The way forward to end solitary confinement torture: Where’s the army?

January 25, 2015

by Todd Ashker, in: SF Bay View

On the subject of SHU and Ad-Seg constituting torture, for those of us who may not be familiar with the specifics and in light of CDCr’s steady stream of propaganda – saying, “We don’t operate any solitary confinement units or cells in the California penal system, nor do we torture anyone” – here’s a summary of relevant facts supporting our position that these SHU and Ad-Seg units and the operations thereof are designed (modeled) after techniques designed to break political prisoners as a control mechanism. They are intended to break prisoners via coercive persuasion into becoming state informants.

I’ll begin by asking you a simple question?

Why is it that CDCr is able to get away with portraying PBSP SHU (Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit) prisoners as the “worst of the worst” sub-human monsters ever encountered in modern times as justification for their policies and practices of treating said prisoners as sub-human via decades of what is clearly a form of solitary confinement with sensory deprivation – and yet, as soon as these men agree to become state stooges via debriefing, they are no longer a threat and are released to the sensitive needs yard (protective custody) general population prison of their choice?

One of the main reasons they are able to continue to get away with their BS is the failure of the people to hold the lawmakers responsible.

I’ve been in the SHU for 28.4 years, to date, 24.7 years of which has been here in PBSP-SHU. [Editor’s note: This was written Dec. 30, 2014.] I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation. (During our hunger strike I was issued two rule violations classified as serious. They were for: a) having a photo of my longtime friend; and b) a letter that someone had sent me, a stranger who represented herself as a supporter of our cause and wanted to be a pen pal. Staff gave me the letter, and then came around later and confiscated it and wrote me up.)

The above is intended to put the following into some perspective: Based on my personal experience in PBSP SHU during the past 24.7 years, I’ve experienced many techniques designed to break me. One is isolation from my social group. This is a tactic used here by prisoncrats to physically remove those prisoners deemed “problematic” to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or weaken close emotional ties, along with segregation of all natural leaders.

I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation.

What prisoncrats like to do is claim that this place can’t be considered a solitary confinement unit because you have eight cells to each pod and thus the prisoners in each pod are able to talk to each other. But here is how it actually operates. If you are deemed a “problematic” prisoner by any of the staff – for example, if you are a prisoner who is constantly challenging the prisoncrats’ policies and practices – their way of subjecting you to an informal form of punishment or to try to break you is to put you in a pod where there are no other people of your social group.

For example, if you’re an African, they’ll put you in a pod without any other Africans anywhere close to you so that you will not be able to speak to any other African prisoner for the duration of time you are on status with the staff. If you’re Southern Mexican (classified as Mexican Mafia), you’ll be put in a pod with no other Southerners – a pod composed of several Northerners, maybe a White and an African – the same if you’re a Northern Mexican or White.

Let me give you another example of this, so there is no misunderstanding: I received my CDCr number in December 1982, and in all my time in prison I’ve never had a problem with a cell-mate. In October 1990, I was set up and shot by a guard here in PBSP SHU. This is supported by a published 9th Circuit Court ruling, upholding the federal court jury verdict in 1995, finding the guard in question had subjected me to assault and battery. This injury caused permanent disability and, between 1990 to 2002, I had cellmates who would assist me with daily activities, such as washing the clothes we are not permitted to send to the laundry and with writing.

Between November 1995 and December 2002, the man I was celled with and I achieved three published rulings that were favorable for prisoners across the nation, in 2003. And in August 2002, the 9th Circuit Court overturned the District Court’s dismissal of one of our lawsuits regarding pepper spray decontamination policy issues, finding that it could proceed as a respondeat superior claim as well, a rarity in prisoner cases. And in September 2002, the District Court issued two permanent injunctions on our lawsuits re books and the ability to receive materials downloaded from the internet in our mail.

In response, the prisoncrats issued a memo in October 2002 in which they sought to further restrict prisoners’ incoming mail. We had an attorney contact the warden and the deputy attorney general representing CDCr in our lawsuits, demanding they cease their retaliatory acts in response to the injunctions we’d just obtained. And by November they rescinded the memo re mail restrictions.

Then on Dec. 3, 2002, they moved my cellmate and me to a lexan cell, a cell covered with lexan plastic which restricts air flow and the ability to communicate with other people in the pod even more, as well as being either too hot or too cold; and the following day they separated us. The pretext used to justify these retaliatory acts was an incident in another pod, wherein a White prisoner attempted to spear an officer. We weren’t in the same pod and had nothing to do with this incident and were never written up for being involved. We were both isolated from all other Whites and kept in the single cell lexan cells.

In July 2003, the associate warden granted my formal request to be able to double cell with a good friend, so that he could assist me with my daily activities, as per ADA (American Disabilities Act). He was then brought over to the lexan cell that I’d been in since Dec. 2, 2002.

We immediately began to challenge various conditions of confinement via the 602 inmate appeals process, and on May 19, 2004, we filed our lawsuit challenging our indefinite SHU confinement and related no-parole policies. This suit was a precursor to what is now our class-action lawsuit, and on June 8, 2004, we were single celled. I objected to this clearly retaliatory act, and they knew they had a problem because we’d been allowed to double cell in response to my formal ADA accommodation request in 2003, so they put us in cells side by side, so that my friend and cellmate could still provide assistance in the form of writing. We were still in the lexan cells.

In the interim, we’d been pursuing our civil suit, which had been dismissed a few times for technical reasons; and beginning in late 2009, we began to add peaceful activism activities to our challenges against illegal policies and practices regarding conditions of confinement, leading up to our hunger strike moves in 2011, which brought some international attention to CDCr’s torture policies and practices toward those of us who’ve been confined in the SHU for decades. And we were increasing the pressure via the prisoner class collective efforts we began in 2010, seeking to force the end to long term SHU, and we issued our historic Agreement to End Race-Based Hostilities in August 2012.

On Sept. 6, 2012, IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) had me moved away from the collective as well as my assistant, into a cell covered in lexan, isolated from all other Whites. The IGI’s excuse or pretext for this clearly punitive move in response to my litigation and activism efforts – our attorneys had filed the paperwork seeking to amend our lawsuit as a first step towards seeking class-action status on behalf of all similarly situated PBSP SHU prisoners around May of 2012, and it was getting a lot of publicity in July-August 2012 – was that the move was done for my safety, which was 100 percent bullshit. But it’s another tactic used to try to break prisoners – reporting rumors with the intent of creating mistrust, convincing prisoners they can trust no one and are in danger and need the prisoncrats to protect them.

Add to these isolative, punitive, retaliatory moves – isolation from one’s social group; separation from people you are working with collectively in order to more effectively challenge long term illegal policies and practices; placement into more isolative cells wherein one is subjected to increased sensory deprivation and extreme heat and cold temperatures; spreading rumors that the isolated prisoner has safety issues – many additional acts of psychological torment being perpetrated against us on a daily basis: for example, the systematic withholding and delaying of mail; loud noises blasted into the pods via the speaker system, and loud noises by staff as they walk the tiers at night to count; denying adequate medical care; telling prisoners that if they want to be able to get the care and treatment they need, they need to get out of SHU; telling prisoners, “You hold the keys to get out of SHU anytime you want to, and thereby get to general population where you can get better care and treatment,” and them knowing that our sole avenue for release from PBSP SHU is via death, insanity or agreeing to become an informant for the state via debriefing.

The above are all facts supported by solid evidence, and they constitute direct proof of CDCr’s policies and practices regarding decades of subjecting thousands to a form of torture for the purpose of coercion, as further demonstrated by the following excerpt from the 2013 book by Nancy Kurshan, “Out of Control: A 15 Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons.”

On pages 12 and 13, she writes: “(R)esearch the prisoners had conducted … revealed a 1962 Bureau of Prisons (BOP) meeting in Washington, D.C., between prison officials and social scientists. Billed as a management development program for prison wardens, it coincidentally took place the same year the BOP opened Marion.

“Dr. Edgar Schein of MIT, a key player at that meeting, had written previously in a book entitled Coercive Persuasion about ‘brainwashing of Chinese Prisoners of War (POWs). …

“Schein put forward a set of ‘practical recommendations,’ throwing ethics and morals out the window.

“They included physical removal of prisoners to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or seriously weaken close emotional ties; segregation of all natural leaders; spying on prisoners, reporting back private material; exploitation of opportunists and informers; convincing prisoners they can trust no one; systematic withholding of mail; building a group conviction among prisoners that they have been abandoned by or are totally isolated from their social order; using techniques of character invalidation, i.e. humiliation, revilement and shouting to induce feelings of fear, guilt and suggestibility; coupled with sleeplessness, an exacting prison regimen and periodic interrogational interviews.”

These types of brainwashing strategies that involve physical as well as psychological abuse were being adopted from international arenas and applied inside U.S. prisons. Examples include the tactics used by the Brits to try and break the IRA prisoners and similar tactics refined by the West Germans to try and destroy the RAF (Red Army Faction), who were fighting the imperialism in their country, which is to a large extent due to the West German government policies per USA government dictates.

Now compare the above notes regarding the 1962 conference to Dr. Schein’s recommendations, with the examples of how they operate in the PBSP SHU, that I’ve also included above, and try to tell me such policies and practices aren’t intentionally imposed for the purpose of torturing prisoners into becoming state informants.

Remember, when the Legislature had hearings on said policies regarding long term SHU, they asked the CDCr prisoncrats for evidence to support their claims that said policies and practices were in fact making the prison system – and the public in general – safer and secure. And the prisoncrats couldn’t produce shit.

The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants for the state –  period – which is 100 percent illegal.

Additional evidence that is as seriously harmful and painful is contained in the book by Matthew Lieberman, “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” wherein Dr. Lieberman conducted studies using MRIs that demonstrated that people experience social and psychological pain in the same way they experience physical pain. It’s probably even more painful in the psychological context.

Here’s an example: Think about the worst painful experience you’ve ever had. Most people will think about the loss of a loved one or the breakup of a relationship, rather than a broken bone or other physical pain experience. It’s important to also remember that in addition to the circumstances and conditions prisoners are subjected to in the SHU or AdSeg environment is the fact that you are deprived of all semblance of normal human contact.

You are basically on sub-human, animal status for the duration of confinement in such units. You are always in a cage and/or in restraints, under escort by at least two guards, being observed by guards in the control booths who are armed with high power assault rifles.

The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants for the state –  period – which is 100 percent illegal.

You are under constant surveillance via guards in the control booths and floor staff, who can and do listen to any and all conversations in the pods when men are talking over the tier and on the yards, via speakers on the yard walls. You have no physical contact with anyone other than while in restraints, via the guards escorting you with their hands on you, or at medical, where you are in restraints with guards hovering over you.

You have no physical contact with your loved ones. Those who are fortunate to get visits – a hardship for the majority of PBSP prisoners due to the remote location of the prison – visit behind glass, talking over a phone with a small video camera mounted on the wall. IGI staff are listening and observing you and your visitor the entire visit, and if either of you says or does anything the IGI observers don’t like, they can cancel your visit on the spot or, a few days or so later, they’ll issue you a write-up for alleged visiting violations and you end up on visit restriction for between 90 days to a year to permanently being banned from visiting with certain people.

Going back to Lieberman’s book, “Social,” it’s important to note that his studies included the subject of empathy, and he found that people really do “feel other people’s pain” when they observe people close to them being mistreated. The reason this is relevant is that not only are the prisoners being subjected to the above referenced coercive, torturous treatment FOR DECADES, but our loved ones and friends are subjected to the same psychological pain as we are. Supported by scientific studies conducted by Dr. Lieberman, and others, we find that the technique for conducting such studies has only become available over the past 10 years.

The point of the above summary is to educate the public and refute CDCr’s propagandistic claim, “We don’t operate solitary confinement units, nor do we torture any prisoners.” Facts prove otherwise.

What can people outside do about the above ongoing torture policies and practices by CDCr?

First, let me clarify a few things about where our cause presently stands from my perspective:

We successfully educated the public and exposed CDCr’s decades-old on-going subjection of thousands of prisoners to the torture of long term, indefinite SHU, via our peaceful activism efforts – the writing campaign (our formal complaint and other statements) and our three peaceful protest actions in the form of mass hunger strikes and work stoppages. By “we” I’m referring to those on the inside of these prison walls and our outside loved ones and supporters.

In my previous writings about our on-going struggle for real reform, the No. 1 priority being the end of long term solitary confinement, I’ve expressed the opinion that the prisoners remain responsible for leading this cause to victory via our actions inside these walls. And I’ve put myself out there with my peers pushing for additional peaceful actions on our part in here.

The response has been mixed, and it’s very difficult to get a collective consensus, as many of our outside people know. The administration has done all it can to prohibit us, the Short Corridor Collective, from being able to communicate. This began with IGI moving me from D1 block to D4 block on Sept. 6, 2012, and has continued with the recent move to D4-207, further isolating me from the prisoners who have influence in their respective groups, and the Step Down Program, with related transfers of many of the collective members to other prisons across the state.

Thus, I’ve had to reflect and re-evaluate our position. This is really not acceptable, and from my perspective is an excuse for non-action. Look, I’ve respectfully sent out several letters calling on the people to hold the lawmakers accountable.

It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.

The lawmakers must be held accountable

I’ve had to re-evaluate my prior perspective regarding prisoners continuing to lead this struggle in light of the above referenced factors. Subsequently, I snapped to the FACT that once we successfully exposed this torture program to the world, making the people aware, at least some of the responsibility shifts to the PEOPLE TO HOLD THE LAWMAKERS RESPONSIBLE.

And their failure to do so equates to THE PEOPLE enabling this to continue. The people have the power. The lawmakers hold their positions on behalf of their representative status – on behalf of the people.

It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.

With this in mind, here’s something people can do now towards holding the lawmakers responsible:

  1. Select a few of the lawmakers who we all know are in CDCr’s and CCPOA’s pockets for exposure as supporters and enablers of CDCr’s torture program, using social media to blast them worldwide. And you can also have people show up at their committee hearings to blast them as torture supporters. You’ll need to include references to public records supporting this position, such as the transcripts of the legislative hearings held regarding SHU, the September 2012 report by Amnesty International on PBSP SHU and the statements by Juan Mendez. The lawmakers you select for public exposure should be the five to 10 lawmakers who were the most vocal against Tom Ammiano’s bill.
  2. Once these selected have come to be blasted in social media, you have a package together for presentation to the remaining lawmakers. The package needs to be a presentation supporting our position that this is a torture program, without cause or support for CDCr’s positions regarding making the system safer. Again, use the public records. And ask these lawmakers if they condone and support torture. Then, you present them with the things they can do to rein in CDCr’s abuse of power. This is a simple action. It’s something people can put in motion and have in motion while we plan our next moves.

Send our brother some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, D4-207, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

CCA giving Sayre cops "the runaround" on prison riot.

Interesting follow-up coverage from what appears to be the Oklahoman’s on-line edition, newsok.com. In addition to exploring the attempts of local police to investigate the riot, it goes into the distribution of California prisoners in for-profit facilities across the country. 

———-from newsok.com———

Cause of October prison riot in Sayre continues to be withheld

The cause of the Oct. 11 riot at a private prison in Sayre has yet to be released due to ongoing investigation by local authorities.

 
BY ANDREW KNITTLE aknittle@opubco.com  

Published: December 10, 2011



— Nearly a month after a riot that injured inmates at a private prison in western Oklahoma, prison officials say they do not have a cause that they can release.

They will say that 16 of the inmates who were hospitalized after the riot have since been released, but they won’t say what types of injuries they suffered in the Oct. 11 melee.

Mike Machak, spokesman for Corrections Corp. of America, said it’s too early to release details on the riot at the North Fork Correctional Facility.

“While we are not aware of any criminal charges that have been filed, we do know that the Sayre Police Department‘s investigation is ongoing,” Machak said.

“To that end, we do not want to release details that might undermine those ongoing efforts.”

Sayre Police Chief Ronnie Harrold said he has yet to receive anything from the prison regarding the riot. He said he thinks something is close to happening, but that the prison corporation has “been giving us the runaround.”

“It’s coming close to the point where we would expect for them to turn it over to us,” Harrold said. “At some point, if they want charges filed, they’ll have to turn it over to us.”

Prison spokeswoman Michelle Deherrera said the riot erupted just before noon, and the help of local law enforcement agencies was required to subdue the prisoners.

In addition to the 16 inmates who required hospitalization, another 30 were treated at a medical facility at the prison, she said.

Deherrera said no prison staff members or assisting law enforcement officers were injured.

The more than 2,000 prisoners held at the private prison are from California. Machak said inmates from Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Vermont have been housed at the prison over the past 12 years.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website, the state has more than 9,588 inmates serving time in out-of-state prisons.

In addition to North Fork, Arizona has two prisons that house 4,596 inmates from California. A facility in Mississippi has custody of an additional 2,592 prisoners.

California began transferring prisoners to out-of-state facilities in 2007 to alleviate overcrowding and restore rehabilitation programs in its state-run lockups, according to the California department’s website.

The move to transfer the inmates was prompted by an executive order issued in October 2006 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and was expected to be a temporary measure to allow prison reform in California.

A new way of life: VIsions of Abolition.

This woman rocks. Check out Susan Burton and A New Way of Life on the new Critical Resistance video: Visions of Abolition. Here’s a preview:

————via the Real Cost of Prisons’ listserve——————–

Women’s prisons closures good fiscal, social policy
Timothy P. Silard, Jean Ross
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
San Fransisco Chronicle

After the death of her 5-year-old son, Susan Burton turned to drugs and ended up in California’s criminal justice system.

Over the course of two decades, Burton’s addiction caused her to cycle through California’s prison system six times for drug offenses. She finally got help and turned her life around at a local rehabilitation center, not in prison. Today, Burton helps other formerly incarcerated women to permanently exit the system through A New Way of Life, a nonprofit in South Central Los Angles that she founded.

Burton and the women she works with are among the key groups that could be helped by the impending “realignment” of the corrections system, a groundbreaking effort to give counties – rather than the state – responsibility for managing low-level, nonviolent offenders. If implemented effectively, restructuring could result in one significant yet often overlooked solution to California’s economic woes: closing one or more of the prisons used to house women.

California warehouses one of the largest populations of female prisoners in the world and also has the dubious distinction of being home to two of the world’s largest women’s prisons. Both in Chowchilla, these prisons cost our cash-strapped state $278 million a year. This reform presents an unprecedented opportunity to rapidly reduce the number of women sent to state prison and to shutter one or both of the women’s institutions in Chowchilla.

More than half of the state’s 9,500 female prisoners are classified as low risk, locked up for nonviolent and non-serious offenses. Under AB109, signed into law this year to implement the governor’s plan for restructuring corrections as part of the budget agreement, these women would not be sentenced to state prison, but would instead be placed in county jail, drug-treatment programs, community service or other alternatives to state custody.

California desperately needs the savings that would be realized by closing down these facilities. For instance, saving a significant portion of that $278 million could offset a sizable share of the $650 million in budget cuts made to the California State University system in the recently passed state budget.

Reducing the state’s population of female prisoners and closing down the facilities used to house them is not only fiscally prudent, it is also good public policy. These are women who often do not belong in state prison in the first place. Research shows that they are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators, and 4 out of every 10 women behind bars have histories of being physically or sexually abused. Most of the women in California state prison are mothers, and many are single parents. Without the support these women need to successfully re-enter their communities and get off drugs, nearly 60 percent of them end up back in prison within three years. It’s a frustrating revolving door that comes at an enormous cost to our budgets and to the lives of tens of thousands of women and children. The restructuring of corrections lays the groundwork for counties to pursue treatment, education, home detention and other alternatives to incarceration.

Now is the time for California to make a novel and bold move. A recent survey shows that a large majority of Californians are tired of bearing the burden of the “lock ’em up” approach to public safety that has driven criminal justice policy in California for years. And, after a nearly 40-year prison boom, 13 states – including Texas – have closed or are planning to shutter such facilities.

Let’s commit now to full and effective implementation of realigning public-safety programs by providing treatment-based solutions for female offenders. Let’s start planning to close state prisons that are no longer needed.

Timothy P. Silard is a former prosecutor and president of the Rosenberg Foundation, a statewide grant-making foundation based in San Francisco. Jean Ross is executive director of the Sacramento-based California Budget Project.

This article appeared on page A – 10 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Eloy AZ: Jesus was a Prisoner, too.



Driving home from visiting a state prisoner for Christmas today, I was struck by how many prisons and detention centers are in towns (and wasteland) right off of the I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson – most located in Pinal County. Eloy is one such town – “city”, rather, as I discovered when I turned off of the highway at one of their exits.

Lo and behold, not only is Eloy teeming with prisons (4 of Correction Corporation of America‘s 6 institutions of incarceration are located there, including Red Rock and Saguaro Correctional Centers), but it is also apparently a City of God. Christ’s Father, that is.

Look closely at their sign…


Now, I actually found hope in that sign, but there are a lot of ways that could be read. Eloy, like virtually all prison towns, feeds largely on the lives of people imprisoned there from other places – mostly poor neighborhoods of big cities like Phoenix. Just listen to how prisons are sold to hungry communities: while saving the state money they promise revenue to build local schools with, jobs to fuel the economy, and bodies to add to the census and political pocketbook – bodies of people who have been stripped not only of their freedom as punishment, but also of the one right that most distinguishes U.S. citizens from non-citizens: the right to vote.

How that perverse penalty for most felons, regardless of the severity of their crime, is not considered a violation of the 8th Amendment in light of Trop v. Dulles, I don’t know. I have my own feelings about citizenship in this country, but that’s another blog post for another time. The point is that in a case in which a soldier was stripped of citizenship, the Supreme court found that “the total destruction of the individual’s status in organized society… is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development. The punishment strips the citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself…”
It’s worth looking at, this whole felon dis-enfranchisement thing. It’s a holdover from the Reconstruction era when former slaves were criminalized just so they couldn’t vote or live free. That was well over a century ago. What are we still doing it for? I think it’s one big contributing element to guards dehumanizing prisoners such that they can perpetrate the most disturbing violence on them without much regard to consequences – the fact that we already collectively diminished their basic rights.

In any event, American prisoners are not only widely marketed, traded and sold as commodities because states pay to confine them, but – as an end run around the Emancipation Declaration – they are even constitutionally defined as slaves. Both their labor and their mere existence are exploited to generate income for “host” (actually, “parasitic”) communities, private investors, corporate and municipal employers of prisoners, vendors of all sorts – from those supplying commissaries/canteens to those monopolizing lucrative contracts for collect calls home to impoverished families.

The most revered beneficiaries of the criminalization and incarceration of vast numbers of the poor are those whose livelihoods (and children’s medical care) depend on “fighting crime,” “insuring justice,” and “promoting public safety”. Let’s not forget our beloved politicians, too. They rake in money, adoration, and power from that in all sorts of ways.

Add all those folks up and it’s no surprise that our society – particularly this state – fails to invest in proven strategies for reducing crime and victimization in favor of disenfranchising and dis-empowering those people who might resist the machinery that so violently destroys their lives and communities in retaliation for their offenses against property and the state.

One such person engaged in resistance would have been Christ. He really was a freedom-fighter, actually. A lot of people conveniently forget this, but he was a prisoner, too. Remember that line about “whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do for me”? He was talking about prisoners, among others.


So, to say that “the world needs Jesus” could mean that the world needs more prisoners, or it could mean that the world needs more forgiveness and grace. It could mean we need more bodies to buy and sell – and more consumers and workers to exploit for profit – or it could mean we need to overturn the moneylenders’ tables and loudly protest the torture of our prisoners at the hands of sadistic and vindictive guards.

I don’t know what the City of Eloy means to say by promoting Christ in the world – they will have to show us that themselves. I know what Jesus said about poverty, exploitation, judging others harshly, and caring for our prisoners. It’s all spelled out pretty clearly in the Gospels. If you read only one, choose Matthew. Hit the Sermon on the Mount and then Matthew 25:35-40 in particular. Then tell me if the world needs more prisoners, or more mercy. More punishment or more care...

We have been at war in Afghanistan for nine years now, and in Iraq for almost as long (or more than twice as long, if you count the casualties of the sanctions). That’s longer than any declared war in our national history, and there’s really no end in sight, despite what time-lines the President offers. We’re still sending our youth off to kill or be killed in the name of liberty and justice for all around the world, while doing so little to defend those two values here at home.

I find that unacceptable.

My wish for the new year is that the spirit of the Christ whose life and teachings I myself have learned something from is recognized and honored in every prisoner we hold in our facilities of detention, correction, and punishment – particularly by those among us who identify as “Christian”. They seem to hold most of the keys to those places, ironically.

If the City of Eloy is truly a City of God, as it would seem they purport to be – then the Pinal County Sheriff and prosecutor would go after the abusive guards at Saguaro as swiftly and surely as CCA will go after the prisoners who rioted at Red Rock this week. They would not fear the political reprisal of honest citizens for doing so. If anything they would be seen as heroic for aggressively championing the human rights of people literally in chains who are at the mercy of their tormentors.

Likewise, if Eloy is a City of God, then CCA wouldn’t get away with defending the employee misconduct at their institutions that we’ve heard about this month from Hawaiian prisoners. They would be out in front of this lawsuit, disciplining and referring the guards in question – as well as the warden there – for criminal prosecution, which the local criminal justice system would jump on. Of course, last I saw CCA was defending the despicable videotaped brutality of their guards in Idaho, too, so I don’t expect that much of them. But I expect more of a City of God.

The state feeds us fear to maintain power, but in truth most American prisoners haven’t physically harmed anyone but themselves. Even many who are charged with “violent” crimes never struck a soul. Robbing a bank with nothing more than a squirt gun or a note, for example, is considered a “violent” crime. So is brandishing a box cutter at security guards chasing you down for shoplifting (that got one mentally ill kid I adore 5 years, including a year in Supermax).

Now, if those are violent crimes, what do we call repeatedly assaulting and threatening to rape, torture, and kill helpless people? Why is every City of God not up in arms? Which of our brothers are we forgiving for what, and whose cries are we drowning out with our choirs on Sundays? Shall we continue to extract an eye for a dollar or a tooth for every rebuke of the state, and pay a dollar of our own money to those who threaten to extinguish prisoners’ lives?

That isn’t even how it was supposed to work in the Old Testament, much less the one dominated by Jesus.

I’ve been born more than once, I am sure, but because of the way Christ’s life and message and symbols have been abused, I don’t call myself a “Christian” or abide by the mandates of any religion. I just try my best to live by the principles and values that ring true to me, most of which are common but not exclusive to the Christian faith. Self-professed Christians out there need to consider for themselves what his truth is and how to live it; I just wish that if they identify Jesus as their role model they would follow his guidance a little more closely. The world would be a bit better for it…and we wouldn’t constantly be at war in his name, either.

Christ, I have no doubt, would deeply disapprove of our system of “justice” in America – particularly Arizona – and how we perpetrate violence on our prisoners. After all, he was criminalized for defying both capital and the state, and lived and died as a prisoner himself. As I read it, he went out that particular way for a reason, too.

Anyway, for the sake of the thousands of disenfranchised, incarcerated and otherwise detained souls whose misery they have profited from, I hope Eloy is a City of Jesus’ version of God. How they and CCA deal with the perpetrators of abuse in their prisons will tell us much more than the signs they’ve placed at their gates do.

(read CCA’s rap sheet at the Private Corrections Working Group’s website. Catch up on CCA’s Idaho “Gladiator School“, too. But give the people of Eloy a chance…)

Eloy Red Rock Riot update: Christmas Eve.

The latest word from Red Rock (in a news release via K-Gun in Tucson) is that 43 prisoners have been identified as being involved in the riot today and are in administrative segregation under investigation (isolated in detention units). According to them, seven prisoners were treated for injuries at a hospital, only one of whom was admitted (his injuries are reportedly non-life-threatening).

It still appears as if only California’s prisoners were involved.

(photo credit: TriValley Central)

Prison Talk has a thread going (that’s the link to the most current page, as of this evening) where family and friends of prisoners there are sharing info about which yard was involved, what’s happening with visitation, etc. I can’t figure out much more from that yet, but they usually know what’s going on before the media does – and will keep talking about it long after the media loses interest.

The families will be more current than I am, as well, so follow them if you’re really concerned about what’s going on and how other prisoners there are being affected. While rumors may sometimes fly in forums like Prison Talk, CCA’s news releases aren’t necessarily the whole truth. They don’t even have anything about the Red Rock Riot or the lawsuit at Saguaro up on their newsroom website, so don’t turn to CCA for “news” on their prisons.

My friend, Frank Smith from the Private Corrections Working Group (a private prison industry watchdog), dropped me a line today that he left the following remark about the Red Rock Riot on the TriValley Central website. Frank’s insight is often worth repeating:

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“These prisons are chronically troubled.

Thanks to campaign support and contributions to Republicans there is virtually no oversight. Arizona officials have no clue as to whom they hold; what murderers, pedophiles, rapists, kidnappers have been imported from hundreds or thousands of miles away. The female staff is endlessly sexually harassed by management. Escapes and riots are as regular as rain in the tropics.

When charges are successfully brought against murderers from out of state, it is Arizona taxpayers who will pay to keep them for most or the rest of their lives.

This “minor” incident, as the for-profit prisons are careful to term them, overtaxed Pinal County emergency services. Who will be paying for the costs of the medivac choppers to Maricopa County? Who will be called to address a “major” incident?

In Colorado, there was a 1999 riot in a badly constructed prison built by the same outfit to which Mohave County sole-sourced the Kingman prison, thanks to promoters who are now hovering over Arizona communities like a flock of vultures. It took law enforcement from four states to put down that riot. In 2004 a CCA riot in the same prison cost the state about three quarters of a million to put down, but it only got $300,000 or so in reimbursement.

These ineptly run lockups have long since exhausted the potential labor pool in Pinal county and low-wage labor required to run them will come from Maricopa or Pima counties.

Despite the staggering incompetence of the for-profits, Coolidge officials have welcomed still another such mistake, this one to be run by MTC, the outfit that gave us riots in Pima and Mohave county this year, and the escapes of three murderers who killed a vacationing Oklahoma couple. MTC has had escapes, riots and murders in other states as well, including California, Texas, New Mexico and their home state of Utah. MTC was thrown out of Canada, where cooler legislative heads prevail and politics are not dominated by special interests.”

Eloy again: Riot at CCA’s Red Rock Prison

Below is the AP release on the CCA Red Rock Correctional Facility riot yesterday in Eloy, AZ,  which involved only the California prisoners located there.

Something is amiss in that town. As some readers may be aware, this facility is operated by the same Corrections Corporation of America that runs the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy. They also operate the La Palma Correctional Center and Eloy Detention Center there.

Hawaiian prisoners confined at Saguaro are suing for the abuse they endured in the wake of a smaller disturbance/uprising there in July of this year, during which at least one guard was injured. Again, no Hawaiian prisoners were involved in this incident yesterday.

Here is the link to a more complete article about it from Tri-Valley Central, the local media there (the source of the photo here). Read the comments that follow it – those are always interesting (though sometimes very troubling). According to Tri-Valley’s report, no guards were hurt but three prisoners had life-threatening injuries. They have not been publicly identified.

Still looking for this from the prisoners’ and families’ point of view – please forward what you may come across out there. I will post more as soon as I have it…For those of you planning holiday visitation, call ahead. Both Red Rock and Saguaro are now on lock down.

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10 inmates injured in riot at Arizona prison
San Francisco Chronicle
December 23, 2010

17:37 PST

Eloy, Ariz. (AP) — Ten inmates have been injured after a riot at a private prison in central Arizona. Eloy police say the disturbance occurred during Thursday afternoon’s lunch hour at the Red Rock Correctional Facility and involved an estimated 110 inmates. They say the riot was in an area of the prison that houses only California inmates.

It’s unclear what triggered the riot, but prison staff used pepper spray and ended it within 10 minutes. They say no staff members were injured and seven of the 10 inmates hurt were taken to hospitals outside the prison for treatment of injuries ranging from moderate to serious.

Prison officials say the 1,596-bed facility now is in lockdown.

Red Rock Correctional Center is owned by Corrections Corporation of America and houses male inmates for California and Hawaii and detainees of the U.S. Marshals Service. CCA managers along with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation investigators are investigating the disturbance.