation of the Pen Pal program;

(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; and discussing whether the structured pen pal program should continue and, if so, what it should include.

WHEN AND WHERE WOULD THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM MEET?

            The program would run for 6 months, from January through June, 2013. The pen pals and the PHSS coordinator would meet as a group once a month in a San Francisco apartment. Each meeting would last about 3 hours.  Pen pals and the PHSS coordinator will collaboratively determine the best day for the monthly meeting.  Each pen pal will then be expected to attend and participate actively in each meeting.

HOW TO APPLY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE HUMAN RIGHTS PEN PAL PROGRAM
(Deadline Dec. 20)

             For more information, and to schedule a phone conversation, please email Sharon at cws@igc.org.  Leave your email address, phone number, and what evenings (Tuesdays through Sundays) from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm that you might be available for the monthly pen pal meeting beginning in January, 2013.

            Deadline for holding this conversation to see if the pen pal program is a good fit will be December 20.  First Pen Pal meeting will take place the week after Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in January, 2013.

Creating broken men? A discussion on the U.S. domestic torture program

December 4, 2012: SF Bay View

by Zaharibu Dorrough, J. Heshima Denham, Kambui Robinson and Jabari Scott, NCTT Corcoran SHU

  “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or  mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as  obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession,  punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is  suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing a third  person.” – United Convention Against Torture, Art. 1, Sec. 2

We extend our heartfelt greetings to you, brothers and sisters.

Many discussions are taking place on the nature of the indefinite  solitary confinement program in the U.S. prisons and whether or not it  constitutes torture. The debate on what to do about the program itself  is being held at every level of social organization, from the U.S.  Senate to the United Nations, from the California Legislature to the  short corridors of Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHUs.

[Photo in original: Corcoran State Prison – Photo: Ben Margot, AP]

Academics from multiple disciplines, from psychologists to  sociologists, have all weighed in with the objective, scientific  analysis that indefinite SHU confinement is not only torture, but even  limited SHU confinement results in irreparable psychological damage.  Yet, as with the Bush era “torture papers,” the socio-economic and  political interests of the capitalist tend to supersede and supplant  objective evidence, moral reason and human decency.

Such debate, which only continues in the presence of arguments  contrary to the obvious reality of the U.S. domestic torture program in  SHUs across the U.S., is not only ludicrous, it’s reality, and it is  this lethal component to the debate which forces us to share a  perspective which should end the debate definitively, leaving behind  only the inescapable truth: Amerika maintains the largest domestic  torture program on earth. The state of California runs the largest  torture program in Amerika, and it continues to exist in your name, with  your tax dollars, because you allow it to.
A recent incident here in Corcoran SHU’s short corridor compels us to  give voice to the outrage we should all feel at the continued  maintenance of the indeterminate SHU debriefing process of the U.S.  domestic torture program: Another suicide, Armando Morales (Baby Paya), a  validated Mexican prisoner from Los Angeles who had been confined to  SHU for almost a decade, hanged himself after the IGI moved him from the  4B-1L-C-Section short corridor, to 4A-1R.
The reason(s) that Armando was moved are the typical ones associated  with the coercive tactics employed to break men’s minds: After his  girlfriend had been compromised by IGI and other state and federal law  enforcement, those same agencies mounted an effort to put pressure on  Armando, who was actually a baby in terms of what he did and did not  know, as it relates to the enormous pressure that law enforcement will  apply to coerce information from persons they’ve targeted.
In response to that pressure, he took his own life. Naturally, IGI  and the state will seek to escape any culpability, and their response to  this is that each person is responsible for his own conduct. We should  all recognize the illegitimacy of such a position – that this is nothing  more than an excuse to try and separate themselves from a situation  that they are responsible for by their reckless and barbaric disregard  for our humanity.

Amerika  maintains the largest domestic torture program on earth. The state of  California runs the largest torture program in Amerika. 


We know this primarily because the vast majority of us have been in  these tortuous madhouses for decades. One day is too long and not a  single illegal act or rules violation has been committed by us to  justify this, which is, by international law, unjustifiable.

But we also  know this because our research into the origins of the torture program  reveals that this type of systematic psychological degradation to coerce  information and create broken men is its purpose. The domestic U.S.  torture program carried out in SHU (aka SMU, control unit etc.) style  prisons finds its origins at a meeting of social scientists and prison  wardens held in Washington, D.C., in 1962, recruiting the findings of  Dr. Edgar Schein, which he delivered to them in his man-against-man  brainwashing. In addressing the group Dr. Schein stated:

“I would like you to think  of brainwashing not in terms of politics, ethics or morals, but in  terms of the deliberate changing of human behavior and attitudes by a  group of men who have relatively complete control over the environment  in which the captive populace lives.” 

The techniques he espoused would  also require, to be effective, a new type of environment conducive to  altering the very foundations of one’s perception of reality. For this  the state took Dr. Levinson’s sensory deprivation prison unit design and  a form of Skinnerian operant conditioning called “learned  helplessness.”
This last technique is a key factor of both validation based  indeterminate SHU confinement and the debriefing process. “Learned  helplessness” is a systematic process of conditioning to crystalize in  the imprisoned victim’s mind that he has no control over the regulation  of his existence, that he is completely dependent on the state and its  guards for the necessities of “life,” that he is helpless and must  submit to the state’s power and control.

Our  research into the origins of the torture program reveals that this type  of systematic psychological degradation to coerce information and create  broken men is its purpose.


This is, of course, contrary to core human consciousness and a linear  thought divergence into two options, “resistance or escape.” The  program is designed to apply maximum punitive coercion against  “resistance” from the outset – from physical removal from the general  (prison) population to sensory deprivation, using informants,  collaborators and agent provocateurs to erode trust amongst those of  like circumstances, punishing uncooperative attitudes, prohibiting  collective thought or expression while simultaneously employing group  punishment, arbitrary punishment and property restrictions etc.
At the same time, those who are capable of prolonged or indefinite  resistance through ideological consistency, political development or  force of will – like victims of crucifixion left to rot on crosses during the Roman Empire – they serve as powerful deterrents to those of  lesser psychological resilience or those in general population to not  resist and instead explore the second option: escape.
The state of California has made its escape option clear since taking  the Schein-Skinnerian-Levinson system to its heights in erecting the torture units at Pelican Bay SHU. There are only three escape options available to you: parole, debrief or die. Due to the successful  corporate influences of the prison industrial complex on the  legislative, political and, to a degree, cultural processes in the  nation over the past quarter century, most validated SHU prisoners are  serving mandatory minimum, enhanced or BPT (Board of Prison Terms) based  sentences and their very confinement to SHU is prohibitive to their  parole.

A cell in the Corcoran SHU

The Board of Prison Terms has repeatedly stated to validated  prisoners seeking parole:

 “If you want a parole date, you probably want  to think about debriefing.” 

This reinforces the psychological pressure  on those already weakened by the enforced conviction that they have been  abandoned by and isolated from society – and only through submission  and subserviency can they be socially accepted as human beings.
This form of “escape” – debriefing – is consistent with points 7, 8  and 9 of Dr. Schein’s behavior modification techniques: (7) exploitation  of opportunities and informers; (8) convincing prisoners they can trust  no one; (9) treating those who are willing to collaborate in far more  lenient ways than those who are not.
Again, our personal experience with  the state and its use of such opportunistic broken men against those of  us who are committed to resistance has been demonstrated here at  Corcoran-SHU on a number of occasions in which agents posing as  revolutionary progressives have tried to undermine the efforts of the  NCTT (New Afrikan Collective Think Tank), and when those efforts failed,  they locked up and debriefed.
It was only through our collective education and insight and  experience with these periodic Cointelpro-style attacks on progressives  which allowed us to identify and resist the attack and mitigate its  political disorder. But this does not negate the damage done by the  broken males to the unity and progress of resistance in the SHU  population.
Though political immaturity by some elements played a role in the  mistrust and disunity that resulted from it, in the broader population,  it is the nature of the domestic torture program itself to create such  broken males that we must understand is prohibited by the international  community – and the U.S. knows this in analyzing the effects of such  broken males on the psychology of certain elements in SHU. Other such  examples of torture being put to such use against those who resist in  Pelican Bay, here and across the U.S. is legion.

The state  of California has made its escape option clear since taking the  Schein-Skinnerian-Levinson system to its heights in erecting the torture  units at Pelican Bay SHU. There are only three escape options available  to you: parole, debrief or die. The Board of Prison Terms has  repeatedly stated to validated prisoners seeking parole: “If you want a  parole date, you probably want to think about debriefing.”

In the etiology of the U.S. domestic torture program, Marion Control  Unit was the first. When former Marion Warden Ralph Aron was asked why  the torture unit was built, he replied, “The purpose of the Marion (and  all) controls unit(s) is to control revolutionary attitudes in the  prison system and society at large.” These broken males thus serve to  not only damage or destroy progressives in prison but the attitudes and  ideas of progressives in society at large.

It was always meant to be this way. To be sure, Dr. Broder, the  psychotherapist who implemented Dr. Schein’s brainwashing program at  Marion envisions those paroled broken men as “therapeutic technicians”  who will take these techniques and warped views back into the community.  Some 30 years later we have a snitch culture that derides objective  facts in favor of a corporate media-created fantasy, and it owes some of  its existence to the disastrous effects of isolation, which leads to  the inevitable final “escape”: Death! Suicide rates in these sensory  deprivation torture units are magnitudes higher than those in general  population.
Speaking these words simply does not convey the reality of what we  all know intimately: the transient appeal of the void as an alternative  to endless isolation. We all know of the disastrous effects of isolation  because we have seen what it does, along with the pressures that the  state brings to bear on us all daily in its efforts to break us, efforts  that include compelling the taking of one’s own life.

“The  purpose of the Marion (and all) controls unit(s) is to control  revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and society at large.”

If this domestic torture program did not exist, Armando and so many  others would still be alive today. But his is only the “escape” view of  death. There is also a “resistance”-based view of death – that all of us  who will never be counted amongst the broken men not only understand,  but have demonstrated twice before, and may well be compelled to do  again: peaceful protest in the form of hunger strikes, mass single cell,  work stoppage etc.
Christian Gomez died [a year ago], not “escaping” these torture units  but “resisting” these torture units, and it is this dialectical view of  this final option – that death is an active and practiced form of both  escape from and resistance to indefinite SHU confinement – is the final  and definitive proof that it is, undebatably, torture.
During an assembly hearing on solitary confinement on August 24,  2011, a former Corcoran-SHU prisoner testified, “For someone to be  willing to lie down and die just for someone to hear the situation … in  the SHU program, they must be serious.” His assessment was correct. We  are serious. The question is, are we as a society serious about  upholding basic tenets of humanity. People are dying who could be saved  while you are reading these words.

A former  Corcoran-SHU prisoner testified, “For someone to be willing to lie down  and die just for someone to hear the situation … in the SHU program,  they must be serious.” His assessment was correct. We are serious. The  question is, are we as a society serious about upholding basic tenets of  humanity.

And now you know. This is a system that must be abolished. It is a  system that has robbed us all of some part of our humanity and has  caused us to lose our way as a nation. So many of us have stood idly by  as the U.S. has strode the world stage criticizing other nations for  systematic human rights abuses and demanding that others meet their  obligations to the world community, while they maintain the single  largest domestic torture program and the single largest prison  population on earth. If the U.S. is going to continue to insist that  other nations meet their international obligations under U.N. treaty  resolutions, they must do the same and adhere to the U.N. Convention  against Torture.
They have proven that they will not do so without compulsion. We must  ensure that they do so, as a nation of the people, for the people and  by the people. If we are doing anything less, we are complicit in the  state’s hypocrisy.
The Pelican Bay D Short Corridor has given us the proper onus for  unity in their historic “agreement to end hostilities” issued for Oct.  10, 2012. We call upon all of you brothers and sisters across the nation  in prison yards and hood blocks, in SHUs and barrios: Take up this call  also. Turn your attention not toward one another, but to those who have  condemned us all to languish at the lowest rungs of this locked  anti-poor society: the ruling 1 percent.

Many of us  have stood idly by as the U.S. has strode the world stage criticizing  other nations for systematic human rights abuses and demanding that  others meet their obligations to the world community, while they  maintain the single largest domestic torture program and the single  largest prison population on earth. If the U.S. is going to continue to  insist that other nations meet their international obligations under  U.N. treaty resolutions, they must do the same and adhere to the U.N.  Convention against Torture.

Join the movement – embrace, support, join or form your own local  Occupy or anti-prison industrial complex formation. Build coalitions.  And in doing so, change this world. Come, let us make peace.
Our love and solidarity,
Corcoran SHU NCTT:


  • Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, 4B-1L-53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212 [53?]
  • J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
  • Kambui Robinson, C-82830, 4B-1L-49, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212
  • Jabari Scott, H-30536, 4B-1L-63, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212

  • NCTT stands for NARN (New Afrikan Revolutionary Nation)  Collective Think Tank. All are held in solitary confinement, an  internationally recognized form of torture, in the SHU (Security Housing  Unit) at Corcoran State Prison. See also their website at: NCTTCorSHU.org
    Published in: SF Bay View, Dec. 4th 2012

    Redemptive Solitude – A Question of Justice

    This is a true and real piece of writing by an expert in the field: Spoon Jackson: “poet/writer/actor and teaching artist and a lover of nature.” Read his blog here and don’t forget to write him with some positive thoughts.

    Link to original story

    The question of justice and equal treatment for the poor, prisoners and people of color in America is absurd, and all the pundits, lawyers, judges, activists and legal folks know that. Historically, it is a question of power and a question of games.

    What is most disturbing to me, is how hard it is for the public in America to see how prison is inherently retributive, evil, unforgiving and a deterrent. When prisons need to be more than just an ugly place. If the public used their senses, empirical and empathic, they would know how important some kind of positive flow is.

    If individual members of the public spent a few hours, a night or a day in a cell, perhaps in solitary confinement they would realize how deep the wounds are and go. The public would then see no need to heap punishment upon punishment on people already dispirited and beaten down by their actions and losses in life. Being deprived of family contact, indeed human contact is like being denied sunshine for a life time. The concentration of all this negative energy into one place without any positive outlets for prisoners can be stifling, particularly to the human spirit. It is like a saucer of water in a boiling Mojave desert. God gave Satan a second chance even in hell.

    The early Quakers had a proper idea about justice and solitude as a place of redemption. The Quakers in 1826 originally thought when they created the first penitentiary that aloneness with a bible and a tiny sun roof was enough to reform folks.

    The solitude could have been productive and redemptive had it been an all inclusive healing form of solitude. Yes, spiritually, meditatively based. They had a proper intent, but the wrong format. The Quakers did not know how prison life was, how it can be a continually expanding pit. They did not know how lifeless solitary confinement can be when orchestrated by politics, government and a justice system that creates a nasty form of isolation. Solitude made out of punishment and inhumanity can never be productive.
    No beings, human or not, should be kept in cages without any interaction with other human beings or nature. Such alienation can only lead to
    dysfunction, mental and spiritual health problems. Just like the overcrowding of institutions are equally horrible and inhumane.

    Respected solitude can be just and enlightening and not much different than monks or nuns, shamans or other folks seeking healing and communion with spirit and self. It can be a means of growth and forgiveness of souls suffering through the solitude.

    But, isolation based on revenge, money, punishment and retribution cannot heal people. The solitude must be a blessed space of aloneness, and allow people to meet with people, spirits to meet with spirits, and hearts to meet with hearts. If you take away all that makes one human, how do you expect them to be human, and balance their one foot in darkness and one foot in light.

    If the goal of penitentiaries are to redeem, heal and self rehabilitate, the solitude, treatment and justice must be an all inclusive meditative space of realness. The animal inside all humans suffer horribly without human contact and respected space with visits, exercise, meditation, arts, books, education, family, friends and nature to heal and bring about justice in America’s prison system of politics and injustice. Justice must be a living and breathing healing entity, like Mother Earth.

    WRITE LETTERS TO: Spoon Jackson B92377, C3-119, CSP-SAC,P.O.Box 290066, Represa, CA 95671-0066, USA