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FOLLOW THE LIBERATE THE CAGED VOICES CAMPAIGN AND HEAR DIRECTLY FROM THOSE MOST IMPACTED HERE

California Prison Focus, Liberate the Caged Voices, 4408 Market Street, Suite A, Oakland, CA 94608, www.prisons.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 21, 2020 

ATTENTION: GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM AND RALPH DIAZ, SECRETARY OF CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS (CDCR) 

CPF and HPHM DEMAND FOR IMMEDIATE STRATEGIC RELEASE and Support Letter for the Principal Thinkers of the 2011 and 2013 California Prisoner Hunger Strikes and all members of the Ashker Class Action Settlement 

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California Prison Focus is calling on Governor Gavin Newsom and Secretary Ralph Diaz to act immediately under the current humanitarian health crisis to release imprisoned human rights activists/members of the Prisoner Human Rights Movement (PHRM), and Principal Thinkers who authored and signed the historic 2012 Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH), including Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Arturo Castellanos, Antonio Guillen, and Todd Ashker. (See the full list of signers below.) California Prison Focus stands by these human rights activists who were subjected for decades to the cruel and unusual punishment of long-term solitary confinement, who are not a threat to public safety and, to the contrary, are much needed in their communities. 

These men are particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, and thus immediate action under the Emergency Services California Act, Government Code section 8550 must be taken. In 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used these powers to immediately reduce prison overcrowding in California. (CCPOA v. Schwarzenegger (2008) 163 Cal. App. 4th 802) We demand this same power be asserted today. These men have been historically stigmatized and devalued by CDCR, thus priority attention at the highest level of government is critical. 

As we know, COVID-19 poses the greatest risk of death to the elderly and those who are medically fragile. Several of these Principal Thinkers with and for whom we advocate, have compromised immune systems, chronic illnesses and complex medical needs, including Post-SHU Syndrome, PTSD, asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, making them particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, according to the Center for Disease Control. These conditions were caused or exacerbated by decades of deplorable conditions, abuse and medical neglect, while confined within California prison Secure Housing Units (SHU).

Throughout 2016, CDCr was forced to release approximately 2,000 prisoners from indefinite solitary confinement (California Secure Housing Units – SHU). This victory came as a result of the heroic efforts of the organizers from the Pelican Bay SHU and the 30,000 plus participants of the 2011 and 2013 California Prisoner Hunger Strikes. These strikes propelled the Ashker v. Brown litigation that eliminated indefinite solitary confinement. Ultimately CDCr, who for years had presented these men as “the worst of the worst,” was forced to admit that the strike organizers and over 2,000 others who had been held in solitary confinement for eleven years or more could be released from SHU without risk to the public or institutional safety. Because of the sacrifices those individuals made, countless others have been saved from going through decades-long solitary confinement torture as they did. 

“Release the elders. We have to be mindful when talking about this Corona virus in prison and how it affects us, that the prison population already has an issue with health and the lack of proper health care and treatment. The unsanitary living conditions in prison were already at an epic proportion and have been continuously deteriorating. With that being said, now we have this corona virus situation. And the elderly are at the highest risk. We need to look at the prisoners who they were supposed to start releasing in the first place after the Coleman Lawsuit and release them right now so they can be home with their families in a safe, non-genocidal environment, and where they won’t be affected or put other people at risk when they come up in here. We demand and we should demand that the elders be released on these terms. The 60 and over bill should be passed.” 

-- K.A.G.E. Universal Artivist, Ragee from No Joke Theater, Lancaster State Prison

Since their release from SHU these men have been promoting the Agreement to End Hostilities and alternatives to violence on the yards and throughout the prisons. They have been engaged in positive programming and mentoring the youth around them. Many are active in community-building and social justice work outside of the prison walls. CDCr not only fails to recognize the huge contribution of these human rights activists, but has systematically retaliated against them, and continues to undermine the Agreement to End Hostilities. CDCR’s use of confidential information that is often coerced and unreliable, is one of several tactics being used to do so (see PF Issue 53, p.19 and PF Issue 56, Pg. 9). Testimonies from incentivized informants result in manufactured rule violations used to impose loss of privileges and 1,3,7 or 15-year parole denials. 

These are state-sanctioned policies being used to obstruct parole for those individuals that CDCr wishes to silence and/or retaliate against and how they undermine the Agreement to End Hostilities, under the color of law. This is also how they are undermining the decisions made by California voters with the passing of Proposition 57, 47, 64, SB 260, SB 261, AB 1308, SB 394, SB 1437, AB 1448 and other legislation passed to reduce California’s imprisoned population.

One of the Principal Thinkers who is 61 years old, survived 32 years in solitary confinement and has been incarcerated since 1981 - who is known as a peacemaker on the yard and often referred to as the Nelson Mandela of the Prisoner Human Rights Movement, recently suffered from a stroke and still has not been released. This is in flagrant violation of AB 1448, which was voted into law to provide an opportunity for release to those who are 60 or older and who have served a minimum of 25 years of continuous incarceration, such as this individual and six of the other elders who signed the Agreement to End Hostilities and are still in prison. Statistically the chance of these men reoffending is negligible. This is not an issue of public safety, but rather of power and politics. This is why we need transparency regarding the application of California laws to prevent obstruction through campaigns of harassment, reprisals and corruption. 

Deliberate indifference—another act of retaliation—including medical neglect, often resulted in repeated misdiagnosis (such as asthma rather than a hole in the heart) causing significant injury to individuals, both physically and mentally, from which many continue to suffer. Today, those same lasting ailments are reportedly being untreated due to delays within the prison medical Duckett system, caused by the virus. In addition, many of those who participated in the 60-day hunger strikes of 2013 now have lasting medical conditions such as compromised kidney function. One organizer and signer of the AEH, Raymond ‘Chavo’ Perez, has already died - in prison - after surviving 18 years in solitary confinement, leaving behind his wife and family, who were never able to welcome him home. 

Of the 15 surviving signers of the Agreement, the median age is 59, and the average time served is 33 years. Each one of these men spent no less than eleven years in solitary confinement. Not only has the torture not been acknowledged nor restitutions made, not one of these men has been granted parole, despite the fact that the parole eligibility dates for these men are as follows: 1982, 1984, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2016. These men have few if any valid behavioral violations against them. 

Thus, the people who are at the greatest risk for death from COVID-19, who have contributed to a dramatic reduction of violence within California prisons, who pose the least public safety risk to our communities and have the most to offer must be released. The California Hunger Strikers and members of the Ashker class settlement have suffered enough while in the custody of CDCr. These individuals had their constitutional rights violated under the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment. Their illegally enhanced sentences must not be allowed to become death sentences. 

To this end, we present the following demand for actions to be taken immediately: 

Primary Demands:

  • Release all adults in CDCR custody who are medically fragile or over the age of 60, starting with the authors of the Agreement to End Hostilities and followed by the remaining members of the Ashker Class Action Settlement and participants of the 2011 and 2013 Hunger Strikes. Apply AB 1448 as intended. 

  • The right for the signers of The AEH, the members of the Ashker Class Action and all 2011 and 2013 hunger strikers to be safe from retaliation as a result of these demands, including further torture, isolation, or, as laid out in the Prisoner Human Rights Movement Blueprint, from being coerced, threatened and blackmailed to betray fellow prisoners with false accusations. 

Supplemental Demands: 

  • Release to the public updates on the existing plan and procedures in place to address COVID-19 and how adequate care will be provided for all who fall under the Coleman and Ashker Class Action Settlements. 

  • Expedite parole hearings and release all people who have anticipated release dates in 2020 and 2021 to parole supervision. 

  • Provide free tablets within all CDCR institutions and facilitate email communication through Corrlinks services to support prisoners in the establishment and maintenance of family ties and bonds. This is needed to mitigate the closing of all visitations at CDCR institutions which adversely impacts family communication and bonds.

  • Support Nancy Skinner’s Senate Bill 1064, prohibiting an employee of, or private entity under contract with, the department from finding any state prisoner guilty of a rules violation if that finding or decision is based on, or relies on, in whole or in part, any uncorroborated information from an in-custody confidential informant.

  • Create transparency regarding the application of AB 1448, Prop 57 and other California resentencing laws so that they may be applied as intended.

  • DROP LWOP

  • Reduce jail admissions by reclassifying misdemeanor offenses that do not threaten public safety into non-jailable offenses and diverting as many people as possible to community- based mental health and substance abuse treatment. 

  • Eliminate parole and probation revocations for technical violations for behaviors that would not warrant incarceration for people who are not on parole or probation.

  • Shut down immigration detention centers.

  • End police brutality, inside prisons and out. 

 

“We decided, standing up together asserting our humanity even at the cost of our own lives, was better than rotting and dying alone in our concrete tombs. Nonviolent united action was the only path that made sense .... Our programs for the youth aim to break the cycle of violence. The programs we created show we are ‘the best of the best’ not ‘the worst of the worst’.” -- Solidarity statement from the four Prisoner Reps, aka Principal Thinkers.

“It’s only because of The Agreement to End Hostilities that I am now home, after 18 years. It’s because the Agreement created a positive self-help environment where each group can now safely engage in the cultural exchange of materials, tools and ideas, in unity. It is because of these Principal Thinkers that there are no more mass race wars within California prisons, despite the false propaganda orchestrated by CDC small r, that these men are violent, dangerous ongoing threats to public safety. We must liberate the elderly.”  -- Min. King X of CPF and K.A.G.E. Universal, mentee of, and outside delegate for, the organizers of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes 

“The Prisoner Human Rights Movement and friends are demanding that prisoners who are held over 25 years and beyond be released in the interest of justice, especially the elderly and all ill prisoners who are clearly vulnerable and at risk of not only dying from the corona virus or suffering from a civil death - where men and women are left to suffer indefinitely - which falls under the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which is cruel and unusual punishment.” -- PHRM Activist

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The Agreement to End Hostilities 

August 12, 2012

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, that now is the time to 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 October 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 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 [i.e., forcing CDCR to open up all GP main lines, and return to a rehabilitative-type system of meaningful programs/privileges, including lifer conjugal visits, etc. via peaceful protest activity/non-cooperation e.g., hunger strike, no labor, etc. etc.]. 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, OCS, and SSU’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 [i.e., 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/CCPOA – Prison Guard’s 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 [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg Units], for decades!!! We send our love and respects to all those of like mind and heart... onward in struggle and solidarity... 

Presented by the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective: 

Todd Ashker, C58191, Arturo Castellanos, C17275, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C35671, Antonio Guillen, P81948

And the Representatives Body: Danny Troxell, B76578, George Franco, D46556, Ronnie Yandell, V27927, Paul Redd, B72683, James Baridi Williamson, D34288. Alfred Sandoval, D61000 Louis Powell, B59864, Alex Yrigollen, H32421, Gabriel Huerta, C80766 Frank Clement, D07919, Raymond Chavo Perez, K12922, James Mario Perez, B48186 

 

Signers of the Agreement to End Hostilities:

Name, CDC #

Age

Admission Date

Eligible since

Parole Denials

Yrs in CA SHU

solitary conf.

Post SHU Syndrome

Todd Ashker, C58191

56

1985

2005

3

28

Y

Arturo Castellanos, C17275

59

1980

2000

3

26

Y

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C35671

61

1981

1997

5

32

Y

Antonio Guillen, P81948

55

2000

2023

 

over ten

Y

Danny Troxell, B76578

66

1979

1996

4

over ten

Y

George Franco, D46556

54

1989

2000

4

over ten

Y

Ronnie Yandell, V27927

57

2004

2026

 

over ten

Y

Paul Redd, B72683

63

1976

1982

22

over thirty

Y

James Baridi Williamson, D34288

56

1986

2016

 

26

Y

Alfred Sandoval, D61000

62

1987

LWOP

 

over ten

Y

Louis Powell, B59864

68

1986

1999

4

over twenty

Y

Alex Yrigollen, H32421

50

1992

2004

2

over ten

Y

             

Frank Clement, D07919

53

1985

1998

3

over ten

Y

Raymond Chavo Perez, K12922

Died in prison

     

18

Y

James Mario Perez, B48186

66

1978

1984

9

over ten

Y

Average

59 yrs old

         

 

Visit YOUTUBE KAGE Universal to learn about the elders and their story through the art and music of CPF’s Co-Director and outside delegate of his still incarcerated brothers, Min. King X.

Support all California Prison Focus campaigns HERE.  

EDUCATE YOURSELF!   

[Clich here for a "How-To" video for calling a prison on behalf of somebody inside.]