CCI Step Down Program is Bogus: we shall stop participating Monday, May 11, 2015

From a letter by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa:

May 7, 2015 [received June 18th]

… I have taken the position to shut down this fake SDP crap. So, all of Step 4, who have the most to lose, meaning, some of them are a couple of weeks away from completing their Step 4, and for some they are one, two, three, four months away from being on a mainline and for some of them it’s been 13, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 39 years since they last been in general population, and for Step 3 it ranges from 4 to 31 years.

We all agree that these latest types of 115s/RVR’s is just another way to keep us held in SHU or a means of bringing us back, once we make it out to the GP mainline and we’d rather take our stance now!!  So, you can start spreading this good news to Corcoran, New Folsom and Pelican Bay by radio, news articles and when family members travel to PBSP and the other two SHUs.

We shall stop participating Monday, May 11, 2015, indefinitely. We won’t be attending any CC hearings, directly dealing with Steps 3 and 4, nor shall we go to those group meetings, or do any more of those journals. Now, there are two groups for each Step 3 and 4, and that’s a total of 40 prisoners who would have been attending those group meetings weekly. This SDP cannot function without prisoners participating.

I need for you to share that Steps 3 and 4 prisoners will not continue to participate in the SDP that is corrupt and discriminatory against all SDP prisoners, and has been trying to provoke all of us to rebel, get angry and act out.

Our problems come from the Warden, Kim Holland; Chief Deputy Warden, J. Gutierrez; Chief Deputy Warden W. Sullivan; Capt. P. Metzers; IGI Lt. J. Tyree; R. Diaz; Deputy Director of Division of Adult Institutions, Sacramento office, M. Tann; former SDP Facilitator, B. Snider; CC-II at CCI, Ybarra; and all of these Tehachapi officials and the one Sacramento official who have knowledge that we as SHU/SDP prisoners have been denied our fundamental SHU rights; and as of two weeks ago we are being denied the use of a razor, or should I say, we have a choice to take a five (5) minute shower or take a (5) minute shave, but not both.

Now, 90% of all SDP privileges have been denied us from Jan. 2014 to May 2015. This is a failed program and all of the Heads of CDCr know what is going on here at Tehachapi, CCI.

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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.

CDCR’s new con game to undermine our class action suit

by Randall ‘Sondai’ Ellis, in: SF Bay View, November 29, 2014

In order to successfully advance in each step of CDCR’s newly enacted Step Down Program

Randall “Sondai” Ellis was locked up at the age of 16, about the time this picture was taken, for a crime that took no one’s life. At 19, he was placed in solitary confinement on the testimony of “confidential informants.” CDC has never identified them or revealed their testimony. Like many other accomplished jailhouse lawyers, he’s still there 32 years later. “My friends call me Sondai,” he says, “which means to push forward and endure.”

Randall “Sondai” Ellis was locked up at the age of 16, about the time this picture was taken, for a crime that took no one’s life. At 19, he was placed in solitary confinement on the testimony of “confidential informants.” CDC has never identified them or revealed their testimony. Like many other accomplished jailhouse lawyers, he’s still there 32 years later. “My friends call me Sondai,” he says, “which means to push forward and endure.”

(SDP), prisoners are expected to fill out and complete a series of thought policing or brainwashing workbooks. One such workbook is entitled “The Con Game” and purports to elucidate for the prisoner via “self-directed journaling” the ways in which he either consciously or unconsciously is a con artist and criminal.

However, empirical evidence irrefutably proves that the true con artists and criminals are CDCR, the Department Review Board (DRB), Office of Correctional Safety (OCS), Institutional Gang Investigations (IGI), Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and the Classification Staff Representative (CSR) – and the con game they’re running is the SDP, replete with such old cons as “Three Card Monty,” “Smoke and Mirrors,” “The Bait and Switch,” word games and manipulation.

So let’s look at it. It appears that the court has issued CDCR yet another “save.” It has effectively permitted CDCR to undermine the class action lawsuit filed in Ashker v. Brown et al., CV-05796-CW, challenging the use of long term solitary confinement and the lack of any meaningful periodic review of our status towards release from said confinement, as was mandated – but never enforced by a court – in Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1098-1101(9th Cir. 1986).

Following the suspension of the hunger strikes, CDCR issued a series of memorandums that it said would effectively move it away from the current status-based punitive system to a more behavioral based individual account­ability system, where a man would be punished based on his individual actions and not based on this current “he said she said” game. That game has evolved into a mechanism whereby the so-called investigators fabricate so-called evidence of gang activity and association and membership and is based on things like “your name was discovered on a roster in another validated prisoner’s property” or whatever comes to their imagination.

The court, seeming to support the prisoners’ position in Ashker v. Brown, denied CDC’s motion to dismiss the suit saying that “CDCR may be violating prisoners’ con­stitutional rights by confining them to the SHU indefinitely and without offering them a meaningful way out.”

It has effectively permitted CDCR to undermine the class action lawsuit filed in Ashker v. Brown et al., CV-05796-CW, challenging the use of long term solitary confinement and the lack of any meaningful periodic review of our status towards release from said confinement.

True to its form, CDCR released a few hostages from the SHU and set in motion a pilot program that it touted as a change to the current policy. It sold this policy to the Legislature in a series of hearings and informed the prison population via a series of memorandums.

CDCR claimed to be initiating case-by-case (CBC) reviews of every prisoner assigned to the SHU, beginning with those with the lengthiest validation dates, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s etc.

In the meantime CDCR began playing “Three Card Monty.” It claimed that as part of these reviews, the DRB would look back four years for evidence of “gang activity” to determine one’s placement within a given step in the so-called Step Down Program (SDP). The CCPOA, the guards’ union, threw a fit, filing a motion to intervene in the case. It claimed that CDCR was putting guards in danger if they released these guys.

As the process evolved, the court hinted that the new pilot program wasn’t a cure for the prisoners’ claims because it was only a pilot program, so CDCR moved to make the program permanent by enacting a rule change with the OAL. At the same time, CDCR set up a sanctioned “punishment facility” at Tehachapi, where the program is so dysfunctional, so disrespectful, so degrading, it is said to be even worse than the torturous conditions that spawned the hunger strikes at Pelican Bay!

Here, the DRB selects who it will subject to additional punishment by pl­acing him in either Step 3 or 4 under the guise of there being some sort of recent gang activity uncovered by the IGI or OCS – “smoke and mirrors.”

In a subsequent ruling, the Ashker court ruled to certify the case as a class action and said that anyone confined to the SHU at Pelican Bay for 10 continuous years could adequately represent the class and anyone placed into the new SDP could not represent the class! So CDCR began relocating the named plaintiffs to the new punishment facility Step 3, though one or two went directly to the general population.

And wouldn’t you know it, the DRB has changed its focus. It is no longer reviewing those with the lengthiest validation dates. They are now focusing their reviews on those who have been confined to the SHU at Pelican Bay the longest.

Randall-Sondai-EllisSo anyone who left here for whatever reason – out to court, transferred for

medical treatment or sent to another SHU for a brief period, as experienced by myself – is not viewed as having been held hostage in Pelican Bay for 10 continuous years. Many of us were transferred to Corcoran SHU back in ‘99-‘00 as part of the first con game, the active/inactive reviews.

CDCR set up a sanctioned “punishment facility” at Tehachapi, where the program is so dysfunctional, so disrespectful, so degrading, it is said to be even worse than the torturous conditions that spawned the hunger strikes at Pelican Bay!

Now all of a sudden our DRB reviews will be scheduled according to the date they deem you were “returned” to the PBSP SHU. So one can end up being in the SHU 30 to 40 years, as in my and other prisoners’ cases, as long as he’s transferred to another SHU before he reaches the now requisite 10-year continuous mark – “word games and manipulation.”

This effectively undermines the entire case, and CDCR is taking the “save” it’s been given by now “bait and switching” its stated procedure of reviewing the hostages by length of validation, to those by length of placement in the Pelican Bay SHU. They didn’t even bother to issue a memo for this latest arbitrary policy shift, proving their nefarious if not criminal intent.

This is nothing but a con game, a scheme to buy time so that they can conspire to ensure that they keep this place full of hostages. After all, they have a 10-year window to torture their next victims to death, or worse, at “the punishment facility.”

This con game must be viewed for what it really is, an ongoing and contin­uing conspiracy designed to keep as many hostages in the SHU as possible, while the guards sit back and collect exorbitant pensions in the name of safety and security. Who said crime doesn’t pay?

This con game must be viewed for what it really is, an ongoing and contin­uing conspiracy designed to keep as many hostages in the SHU as possible, while the guards sit back and collect exorbitant pensions in the name of safety and security. Who said crime doesn’t pay?

In closing, Ashker v. Brown should be amended to make a claim for damages we suffered as a result of being subjected to these unconstitutional practices, which have resulted in irreparable injury to their victims. For more information, visit Justiceforsondai.wordpress.com.

Release the hostages!

Send our brother some love and light: Randall ‘Sondai’ Ellis, C-68764, PBSP SHU D1-223, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

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.

Emergency Press Conference – Challenging Jeffrey Beard’s Disinformation and Lies – Stop Solitary Confinement Torture in CA Prisons – Support 5 Demands of Hunger Strikers

Event: Emergency Press Conference – Challenging Jeffrey Beard’s Disinformation and Lies – Stop Solitary Confinement Torture in CA Prisons – Support 5 Demands of Hunger Strikers

Date: Wednesday, August 7, 10 AM

Location: LA Times Building

Address: 202 W. 1st. Los Angeles

Contact: 213-840-5348  (Keith James)

This was sent in as one of the comments to the shameless op-ed that Jeffrey Beard, secretary of the CDCR, wrote for the LA Times on the 30th day of the California prisoner hunger strike:

Jeffrey Beard, in an op-ed piece in the LA Times, August 6th, 2013:

“There are SHUs at four prisons in California. At three of them — in Tehachapi, Corcoran and Folsom — there are outdoor-facing windows in the cells that allow for direct sunlight. At Pelican Bay, all SHU cells have skylights. In all of the facilities, inmates in the SHU have radios and color TVs with access to channels such as ESPN. They have weekly access to a law library and daily exercise time. Many have cellmates; they can earn degrees; they can send and receive letters; and their family and friends can visit them every weekend. SHU inmates receive the same meals and portions as general population inmates. This is not “solitary confinement,” in that prisoners can have visitors and, in many cases, interaction with other inmates.”

A response:

Dear Dr Beard,

I just want to note in response to your op-ed piece in the LA Times that of course there is no direct sunlight through a window. A person will not receive vital vitamin D through a window. Have you seen the concrete box that is called the “yard” in Pelican Bay State Prison SHU? How would you feel if your loved one or yourself had that as your outdoor experience for a year? For 5 years? 10plus years? For 25 years?

The radio’s and very small tv’s were bought by the families and friends of the inmates. Everyone knows that, even though it is their property, it is an incentive that you can apparently take away as a dictator. In the area where Pelican Bay SHU is, there are not many radio/TV stations at all.

Law Library has been denied some men in Corcoran-SHU for weeks. It is also treated as an incentive, but you of all people must know that the law should be accessible for all people, especially those you hold imprisoned.

There is no daily exercise. Sometimes the prisoners in Corcoran SHU cannot go out to their “dog cages”(that is their yard, Dr Beard!) because of “maintenance” (when finished, the yard is still closed for a few days after) or because staff does not give yard. If you were a prisoner and you knew your meager rights were taken from you, what would you do, Dr Beard?

Visits are always behind glass. How would you feel, what would your emotional state of mind be, if you could never touch / be in physical vicinity of your loved ones? You think that touching a fellow inmate replaces this? Bumping into your fellow inmate because you share a tiny cell the size of your parking lot, will be enough to claim they can have some kind of inter-human contact? When guards put shackles on you, do you think that counts as human contact? You as a psychologist should know better.

Did you know, Dr Beard, that visits to the people held in the SHU are only one hour per week? If you live far away and cannot come every week, it is 2 hours for once.

Did you know, Dr Beard, that often your visiting booths are fully booked and that the visitor have to wait another week to see their loved one? Or go back to their country and come back another year? Because the visitor was denied to book a visit, because your employees had to clear them on arrival so that they had no time to make the appointments 2 weeks in advance? Do you call that visits?

About degrees: how do prisoners pay for college money, Dr Beard? How can they study without a computer? That you suddenly, just before the hunger strike started, changed the rules and are now willing to let SHU prisoners have typewriters (hopelessly backward, but anyway), is not helping a lot when prisoners want to study. What about building educational classrooms and having SHU prisoners go to school there? That would be really meaningful. Now you are just hoping to convince people who do not know about what it is like inside, that it is not that bad.

You also say: “they can send and receive letters”, why is it that Corcoran SHU keeps letters behind for weeks before sending them out? Why is it that prisoners in the SHU receive letters that were written weeks ago? Why don’t you have Jpay.com installed so that people can send a mail to our loved ones in prison, and that these are printed and handed to them? Just like in so many other states? In Ohio they even have the opportunity to send their handwritten or typed letter back via Jpay. I am not saying this will solve the issue of being in a concrete box for years, if not decades, but you say that it is all not that bad, and I resist that. Because it is extremely bad. Also in comparison to other places in your country.

How do you think prisoners can write letters if they have no jobs to earn money to pay for stamps? They can get indignant envelopes maybe, but they will gather debts and these are only one per week maybe. Do you think that is enough to keep in contact in a meaningful way with family and friends?

You want prisoners to be forgotten. You want them all to be shown as evil, no good for anything, right? You want some to get extra punishment that no court has given them, because that shows how tough it is inside California’s prisons. But what about rehabilitating? The people inside the SHU’s are also under the CDCR, and they also need to be rehabilitated. Do you really think that informing on others is morally right? You are not a pastor, or a reverend, but you do claim “correcting” and “rehabilitating” in the title of your organization.

Do you really think that criminal gangs will stop existing when you lock up conscious prisoners who are intelligent and who want the best for the community? Like all the conscious New Afrikan prisoners, calling them members of the “Black Guerilla Family”? Criminalizing political ideas? Is that your way of correcting?

Do you think they will bow down to your employees and your policy? And I do not even mention the people inside who have an innocence claim…

So what about SHU time for people who did a violent act, who could be held separately for a while until they too are calm and more redeemed?

So you believe that the hunger strike was organized by criminal gangsters? You should be relieved they show restraint and organize this peaceful protest at which 30,000 participated on day 1, instead of calling for violence. That is something we have not heard from your lips, Dr Beard.

And also, your employees give “115” tickets out to those participating, saying this is seen as a “gang activity”! Dr Beard, do all the people outside joining on fasts for a day, are they also part of this “gang”? Those who wrote about the hunger strike, those who participated in support rallies, wrote cards of encouragement, tweeted and facebooked about it?

Think about it, Dr Beard, if this were a “Hollywood movie”, who would be the heroes? Surely not the people who retaliate against peaceful protesters? Employees who do not follow up the instructions on what to do medically when a hunger strike starts? How can your organization, a professional, state-paid organization, even accept retaliation? Who is the only real gang, Dr Beard? Who is fighting a war and setting up people against each other? Dividing and conquering as a strategy is a losing game, Dr Beard. This Human Rights Defense Action of the Collective Hunger Strike is a show of unity between all different people of all different races.

Dr Beard: SHU is a punishment that (if given at all) should only be given for a short period of time to people who have used violence (not including mentally ill people who should not be held  in a prison setting).  Not for people who have for years on end not been able to go back to general population because they refuse to snitch. Listen to the demands of the prisoners! Your policies are killing people!


Finally: Dr Beard, people who are being kept in your SHU’s are never allowed to make one phonecall.
After the 2011 hunger strikes, they were allowed to have one photo a year made. They were allowed one food package a year. Are you really going to make them, their families and friends, and the rest of society, suffer so that you can say that you are tough on crime and that you will not be told by the dying prisoners in your prison torture camps and by many people outside in their support, what you should have changed long ago?

Shame on you, Beard! If you do not negotiate now, may you be forced to resign!