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.

July 9 Message from Short Corridor Hungerstrike Reps

Reblogged from: Kersplebedeb:
See also: SF Bay View for a broader summery!

July 9, 2013

Greetings to our supporters and all people of conscience.

We are grateful for your support of our peaceful protest against the state-sanctioned torture that happens not only here at Pelican Bay but in prisons everywhere. We have taken up this hunger strike and work stoppage, which has included 30,000 prisoners in California so far, not only to improve our own conditions but also an act of solidarity with all prisoners and oppressed people around the world.

We encourage everyone to take action to support the strike wherever they live. Sign the petition demanding California Governor stop the torture; plan rolling solidarity fasts if you are able; use every means to spread the word; and participate in non-violent direct action to put pressure on decision-makers.

If it was not for your support, we would have died in 2011. Thank you everyone. We are confident we will prevail.

In Solidarity,

– Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP-SHU, D4-121
– Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, PBSP-SHU, D1-121
– Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP-SHU,D1-117
– Antonio Guillen, P-81948, PBSP-SHU, D2-106

The PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Representatives

Open letter to Gov. Jerry Brown: Stop the torture now

From: SF Bay View, October 17, 2012

Dear Gov. Brown:

We oppose the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR’s) policies and practices relating to our subjection to decades of “status”-based indefinite isolation (SHU confinement); this includes our opposition to CDCR’s proposed policy changes, entitled “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification, and Management Strategy.” We would appreciate your supportive intervention on this issue.

We are the four principal prisoner representatives confined in the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor, and we present you with this request on behalf of ourselves and all similarly situated prisoners who are subject to torturous, indefinite SHU [Security Housing Unit] and Ad-Seg [Administrative Segregation] confinement.

The “censored pelican,” drawn by Pete Collins, at Bath Prison in Ontario, Canada, became an icon of the 2011 hunger strikes led by the same “main reps” in the Pelican Bay SHU who wrote this letter to Gov. Brown.

Our commonality as a collective group – able to effectively represent our own interests, as well as those of the thousands of prisoners similarly situated – lies in our continued indefinite SHU confinement for more than 25 years, which is based on “status,” rather than illegal behavior. Notably, our decades of SHU isolation are based on CDCR gang classification, i.e. status, without ever being found guilty of committing a gang-related criminal act!

Our gang validations and related decades of SHU isolation are based on what CDCR claims to be “intelligence-based evidence of criminal gang activity,” consisting of: (a) innocent associational or political type activity; and/or (b) confidential prisoner informants’ unsubstantiated allegations of involvement in criminal activity.

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

As of early 2011, the Formal Complaint had resulted in no relief, and our conditions in SHU had become more oppressive; therefore, we decided our sole avenue for gaining mainstream exposure and outside support for our cause to end our torture was for us to put our lives on the line via a peaceful protest hunger strike action. In May/June 2011, we served your office and Secretary Cate with another copy of our Formal Complaint and our Final Notice of the July 1 hunger strike with the Five Core Demands. (Available at http://www.prisons.org/documents/FinalNoticewith5CoreDemands.doc).

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

In our face-to-face meetings with top CDCR officials, they admitted early on in the negotiation process that our five core demands “were all reasonable” and CDCR “should have made changes 20 years ago,” and they promised to make timely, substantively meaningful changes, responsive to all five demands.

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

As of early September 2011, we believed CDCR was not acting in good faith … resulting in our return to hunger strike on Sept. 26, 2011. The response was to subject 15 of us to additional torture: Todd Ashker, C-58191; Arturo Castellanos, C-17275; Charles Coleman, C-60680; Mutope Duguma (James Crawford), D-05996; Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671; J. Brian Elrod, H-25268; George Franco, D-46556; Antonio Guillen, P-81948; Paul Jones, B-26077; Louis Powell, B-59864; Paul Redd, B-72683; Alfred Sandoval, D-61000; Danny Troxell, B-76578; James Baridi Williamson, D-34288; and Ronnie Yandell, V-27927.

We were placed in more isolative Ad-Seg strip cells, without adequate clothing or bedding, and with ice-cold air blasting out of the air vents; then Warden Lewis informed us, “As soon as you eat, you can go back home to your SHU cells.”

The response (to our second hunger strike) was to subject 15 of us to additional torture. We were placed in more isolative Ad-Seg strip cells, without adequate clothing or bedding, and with ice-cold air blasting out of the air vents; then Warden Lewis informed us, “As soon as you eat, you can go back home to your SHU cells.”

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

[photo: Legendary artist and revolutionary Emory Douglas, whose art enlivened the Black Panther newspaper and is now exhibited around the world, lent his powerful voice to a rally in front of CDCR headquarters in Sacramento during last year’s first hunger strike, on July 18, 2011.]

In the year since Oct. 13, 2011, the CDCR has failed to honor their end of our prior agreements to change SHU policies and practices including but not limited to those listed below:

1) We remain in SHU, subject to the torturous conditions therein, including but not limited to all of the conditions described in our Formal Complaint and other written statements. (See prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com).

2) The CDCR’s March 2012 proposed policy changes actually do not change anything for those prisoners whom CDCR has classified as validated gang members, who will continue to be subject to indefinite SHU isolation based on “intelligence information” alleged to indicate the prisoner’s participation in “criminal gang activity” – but in fact often innocent associational/political type activity).

The “intelligence” includes confidential informants’ unsubstantiated allegations of involvement in criminal activity – notably, carrying zero formal charges! This is the same policy and practice used and abused by CDCR to keep us in SHU for more than 25 years. (See, e.g., “intelligence” references in March 1, 2012, proposal at pp. 7-8, 25; “intelligence” categories references at pp. 19-24. Compare to CCR, Title 15, sec. 3378(c)(6), 3378(c)(8) and 3378(e).)

3) The CDCR’s March 2012 proposed policy changes include a four-year minimum step-down program, which prisoners may participate in to earn their way out of SHU. This is also unacceptable! Four years is too long, and the incentives for each step are not adequate. Any step-down program should have a maximum limit of 18 months and require meaningful incentives from the start, such as increased opportunity for out-of-cell contact with other prisoners, additional programs and privileges, including regular phone calls and contact visits.

Notable are the following additional facts supporting our position that CDCR has violated our July/October 2011 agreement and acted in bad faith, thereby requiring us to request your supportive intervention.

A. In March 2012, we presented CDCR with our written rejection of their proposed policy changes, and we included our counterproposal. (Available at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/pelican-bay-human-rights-movement-short-corridor-collecitves-counter-proposal-to-cdcr/).

B. Our outside Mediation Team and the Prison Law Office also presented CDCR with related written oppositions to the proposal. (The Mediation Team’s critique is available at http://www.prisons.org/documents/MTreviewofSTGplan5.5.pdf). The CDCR failed to respond to these opposition points.

This rare photo – rare because reporters are almost always barred from all California prisons, especially the SHUs – shows the cell that was home to Todd Ashker, a signatory to this letter, for over 20 years. Recently he was abruptly moved to a distant part of the SHU. 

The reported reason is nonsensical for a move that is no doubt intended to stop the movement for peaceful change by separating the leaders.

C. This past June 19, 2012, U.S. Sen. Durbin held a congressional hearing about the overuse of isolation cells in the nation’s penal system. The next day, Illinois Gov. Quinn announced that he would close down Tamms Correctional Facility, the notorious SuperMax that opened in 1995 and held prisoners in long-term isolation – some of them since the prison’s inception. His decision was based on the enormous operational costs and evidence suggesting such isolative confinement profoundly and irreparably damages the prisoners exposed to such harsh treatment. Other states have also made significant reductions in their use of SHU-type units, reserving such cells for prisoners found guilty of serious rule violations, where they serve minimal time periods; these states include Mississippi, Maine and Colorado. (See http://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/closing-tamms-supermax-chance-reevaluate-solitary-confinement.) Reducing their use of isolation is saving these states millions of dollars.

Yet California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation remains committed to keeping thousands of prisoners in costly SHU and Ad-Seg isolation cells for decades, solely based on status rather than a chargeable, charged offense and a finding of guilt for serious misconduct. And we believe that the March 2012 “Security Threat Group …” proposal will ultimately result in many more prisoners being subject to years of torture in isolation cells.

Reducing their use of isolation is saving the states of Mississippi, Maine and Colorado millions of dollars. Yet California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation remains committed to keeping thousands of prisoners in costly SHU and Ad-Seg isolation cells for decades, solely based on status rather than a chargeable, charged offense and a finding of guilt for serious misconduct.

Gov. Brown, back in May/June of 2011 we respectfully made you personally aware of the serious problems. Your failure to take appropriate corrective action has enabled our decades of torturous pain and suffering to continue. Remember, we are talking about the illegal torture of thousands of male and female prisoners – and their family members. The perception is that you are condoning this mass prisoner torture program going on in CDCR’s system and the related ongoing million-dollar fraud being carried out by your appointees, Secretary Cate et al. – by your failure to stop it.

The policies and practices at issue violate basic human rights principles and are clear violations of the Constitution and international law, which bans torture for any reason.

All this comes, as you know, at an enormous cost to all California taxpayers: At least $73,000 per year for each SHU and Ad-Seg prisoner, compared to approximately $52,000 for a general population prisoner – while every other citizen in the state has had social services slashed!

The perception is that you are condoning this mass prisoner torture program going on in CDCR’s system and the related ongoing million-dollar fraud being carried out by your appointees, Secretary Cate et al. – by your failure to stop it.

Meanwhile, we continue to work for constructive change. Since the PBSP SHU became operational in December 1989, the entire state prison system has had an explosion of riots, to the point where level fours are locked down most of the time, without meaningful rehabilitation programs, opportunities etc.

To change this, we have just launched an initiative to reduce the violence in the CDCR system by calling on all prisoners to end hostilities between various groups. (See http://www.prisons.org/documents/agreement-to-end-hostilities.pdf). We hope for your cooperation in this effort; we will communicate with you further about it soon.

[photo: This banner provided the theme for a hunger strike solidarity vigil at the Alameda County Courthouse on Aug. 11. 2011. – Photo: United for Drug Policy Reform]

Gov. Brown, the barbaric, inhumane treatment of prisoners in this state has gone on for far too long now. We are asking you to take corrective action today by ordering Secretary Cate to immediately halt such practices consistent with our points presented above, and thereby end the unnecessary pain and suffering such practices cause to prisoners, their loved ones outside, and the rest of the majority of the 40 million Californians who have a conscience.

Sincerely,

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

Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor Prisoner Representatives

P.S. We (prisoners) reject version 7.0 (June 29, 2012) of the “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification, and Management Strategy,” as prisoners rejected version 5.5 (March 1, 2012).

Send our brothers some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP SHU D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532, and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP SHU D1-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532. Mail to Arturo Castellanos and Antonio Guillen is severely restricted.

Update from Pelican Bay prisoners on the proposal of CDCR regarding Gang Management Policy Change

May 28, 2012

Greetings! Here’s a brief update on where things presently stand re: CDCR’s Gang Management Policy Change Proposal.

The bottom line is this; CDCR will submit their proposal to the office of Administrative Law (OAL), in the near future for a public comment period, and incorporation into the CCR Title 15.

Once the proposal is submitted to the (OAL), it’s a done deal… and absent peaceful direct action to force the mandatory major changes required in order to make any gang management policy changes acceptable, we’ll be stuck with CDCR’s version as is for the next 25 years.

Back in March, we rejected CDCR’s proposal in its entirety! And, people need to remember that as it stands now, CDCR’s proposal means that ALL prisoners classified as validated gang members (STG-1) will continue to be confined in the SHU, tortured in definitely based on the same sham “intelligence” based informational criteria that’s been used & abused by CDCR’s goon squads for the past 25+ years (e.g. confidential informant/debriefers claiming you’re involved in “criminal gang activity”, keeps you in SHU without being formally charged, etc…)

This is not acceptable for reasons spelled out in our March rejection of CDCR’s proposal… and it’s now time for people to present their views on what they believe would be the smartest, most effective peaceful action response to CDCR’s proposed changes; and the best time for it??

People can do this via word of mouth and use of the various periodicals covering these issues!

Also, a big shout out in solidarity and appreciation for the continuing support efforts from families, loved ones, and organizations including Mary Ratcliff of San Francisco Bay View, Kendra Castaneda, and California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, to name a few!! The outside collective efforts & support of families, loved ones, and other people of conscience together with our collective efforts inside all comes together as a powerful force!!

Together we win, divided we fall!!

With respect & solidarity, Todd Ashker

Photos of Cell in Pelican Bay S.P. SHU

We received these photos and the descriptions from Alice Lynd, a supporter, friend and comrade in the fight against injustices. Thank you Alice and Todd:

Dear Supporters of prisoners in security housing units:
I have scanned and attached five photographs that were taken of Todd Ashker’s cell in the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison, Short Corridor, in July 2007. Todd asked us to share them with whoever is interested.

Todd Ashker has been in a Security Housing Unit (SHU) for more than 25 years, since August 1986, and in the Pelican Bay SHU nearly 22 years, since May 2, 1990. The following is his description of the attached photographs.

#1 Front view of cell D1-119. The locked tray slot is where I get my food trays, mail, etc.

#2 View from approximately one step inside cell door area. View if of the 2 cement slab bunks. Note, back concrete wall along bunks is not insulated – 6″ of cold concrete separates cell from the outside and cells are like meat locker ice boxes in winter. My “personal” items are at the right hand ends of the 2 bunks. The rest is all legal material and books related to civil cases challenging medical and SHU/Parole Board issues. The bags and cups on left lower bunk is my canteen I’d just been issued. Notably, I have less than half of the property depicted in the pictures today after much of it was trashed, and I was forced to store a lot, as retaliatory acts last June of 2011 in response to my posted formal complaint and notice of hunger strike activity. I was doing a legal motion at the time – lower bunk is desk.

#3 View of front of cell from inside cell. The home made shelf holds my cosmetics (shampoo, soap, lotion, toothpaste) and was destroyed in June 2011 by staff.

#4 View of sink, toilet, desk area with my TV I’ve had since 1992; and cement stool. Bags are canteen I’d just received; most are nearly empty.

#5 Floor area standing just inside cell, rough concrete floor.

Alice Lynd for Todd Ashker, #C58191, Box 7500/D1-119, Crescent City, CA 95532

Hunger strike organizer: Ad-Seg/ASU units are bad news – charges filed against peaceful hunger strikers by CDCR

Hunger strike organizer: Ad-Seg/ASU units are bad news
December 13, 2011
by Todd Ashker
In: SF Bay View

Written Dec. 4, 2011 – On Nov. 30, myself and several other men here – whom CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) has labeled as “leaders” of the peaceful protests – received serious rule violations, charging us with causing a riot or mass disturbance. They referred the charges for felony prosecution to the local D.A’s office. We’re all hoping the D.A. will file so we can expose these human rights violations even more.

Feeling as if he’s being buried alive, an unknown prisoner depicts the torturous effects of control units – called SHUs (security housing units), ASUs, Ad/Segs etc. – on the people confined in them. Fighting to end their use – or at least mitigate their abuses – is the purpose of the hunger strikes. – Drawing by unknown prisoner

With respect to Ad/Seg units having a voice, we’d included all SHUs and Ad/Seg units from the beginning in our formal complaint and in letters from me and others, and in the July protest, all the SHUs and many Ad/Seg units were referenced by the media.

It’s a good thing to have some exposure of related violations – torture going on in the Ad/Segs. We all need to be united and work together on making the wrongs in this system right!
It’s a good thing to have exposure of torture going on in the Ad/Segs. We all need to be united and work together on making the wrongs in this system right!

The Ad-Seg/ASU (Administrative Segregation Unit) units are bad news! I was never housed in them until being put in the one here on Sept. 29. This was CDCR’s retaliatory action against 15 of us here.

We were all isolated on a tier, in strip cells with nothing but a set of clothes and fish kit – spoon, cup, bar of soap etc. – with ice cold air blasting outta the vents! The warden personally told us, “As soon as you eat, you can go back to your SHU (Security Housing Units) cells.”

My “mattress” was not even a mattress. It only had lumps of padding in places and was only 50 inches long – on ice cold concrete. This was all intentional, by design. They know that when a person is subject to cold, the body requires more energy. When you’re not eating, the ice will cause your body to feed on muscle and internal organs and the brain etc. much faster. Permanent damage can happen a lot faster.

And the way it (the unit) is built, it’s next to impossible to get staff’s attention if one of us fell out in the cell. We’d have been through – DOA! We were there until Oct. 13, and I went from 200 pounds to 176 pounds. We were going to remain there to the death.

CDCR top administration begged us to come off of the hunger strike, promising real change soon, and made a presentation to our attorneys that satisfied them regarding CDCR’s sincerity. So we agreed to come off – we told our mediation team via phone conference on the 13th that our decision to end our hunger strike was ours alone, and it shouldn’t affect any other prisoners’ decision on their own hunger strike!

After my experience in the ASU, I can see the only major difference between ASU and here in PBSP SHU is the lack of a TV or radio in the cell. CDCR was supposed to retrofit the ASU cells for appliance capability since 2009 – I have the memo!

They’re able to buy the same canteen and get a yearly package after a year. Their yard cages actually are better than our cement ice box yards, because you can see and talk to other guys and have a better view of the outside.

Still, all of these lockup units are foul places to be – even temporarily. And the acts and omissions by staff in such units are illegal – in principle and especially in practice – long term!

It’s very important to include the ASUs in the SHU actions because it’s clear that when CDCR does revise (SHU) policy and men start getting out to general population, there’ll be a lot of abuses by some staff fabricating reasons to “investigate” such prisoners to getting off general population and they’ll be subject to a lot of ASU time – at least at first.

Once a pattern of such abuse of power is established, it can be exposed to the court. Therefore, if for no other reason, it’s critical to include ASUs in the process of challenging SHU issues!

Send our brother some love and light – he is one of the original organizers of the historic hunger strikes that involved over 12,000 California prisoners at their peak in late September, early October: Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP D1-119, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.
They continue to torture us like animals

by the men in Calipatria State Prison Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU)

Written Nov. 22, 2011 – They continue to torture us like animals. These high ranking officials continue to promise us some change to our living conditions. We continue to stare at four concrete walls with not much to do.

A gang of prison investigators searches for reasons to label California prisoners members of prison gangs so they can confine them to control units, called SHUs, ASUs and Ad/Segs. – Drawing: R. Garcia

One goes to committee and asks as to our transfers to Pelican Bay SHU, and Assistant Warden S. Anderson, IGI (Institutional Gang Investigator) Trujillo and Warden Leland McEwen simply state that they aren’t changing anything, so “parole, debrief or DIE.” That’s what everyone is getting back in response to these ICC (Institutional Classification Committee) hearings; that in itself is torture.

We would also like to express an individual just hung himself due to this psychologically torturous environment. It’s ugly back here. Now where’s the rehabilitation in that aspect?

The conditions definitely has not changed and the validations has yet to yield. IGI Duarte is one of the main individuals abusing his power, continuing to place men in indeterminate isolation.

Conditions in Calipatria ASU have not changed, and all we continue to hear is lies, lies, lies and more lies! With this we close with our appreciation and respect.