HANDOUT MATERIALS for Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement

Reblogged on Californiaprisonwatch.org

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Beginning in April 2015, if you need copies sent to you of any of these materials for use in your actions, please contact phssreachingout@gmail.com.

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The above links allow you to download and print the two materials made specifically for anyone participating in Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (23rd of each month). Below are several download links for recommended materials to hand out during such actions.  Good educational materials. Coming soon: a handout of Frequently Asked Questions and the Answers, and all handouts in Spanish & English.

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Beginning March 23rd: Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

STOP THE TORTURE!

The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) has helped launch Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) to start Monday, March 23, 2015.

Actions will happen on the 23rd of each month.

This date emphasizes the 23 or more hours every day that people are kept in solitary confinement.

PHSS Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Prisoner-Hunger-Strike-Solidarity/117053298383319

Statewide Coordinated Actions every month respond to the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers’ Proposals (November, 2013). They stated:

We want to consider the idea of designating a certain date each month as Prisoner Rights Day. On that date each month prisoners across the state would engage in peaceful activities to call attention to prison conditions. At the same time our supporters would gather in locations throughout California to expose CDCR’s [CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] actions and rally support efforts to secure our rights. We can see this action growing…

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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.

An End to Solitary is Long Overdue

California’s Savage System of Confinement

Less than two weeks ago the United Nations Committee against Torture issued a report strongly criticizing the U.S. record on a number of issues, among them the extensive use of solitary confinement. While the U.S. uses long-term solitary more than any other country in the world, California uses it more than any other state. It’s one of the few places in the world where someone can be held indefinitely in solitary. This practice is designed to break the human spirit and is condemned as a form of torture under international law.

Despite these repeated condemnations by the U.N., the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is harshening rather than easing its policies, currently with three new sets of regulations. The administration’s iron-fisted strategy is emerging: project the appearance of a reforming system while extending its reach, and restrict the ability of prisoners and their loved ones to organize for their rights.

First, the CDCR has instituted a “Step Down Program” ostensibly to create a pathway out of indefinite solitary. However, the program actually widens the net of who can be considered a threat and therefore eligible for placement in solitary. Recently adopted regulations replace the old language of “gang” with “Security Threat Group” (STG) and the previous list of a dozen identified gangs is now replaced with a dizzying list of over 1500 STGs. Under these new regulations, even family members and others outside the prisons can be designated as part of an STG. Given the fact that indefinite solitary is used disproportionately against people of color – in Pelican Bay, 85% of those in isolation are Latino – the language used to justify placement in solitary eerily mirrors the rhetoric of the federal government and its permanent state of war against its declared enemies, all of whom are people of color.

The CDCR promulgated a second set of rule changes last summer with sweeping new “obscenity” regulations governing mail going both in and out of prisons. The original proposal was to explicitly ban any “publications that indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society,” yet after coming under heavy criticism, CDCR decided to mask its Orwellian motives by hiding behind the above mentioned language of STGs. This ominous language violates First Amendment rights, and reveals a broader agenda: to censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, and to stifle the intellectual and political education and organizing of prisoners themselves.

A third element of CDCR’s strategy of containment is the implementation of highly intimidating visiting procedures designed to keep family members away from their loved ones. Draconian new visiting regulations authorize the use of dogs and electronic drug detectors to indiscriminately search visitors for contraband, even though both methods are notoriously unreliable. These procedures effectively criminalize family members and deter them from visiting, especially in a period of a growing family-led movement against solitary.

The three new policies are also intended to extend CDCR’s reach beyond the prison walls. As an organizer and family member of a prisoner, I’m censored when sending letters to my brother, Sitawa N. Jamaa, subjected to gratuitous and intimidating searches during visits, and susceptible to being labeled an STG associate. These are all ways that CDCR is trying to keep me from knowing how my brother and others are doing, and to repress my organizing.

Taken individually, these regulations may seem to address unrelated issues. But given they are all coming down simultaneously – just a year after the last of a series of historic hunger strikes by people in California prisons has given rise to the highest level of self-organization and empowerment among imprisoned people since the 1970s – these regulations are nothing less than a systematic attempt to silence and retaliate against prisoners’ growing resistance. Over 30,000 prisoners participated in 2013’s strike, some for 60 days, risking their health and lives for an end to indefinite solitary. Prisoners’ family members and loved ones also took up leadership roles in political organizing in unprecedented ways. The movement to abolish solitary continues to gain momentum around the country.

The hunger strikes were a significant part of an ongoing national sea change regarding the use of solitary, as states are waking up to its dangers. Illinois, Maine and Mississippi have closed or drastically downsized their solitary units without any loss of institutional safety. New York and Arizona were recently forced to reduce their use of isolation, with Colorado and New Jersey following suit.

Yet California steadfastly remains an outlier seemingly impervious to change, led by an administration that relies on tired rhetoric about “the worst of the worst” to justify torture. People locked up in California have a decades-long history of fighting for the rights and dignity of prisoners, affirming their humanity in the face of inhumane conditions and demanding change. The U.N. report calls on this government to “ban prison regimes of solitary confinement such as those in super-maximum security detention facilities.” It’s time for California to listen.

Marie Levin is the sister of Sitawa N. Jamaa, a prisoner in solitary confinement at Tehachapi. She is a member of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS).

Mohamed Shehk is the Media and Communications Director of Critical Resistance, and also contributed to this piece.

California prisoner representatives: All people have the right to humane treatment with dignity

From the SF Bayview:

Oct 2nd, 2014
Main reps mark the first anniversary of suspension of the 2013 Hunger Strike and the second anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities.
by Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos and George Franco
We expect to hear soon from Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, the fourth of the main reps in the Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement. His remarks will be posted online as soon as they arrive and will be printed next month. He has been transferred to Tehachapi: C-35671, 4B-7C-209, P.O. Box 1906, Tehachapi CA 93581.
Greetings of solidarity and respect to all oppressed people and those committed to fighting for the fundamental right of all people to humane treatment – to dignity, respect and equality.
We are the prisoner class representatives of what’s become known as the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement. Last month we marked the first anniversary of the end of our historic 60-day Hunger Strike. Oct. 10 we mark the two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities. This is an update on where things stand with our struggle to achieve major reforms beneficial to prisoners, outside loved ones and society in general.
Our Agreement to End Hostilities would enhance prison safety more than any long-term isolation policies and yet it still has not been circulated and posted throughout the prison system. We urge that everyone read this document again and that you pass it around, study it, live it. (It is reprinted below.) The California Department of Corrections has yet to post this historic document. It needs to.
In 2010 -2011, many long-term SHU prisoners housed in the PBSP SHU Short Corridor initiated our “collective human rights movement” based on our recognition that, regardless of color, we have all been condemned for decades, entombed in what are psycho-social extermination cells, based on prisoncrats’ fascist mentality. That mentality is centered upon the growing oppressive agenda of the suppressive control of the working class poor and related prison industrial complex’s expansion of supermax solitary confinement units.
The pretext for that expansion is baseless claims that solitary confinement is necessary for the subhuman “worst of the worst” deemed deserving of a long slow death in hellish conditions. Supermax units were originally designed and perfected for the purpose of destroying political prisoners and now extend to a policy of mass incarceration.
Beginning July 1, 2011, we have utilized our collective movement to resist and expose our decades of subjection to this systematic state torture, via a campaign of peaceful activism efforts inside and outside these dungeon walls. We have achieved some success; we are not finished.
We will not stop until there is no more widespread torturous isolation in California for ourselves and for those who will come after us. We remind all concerned that our third peaceful protest action was “suspended” after 60 days, on Sept. 6, 2013, in response to Assemblyman Ammiano and Sen. Hancock’s courageous public acknowledgement of the legitimacy of our cause and related promises to hold joint hearings for the purpose of creating responsive legislation.
Hearings were held in October 2013 and February 2014 which were very positive for our cause in so far as continuing the public’s exposure to CDCR’s unjustifiable torture program. Assemblyman Ammiano’s bill was responsive to our issues and it was thus no surprise that the CDCR and CCPOA (the guards’ union) and others opposed it – and it was DOA on the Assembly floor. Sen. Hancock worked to get a bill passed with some changes, but, according to a statement she released, even that failed when the Governor’s Office and CDCR gutted months of work by Sen. Hancock, her staff and the staff of the Senate Public Safety Committee.
California Department of Corrections has calculated that their alleged “new” policy known as Security Threat Group-Step Down Program (STG-SDP) will give the appearance of addressing the horrific inhuman treatment we experience daily. They argue the Step Down Program is a major positive reform of the “old” policy and thereby responsive to our core demands.
They hope to undermine the statewide, national and international growing support for our cause – the end of long-term indefinite solitary confinement, the torture we experience year in and year out.
The STG-SDP is a smokescreen intended to enable prisoncrats to greatly expand upon the numbers held in solitary confinement – indefinitely. Their STG-SDP policy and program is a handbook to be used with limitless discretion to put whoever they want in isolation even without dangerous or violent behavior.
Their Security Threat Group policy and language are based on a prison punishment international homeland security worldview. By militarizing everything, just as they did in Ferguson, Missouri, poor working class communities, especially those of color, become communities that feed the police-prison industrial complex as a source of fuel.
The daily existence of poor people is criminalized from youth on. We become a source of revenue – a source of jobs – as our lives are sucked, tracked into the hell of endless incarceration, our living death. The STG-SDP is part of the worldview and language of death, not life. It is not positive reform. Security Threat Group takes social policy in the wrong direction.
CDCR is explicit in that thousands of us are in indefinite solitary because of who we are seen to be by them, not because we have done anything wrong. They still decide this by our art, our photographs, birthdays and confidential informants who get out of solitary by accusing the rest of us.
The only “program” in the Step Down Program is a mandatory requirement to fill out meaningless journals that have nothing to do with rehabilitation – rather, they are about petty hoops for longterm SHU prisoners to jump through. The step incentives are so small as to carry very little real value or meaning for a majority of prisoners. They don’t meet our Supplemental Demands.
In fact the SHU at Tehachapi, where they send Pelican Bay SHU prisoners who have “progressed” to “better steps” in the SDP, have less visiting, more filthy cells, horrible toxic water, no pillows, nasty mattresses, rags for cloths, used mattresses, loud noises and some officers who are brutal racists.
Some of the privilege opportunities we won for SHU prisoners as a result of our struggles exist only at Pelican Bay. Some mean a lot to us but, in the long view, are trivial.
We need to get rid of the “mandatory” aspect of the ridiculous journals. We need to touch our loved ones and they need to be touched by us. We need to hug our mothers, fathers, wives, children, brothers, sisters.
We need more packages and phone calls and photographs. We need the same canteen that general population gets. We need overnight family visits. Up until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits.
Ultimately, we call for California to end the shame of their policy of solitary confinement for innocuous social interaction.
Prisoncrats propagate the 800-plus case-by-case reviews to date as evidence that their STG-SDP is a new program. The last statistics showed that almost 70 percent of prisoners reviewed were released to general population – including some of us who have been kept in these concrete boxes buried alive for decades.
These statistics prove something entirely different. They are factual data showing, proving that for decades 70-plus percent of us have been inappropriately confined, isolated and tortured.
It is CDCR’s senior people who are ruling that we have been inappropriately confined. These high release statistics prove without a doubt that the force of public condemnation, of united peaceful activity by those of us inside and our human rights supporters outside are required to keep CDCR from continuing their intolerable abuse.
CDC argues that the transfer of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners to other SHUs at Corcoran, New Folsom or Tehachapi SHU cells or to various general population prisons proves they have taken measures to address the horrors and inappropriate use of SHU. In fact, even with the large numbers of prisoners being transferred out of SHU cells, there are no empty SHU cells.
Across the system prisoners are being validated for art, innocuous social interaction and for lies and misrepresentations about our mail by confidential informants who escape the SHU themselves by accusing others of behavior that cannot be defended against because we are sent to the SHU for accusations that we do not know the specifics about!
We are isolated for confidential, uncorroborated “ghost” accusations with no due process review – because solitary isolation is categorized as an “administrative housing assignment” and not punishment. CDCR is filling up the SHU cells as fast as they are emptied.
CDCR administrators admitted in August 2011 that the programs and privileges sought in our demands were reasonable and should have been provided 20-plus years ago. Up until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits, but no longer today. Why not?
CDCR hopes to destroy our sense of collective structure and our collective unity. We hope to expand our sense of collectivity as we spread out. We work to keep all opinions open, to think through new ideas and options for peaceful activity to shut down the reckless use of isolation and other abuses.
California uses solitary isolation more than any other state in the United States, both in absolute numbers of prisoners isolated – 12,000 in some form of isolation on any given day – and in terms of percentage of the prison population. The United States uses solitary confinement more than any other country in the world – 80,000 prisoners in some form of isolation as part of the practice of mass incarceration and criminalization of life in poor communities.
CDCr cannot deny these facts. Our decades of indefinite SHU confinement and related conditions therein are what led us to peacefully rise up and make our stand as a united collective of human beings – and we have been clear about our opposition to the Security Threat Group-Step Down Program. The prisoner class human rights movement is growing and we’ve succeeded in exposing this nation’s penal system torture program – nationally and internationally.
This mainstream level of attention and global support for the prisoners’ cause is unprecedented and it will continue to grow – so long as we all remain united and committed to doing our part.
Our peaceful actions have demonstrated that we are not powerless and the concrete fact is that the operation of these prisons requires the cooperation of the prisoners – thus, the prisoners do have the power to make beneficial reforms happen when we are united in utilizing non-violent, peaceful methods such as hunger strike-work stoppage protests and forms of non-cooperation.
We are thinking about how to extend this power peacefully across the prison system to make these institutions more focused on rehabilitation, learning and growing so that our return to our communities helps us all. Following and living by the principles in the Agreement to End Hostilities can help make this happen.
With the above in mind, we remind all interested parties that this ongoing struggle for reform is a “human rights movement,” comprised of united prisoners, outside loved ones and supporters. The PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement’s 20 volunteer representatives remain united, committed and determined about achieving the Five Core and Forty Supplemental Demands and the principle goals of the August 2012 “Agreement to End Hostilities,” with the support of all like-minded members of the prisoner class, outside loved ones and supporters.
Our primary goal remains that of ending long-term solitary confinement (in SHU and ad seg). This goal is at the heart of our struggle.
Along the way we are also committed to improving conditions in SHU, ad seg and general prison population. We make clear that any policy that maintains the status quo related to the placement and retention of prisoners into SHU and ad seg cells indefinitely is not acceptable – regardless of what programs or privileges are provided therein.
We have rejected CDCR’s Security Threat Group-Step Down Program and presented our reasonable counter proposal for the creation of a modified general population type program for the purpose of successful transitions between SHU and general population. CDCR’s top administrators have refused to negotiate, insisting upon moving forward with their STG-SDP. We are evaluating options.
Again, we need an end to the “mandatory” aspect of the ridiculous journals. We need to touch our loved ones and they need to be touched by us. Until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits. There is no legitimate basis for not allowing them now.
We celebrate the brothers who are getting out of the SHU after decades of confinement and understand the willingness to participate in the current CDCr charade.
We recognize those brothers in Corcoran who are refusing to participate in the SDP.
We’ve patiently observed the political process at issue for the past year, since such was the basis for “suspending” our 2013 action, and it’s becoming clear that those in power are still not seeing us as human because they refuse to end long term solitary confinement – in spite of international condemnation – ensuring the continuation of such psycho-social extermination policies.
Lawmakers’ refusal to abolish indefinite solitary confinement in response to the established record of abuse and related damage it causes to prisoners, outside loved ones and society in general – supported by the record of the joint Public Safety Committee hearings – supports our position that we are subjected to systematic, state sanctioned torture. This is a permanent stain upon this nation’s human rights record. Their continued refusal will require us to re-evaluate all of our available peaceful options.
Keeping all of the above points in mind, we respectfully encourage people inside and outside these walls to commemorate this two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities by joining with us in living by these principles inside and outside these prison walls.
We remain united, onward in struggle, always in solidarity.
    Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP SHU D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
    Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, PBSP SHU D1-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
    George Franco, D-46556, PBSP SHU D4-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

Agreement to End Hostilities

To whom it may concern and all California prisoners:
Greetings from the entire PBSP SHU Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives. We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP SHU Corridor. Wherein, we have arrived at a mutual agreement concerning the following points:
1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.
   
2. Therefore, beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end. And if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!
3. We also want to warn those in the general population that IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) will continue to plant undercover Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer “inmates” amongst the solid GP prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats and obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our mutual causes. People need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics and refuse to allow such IGI inmate snitches to create chaos and reignite hostilities amongst our racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU, (Investigative Service Unit), OCS (Office of Correctional Safety) and SSU’s (Service Security Unit’s) old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!
In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us prisoners and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!
Because the reality is that, collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners and thereby the public as a whole, and we simply cannot allow CDCR and CCPOA, the prison guards’ union, IGI, ISU, OCS and SSU to continue to get away with their constant form of progressive oppression and warehousing of tens of thousands of prisoners, including the 14,000-plus prisoners held in solitary confinement torture chambers – SHU and ad-seg units – for decades!
We send our love and respect to all those of like mind and heart. Onward in struggle and solidarity!
Presented by the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry) and Antonio Guillen; and the Representatives Body: Danny Troxell, George Franco, Ronnie Yandell, Paul Redd, James Baridi Williamson, Alfred Sandoval, Louis Powell, Alex Yrigollen, Gabriel Huerta, Frank Clement, Raymond “Chavo” Perez and James Mario Perez
Editor’s note: Long-time readers may be curious why George Franco has replaced Antonio Guillen as the Northerner among the four main reps. Franco was one of the original four-man group but was sent to Corcoran during the first hunger strike. When he returned to Pelican Bay, he was moved from the pod where decisions were made. Antonio then stepped in. An attorney working closely with the reps reports both exchanges were very friendly. 

Prisoners and advocacy groups oppose Sen. Loni Hancock’s prison reform bill, SB 892

This comes from the SF Bay View:
May 4, 2014

Lawyers from the LA-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law recently spent two days at Pelican Bay discussing with prisoners bills now introduced in the Senate by Sen. Loni Hancock and in the Assembly by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano dealing with solitary confinement. The Center’s lawyers met with Todd Ashker, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (R.N. Dewberry), Arturo Castellanos and Antonio Guillen, four of the prisoners in the Short Corridor who inspired the hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 that were joined by 30,000 other prisoners at their peak.

The Assembly and Senate bills are very different in their approaches to solitary confinement. Ammiano’s bill, which the prisoners support, is short and simple and is focused on one critical issue: prohibiting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct.

The prisoners believe that this bill addresses a major concern with California’s current policy and does so in a clean-cut and effective way. In legal discussions and letters to the Center, prisoners suggested two additions to the Ammiano bill: First, that it incorporate a provision that would prohibit CDCR from using the testimony of an inmate informant to place someone in a SHU (Security Housing Unit, where prisoners are held in solitary confinement) unless the inmate’s testimony was corroborated by independent third party evidence.

Second, they recommend that data-gathering provisions in Loni Hancock’s Senate bill be added to Ammiano’s bill so data can be obtained from CDCR which could be used in the future to advocate for changes in regulations or additional legislation. However, prisoners support the Ammiano bill even if these two proposals are not adopted.

On the other hand, prisoners have informed the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in personal interviews and letters that they do not support Loni Hancock’s Senate bill because for the first time in history it would put into state law authority for CDCR to place prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership without any accompanying serious misconduct. The prisoners believe this would be a major step backwards in the struggle to get California to follow other states that have terminated their “gang validation” policies as a basis for putting prisoners in solitary confinement.

They would support the Hancock Senate bill only if it adopted the Ammiano approach of prohibiting CDCR from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct. They would also want it to incorporate a provision that would prohibit CDCR from using the testimony of an inmate informant to place someone in a SHU unless the inmate’s testimony was corroborated by independent third party evidence.

Based on the prisoners’ positions, which seem fair and rational, several groups and community leaders, led by the California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, submitted a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee opposing the Hancock bill.

At a hearing before the Appropriations Committee held on April 28, Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights, testified against the Hancock bill on behalf of a number of groups and individuals, including CFASC, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Centro Legal de la Raza, Community Futures, Council on American-Islamic Relations – California (CAIR), Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS), Homeboy Industries, Homies Unidos, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 (ILWU), Justice Now, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), actor-activist Mike Farrell and labor leaders Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), and Mike Garcia, president of the Service Employees International Union–United Service Workers West (SEIU-West). No one appeared to testify in favor of the bill.

Notably, neither CDCR nor CCPOA, the guards’ union, voiced any opposition to Hancock’s bill – whereas they had shown up in full force to oppose Ammiano’s bill.

The full text of the letter presented to the Senate Appropriations Committee appears below. Over the next few weeks, CFASC and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law plan to intensify their lobbying and gather more support to block passage of the Hancock bill unless it is amended to prohibit CDCR from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct.

At the same time they will support passage of the Ammiano bill. “Whether we are fighting the gang validation policy in the courts or through public advocacy,” said Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights, “we are far better off fighting a policy of the administration than something enshrined into state law by the legislature for the next 10 to 20 years.”

The breadth and strength of opposition that has quickly built up against Hancock’s bill shows that over the next few months a powerful statewide coalition will form to block the Hancock bill unless it’s amended to prohibit the CDCR’s gang validation policy.

Letter to Senate Appropriations Committee

The following letter, dated April 25, 2014, was addressed to:

Sen. Kevin de Leόn, Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee, State Capitol, Room 5108, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Loni Hancock, State Capitol, Room 2082, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Jerry Hill, State Capitol, Room 5064, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Ricardo Lara, State Capitol, Room 5050, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Alex Padilla, State Capitol, Room 4038, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Darrell Steinberg, State Capitol, Room 205, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. William Monning, State Capitol, Room 4066, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Mark Leno, State Capitol, Room 5100, Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: SB 892 (solitary confinement)

Dear Sens. de Leόn, Hancock, Hill, Lara, Padilla, Steinberg, Monning and Leno:

This letter is submitted on behalf of the undersigned organizations and individuals.

The California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), which represents approximately 450 California prisoners in solitary confinement, as well as several other organizations, have previously communicated to Sen. Hancock concerns with certain provisions in SB 892 with specific suggested amendments. To date we have not received any response indicating whether Sen. Hancock will seek to amend her bill to address these matters.

We are writing to explain our concerns with SB 892 that now comes before the Senate Appropriations Committee. We are respectfully requesting that consideration of SB 892 be delayed for a few weeks to allow greater input and discussion about the intended and unintended consequences enactment of the bill will cause.

While well-intentioned, SB 892 fails to reform the widely condemned, inhumane, and outdated “gang validation” policy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Although the bill contains some positive provisions, it fails to include critical provisions needed to bring California law in line with modern prison security trends adopted in many other states – with successful results – and worse it institutionalizes “gang validation” as a basis for long-term solitary confinement for prisoners who have engaged in no serious wrong-doing while serving their sentences.

The cost of this program is estimated to be $44 million per year while 1) perpetuating the inhumane treatment of prisoners, 2) compromising the goal of rehabilitation and 3) causing hundreds of “validated” prisoners to suffer severe physical and mental disabilities – with added costs of treatment.

We are most concerned with the provisions of SB 892 that will memorialize into state law the widely condemned and outdated policy of the CDCR of placing inmates in SHUs for mere alleged gang association without any actual incidents of misconduct. Gang validation practices have been criticized by prison reform advocates throughout the country, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, American Bar Association, Amnesty International, the U.S. government and members of Congress.

While the bill proposes an indefinite number of “step-down” programs for “validated” prisoners after several years to be released from solitary confinement, both prisoners and prison security experts believe the proposed step-down program will be ineffective as proposed in SB 892. CDCR already follows a similar step-down program, but only a relatively small number of “validated” gang members have been released from solitary confinement through the program.

Prisoners and prison reform experts likewise agree that the minimal efforts in SB 892 to “improve” the due process rights of prisoners will be costly to the state while having little to no practical effect on prisoners’ rights. Overall, SB 892 would leave California with the largest population of prisoners in solitary confinement of any country in the world or state in the United States at enormous cost to the taxpayers.

SB 892 would leave California with the largest population of prisoners in solitary confinement of any country in the world or state in the United States at enormous cost to the taxpayers.

From a budget standpoint, enactment of SB 892 in its present form will increase the incidence of costly litigation challenging the law, likely lead to further costly hunger strikes by prisoners in solitary confinement, cost the taxpayers $44 million a year for maintaining prisoners in solitary confinement based on mere alleged gang membership, and cause untold additional medical costs as hundreds of these prisoners suffer mental and physical disabilities due to their confinement in segregated housing units.

In contrast, Assembly Bill 1652, introduced by Assemblymember Ammiano, is far narrower in what it attempts to achieve, is far better drafted to achieve reforms in solitary confinement and gang validation practices in California, and would save about $50 million per year in prison costs.

We respectfully request that the Senate Appropriations Committee delay consideration of SB 892 for a few weeks to evaluate whether amendments can be made that will save costs and potentially close the gap between the SB 892 and AB 1652

We urge you to please contact Dolores Canales, California Families Against Solitary Confinement, (714) 290-9077, and Peter Schey, President, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, 323-251-3223, to discuss whether consideration of SB 892 may be postponed for two to three weeks so that experts and family members may provide additional input for consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

California Families Against Solitary Confinement

Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights

Centro Legal de la Raza

Community Futures

Council on American-Islamic Relations – California (CAIR)

Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS)

Hermandad Mexicana Humanitarian Foundation

Homeboy Industries

Homies Unidos

Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace

International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 13 (ILWU)

Justice Now

League of United Latin American Citizens

Mexican American Political Association (MAPA)

Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community

Students Against Mass Incarceration (UC)

William C. Velasquez Institute

Father Gregory Boyle, Executive Director, Homeboy Industries

Rabbi Joshua Brumbach, Ahavat Zion Synagogue, Beverly Hills

Dolores Canales (son incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

Dennis R. Childs, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego

Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO)

Mike Farrell (Actor-Activist)

Mike Garcia, President, Service Employees International Union- United Service Workers West (SEIU-West)

Irene Huerta (spouse incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

James Lafferty, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild – Los Angeles Chapter

Sharon Martinas (prison reform advocate)

Sister Elisa Martinez, MSW

Heidi L. Rummel, Co-Director, Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP)

Kimberly Starr (prison reform advocate)

Sarah Torres (prison reform advocate)

Kimberly Rohrbach (prison reform advocate)

Beth Witrogen (life partner incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

Letter to the Editor by Antonio Guillen

From: Del Norte Triplicate
Aug. 8, 2013

Prison series misrepresented inmates, reasons for strike

I write this letter in response to the four-part series about Pelican Bay State (“Inside the SHU,” June 22–29). I participated in the interviews because I was told that it was a story about the hunger strike from a “humanist” standpoint. As it turned out, it was, yet again, another unbalanced piece that plays off the fears of the public and furthers the CDCR propaganda campaign against the SHU population.

There was very little about the lengthy conversation regarding the hunger strike movement, validation process, the abuses conducted by the Institutional Gang Investigation Unit (IGI) and the Investigative Services Unit (ISU), the suffering caused by long-term solitary confinement of prisoners and their families, or the end-hostilities agreement. It appears that many of my words were selectively chosen and carefully placed in a way to paint a very different picture than that which was conversed.

I know that there are those who will not agree or understand our struggle. But, to be clear, our fight is against the abusive policies and practices that are routinely manipulated by the IGI and ISU to justify long-term solitary confinement and inhumane living conditions.

All we are asking is that CDCR incorporate rules and regulations that cannot be manipulated by the IGI and ISU to keep people in solitary confinement indefinitely, and more humane living conditions for these SHU facilities.

CDCR has stated, several times, that our five core demands are “reasonable,” and to be fair, CDCR is making some changes. However, these changes still fall way short than of what CDCR originally deemed reasonable, and that’s why we have engaged on this third round of hunger strikes.

Antonio Guillen,

Pelican Bay State Prison

Editor’s note: Antonio Guillen is one of four members of the Short Corridor Collective that has organized the hunger strikes.