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Oct 24, 2016

PHSS Monthy Actions: Together to End Solitary

Ron Kelch

keywords: Solitary

From Prison Focus Issue 50
Fall 2016

For a couple years now Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) has organized actions on the 23rd of each month, to draw the public’s attention to the fact that prisoners in solitary confinement are isolated 23 hours or more of every day. We have also asked people to organize their own actions wherever they are.

In recent months the actions had several different forms: The committee on sleep deprivation has created leaflets and letters alerting people to the on-going torture of sleep deprivation in all isolation cells in California prisons. We bring those petitions and letters to various tables and events.

Santa Cruz has regular readers’ theater and speak-out every month. Sarah Shourd’s play, The Box, performed during the month of August, was a very powerful portrayal of life in the SHU and showed the seeds of rebellion against it. PHSS had tables at the play to connect with the audience and distribute information about current struggles in California prisons. Charlie Hinton’s play, Solitary Man, is growing in content— most recent addition is original music—and performances.

On March 23rd, 2016, PHSS cosponsored spoken word event with Hip Hop 4 Change. If the SHU Fits play has been performed on the 23rd of each month in various venues since the beginning of the organized events.

California Families Against Solitary Confinement and Chicano/Mexicano Prison Project in San Diego holds demonstrations on the 23rd of every month, passing our flyers, promoting the Agreement to End Hostilities and talking to people. PHSS folks in the Bay Area set up tables in Oakland at Fruitvale BART station and at farmers’ market. PHSS also returned to the SF pier to connect with tourists visiting Alcatraz. Here is a report from the most recent action there:

From Alcatraz to Pelican Bay: On August 23rd, 2016, we handed out an informational leaflet, “From Alcatraz to Pelican Bay,” at the National Park Service staging area for trips to Alcatraz, an immensely popular international tourist attraction in the middle of San Francisco Bay. We wanted to draw attention to what replaced Alcatraz, a notorious prison from 1934 to 1963 that was made famous by Hollywood movies and its own ghoulish history of guard abuse.

Alcatraz prison erected extreme physical barriers to the prisoners’ rights movement. New supermax prisons were built with the aim of not only physical but total psychological control. Control units were designed by behavioral psychologists. Another early consultant was MIT professor Edgar Schein, who advised using totalitarian methods. Schein learned those methods from POW’s held in Chinese prisons during the Korean War.

In the late 1970s prisoners in the Marion control unit went on hunger strikes. Strikers explained at that time, that the authorities had learned how to control their outward behavior, but the men had minds of their own that the authorities could never get to.

As we pointed out in our leaflet, prisoners have been using that power of an independent mind. A multi-ethnic non-violent movement staged a series of hunger strikes, forcing the California Department of Corrections to end their use of indeterminate solitary confinement. Strike representatives now are challenging the entire “justice” system. The most gratifying aspect the many discussions engendered by our leaflet was the reaction of ordinary people, locals and tourists from around the world. Many concluded that the only solution to the absolute inhumanity governing today’s world is the kind of human solidarity on the ground personified by these prisoners.

Oct 24, 2016

The Shortcomings of a Capitalist Society

Linnea Schurig

keywords: Capitalism

From Prison Focus Issue 50
Fall 2016

There are many economic and financial freedoms guaranteed to one living in a capitalist society, however an industry-regulated economy puts a premium on self-regulation and free enterprise to the detriment of lower-class citizens often unable to benefit from these advantages. These lower classes often comprise minority races and genders and are subject to discrimination and disadvantage; while these circumstances can theoretically be overcome, there are necessarily limits on each groups’ resources and ability to do so.

The platonic ideal of capitalism is that individuals will reap rewards proportionate to the effort they invest in their work; however, this theory is falsely predicated on the notion of “fair play,” that no external or inherent factors influence one’s opportunities and resources, so equality must result. While the benefits of this ideal capitalist system are numerous – namely free competition, self-regulation within the market, profit maximization, and an incentivized work ethic – the disadvantages of the reality are just as profuse; those confined to lower socioeconomic positions face discrimination and an inequitable distribution of resources, and thus a crippling and often insurmountable inequality.

This de facto discrimination, while arguably improving over time, is still rampant within all societal avenues and institutions, and accounts for much of the inequality apparent between socioeconomic classes. Women in particular are discriminated against both in the workplace and society at large, often subjected to lower wages than male counterparts based on antiquated gender conventions that place women at an inherent disadvantage. According to American Society, “the relative pay of women increased from 63 percent of male median hourly earnings in 1973 to 82 percent of male earnings in 2005” (306). While this statistic conceded the gender imbalance to be gradually improving, it is certainly not yet demolished. While many women overcome these obstacles, notably women of power such as Hillary Clinton or Oprah Winfrey, the fact that they must overcome them in the first place speaks to a gender disparity prevalent in society today.

Likewise, there is a distinct disparity between the opportunities and resources accorded to individuals of different races, making it extremely challenging for those of minority standing to achieve equitable socioeconomic status. This discrimination often exists from an early age, and can be preclusive to any sort of academic or economic advancement. The existence of such unequal circumstances from the very outset essentially overturns the functional idea of “fair play;” while the notion of an even playing field is good in theory, it is not reflective of the realities facing the underprivileged or disadvantaged youth of today. While the theory of “fair share,” which posits the idea of everyone receiving an equal cut of society’s cumulative rewards, is no more practical than “fair play” (given that it would undermine the work-reward correlation), a middle ground between the two must be found in order to revitalize the reliable relationship between work and reward that has been lost to the corruption of external factors.

...while the notion of an even playing field is good in theory, it is not reflective of the realities facing the underprivileged or disadvantaged youth of today.

This harsh reality and the obstacles it presents are also felt by those born into poverty, even regardless of their race or gender. Those born into disadvantaged circumstances often cannot surmount these obstacles in order to climb the socioeconomic ladder. There are both material and emotional hurdles that impede the advancement of lower-income individuals. Their lack of resources and consequent lack of appropriate education and opportunities are often preclusive to economic success; likewise, the absence of social incentive and emotional support are not conducive to academic or professional perseverance. In essence, those who cannot succeed due to either physical or psychological deficits are excluded from the rewards system that is capitalism. This has led to a widening income gap and an epidemic of poverty, as well as de facto discrimination and an increasing inability identify success solely with hard work.

Thus, the capitalist system is ruled and governed by those accorded advantages and opportunities at the outset of their development; in essence, the system is skewed toward the dominion of the white male. These white men engage in “opportunity hoarding,” by which they acquire power and then construct an economic and social system that protects and defends it, denying those of lower classes the resources to gain access to their power monopoly.

Oct 24, 2016

Waupun Correctional Institution Hunger Strike: Dying to Live

Kim Pollak

keywords: Hunger Strike

From Prison Focus Issue 50
Fall 2016

On June 7, men incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI) began a hunger strike, aptly named, “Dying to Live.” Although this writer is unsure of the number of participants, or even if the strike has ended, although it does not appear so, what is clear is the purpose of the strike, which is similar to those of the California hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013. In 1990, an individual in the custody of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WI DOC) had to have been “recently violent” to be placed in administrative confinement, but today, a mere “history of violence” is sufficient. Strikers resolved to refuse food until prison officials meet the following six demands:

1. Placing a legislative cap on the use of long term solitary confinement ( A.C.)
2. DOC and WIS legislators adopt/come into Compliance with the U.N. Mandela Rules on the use of
solitary confinement.
3. Oversight board/committee independent of DOC to stop abuse and over classification of prisoners to
“short” and “long” term confinement.
4. Immediate transition and release to a less restrictive housing of prisoners who been on the long term
solitary confinement units for more than a year in the Wisconsin DOC.

5. Proper mental health facilities and treatment of “short“ and “long “term Solitary confinement prisoners.

6. And immediate FBI investigation into the mind control program that the DOC is currently operating in the
system designed to recondition and break the prisoners the DOC considers a threat to their regiment.

According to letters from hunger strikers, the Dying to Live hunger strike had become a serious health crisis. Within 10 days after the strike was initiated, WI DOC had acquired court authorization to force feed the prisoners, and began doing so about three weeks into the strike. The forced feeding was reportedly suspended on August 15. They allowed the two most committed hunger strikers, to go without food or water for 72 hours, until they were severely dehydrated, then tube fed them again on Thursday August 18. Seventy two hours without water is a medically held time limit that would and is generally believed to kill most people. The hunger strikers believe Waupun staff will continue force feeding them every 72 hours in an effort to make the hunger strike as unbearable as possible. One striker said he suspects that the DOC is intentionally keeping them on the brink of death Strikers report other strike-related retaliatory attacks by the Warden and prison staff, as well.

On August 13, community members marched around WCI in downtown Waupun WI in an action organized by Milwaukee IWOC, the Incarcerated Worker’s Organizing Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Marchers protested the use of indefinite solitary confinement and aimed to spread the word about an upcoming nation-wide prisoner protest movement that began on September 9, 2016. One march participant stated, “The DOC has been force-feeding our friends for more than 50 days now, three times a day. There is no reason to shove a tube down someone’s nose three times a day other than to hurt them and coerce them into giving up their protest. We won’t let Secretary Litscher’s goons torture our friends anymore.”

Outside supporters are demanding that the DOC allow LaRon McKinley and Cesar DeLeon to drink bottled water, and that Wisconsin meet the striker’s central demand: a one-year cap on any form of solitary confinement. They are asking people to contact Warden Brian Foster, DOC Secretary Jon Litscher, and Governor Scott Walker. More information, including phone numbers and email addresses which can be found at SolitaryTorture.blogspot. com

From Prison Focus Issue 50
Fall 2016

California Prison Focus has been informed of a limited hunger strike planned in California’s Santa Clara County jails, starting October 17, 2016 and ending midnight October 30. This peaceful protest, according to information that’s been circulated to people out here, is in furtherance of the following demands:

1. End meaningless classification reviews and biased appeal process
2. End placement in solitary confinement when there exists no serious rule violation to merit such placement
3. End policy/practice of denying inmates adequate clothing
4. End jail profiteering and exploitation of prisoners and their families through contract bidding of commissary
vendors based on kick-backs and political incentives for campaign contributions
5. End recidivism and misappropriation of Inmate Welfare Funds

(How the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department can be expected to single-handedly end recidivism within its jurisdiction is beyond us. Nonetheless, whoever put out this information has suggested some concrete ideas. including expanding and providing constructive programming and privileges for all inmates regardless of classification status and the reallocation of Inmate Welfare Funds toward education and rehabilitation programs.)

The information provided indicates that organizers are united in the name of the Prisoner Human Right Movement, and emphasizes:

“By no means is this to be considered an attempt to promote or benefit any form of gang, nor is this to be considered gang activity. This…is an attempt to enlighten and remain inclusive regardless of race, creed or color of top/shirt due to classification. . . .We all have a stake at hand, and we all serve to benefit from any success that may transpire as the result of our collective efforts.”

Oct 24, 2016


Ed Mead


From Prison Focus Issue 50
Fall 2016

Prisoners in various Minnesota correctional facilities filed a class action suit in an effort to secure minimum wages for the work they performed in the many prison industries. The industries in question produce items such as furniture, truck and auto body products, mattresses, textiles, and notebooks; they also provide services such as data entry, assembly, market research, and printing to private companies with whom the state has contracts. The plaintiff prisoners also alleged that prison officials sell prison industry products in interstate commerce to governmental entities and to the private sector. The plaintiffs alleged that in 1991, total sales for prison industries exceeded $11 million, and forty percent of the sales were in the private sector.

The prisoners are paid between fifty and seventy-five cents per hour, and they may earn good time credits on those days they work. The substance of their complaint consisted of an alleged violation of their statutory and constitutional rights by the state’s failure to pay them minimum or prevailing wages for the work performed in prison industries, and by punishing prisoners who refuse to work in industries by depriving them of good time credits.

This case, like so many others filed on the prison employment issue, boils down to the thirteenth amendment’s sanctioning of slavery for this segment of society. Regarding prisoners, the district judge said, “they are in fact engaged in involuntary servitude, not employment.” “The law is clear,” the court continued, “that prisoners may be required to work and that any compensation for their labor exists by the grace of the state.” The bottom line, it was held, is that “the Thirteenth Amendment’s exclusion of prisoner labor from the prohibition on involuntary servitude is a[n] economic reality”

Title 18 U.S.C. § 1761, the Ashurst-Sumners Act, provides that: “[w]hoever knowingly transports in interstate commerce any goods, wares, or merchandise manufactured, produced, or mined, wholly or in part by convicts or prisoners shall be fined or imprisoned or both.” Even though it was alleged that prisoners working in prison industries produced products sold in interstate commerce, the court ruled that prisoners could not enforce the provisions of the law.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, requires employers to pay their employees a minimum hourly wage, which is currently $4.25. The Act defines “employer” as “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee,” and defines “employee” as “any individual employed by an employer.” Courts were ordered to construe these terms expansively in order to further the congressional goal of outlawing from interstate commerce goods produced in violation of the Act. Where the employee/employer status is uncertain, the law requires that the economic realities of the relationship, and not technical concepts of employment, are to control. The court in the instant case ruled that “[w] here inmates work in the prison pursuant to penalogical work assignments, the economic reality is that they are not employees.” The district judge then launched off into some technical concepts (ignoring the economic realities) to justify his ruling that the FLSA does not apply to prison industrial workers.

This case also addresses constitutional and even a RICO claim. But all were lost when the court granted that state’s motion to dismiss. Readers are urged to independently study each aspect of this case, as all are important in working to expand this field of the law. Although it is necessary to keep knocking on the judicial door in an effort to secure relief in this area (and to educate the courts on the futility of expecting some good to come from maintaining a segment of society in a perpetual state of irresponsibility, dependency, and slavery), the ultimate solution must be a political one. The courts will recognize political strength. Strength is gained though a nation-wide organization of class conscious prisoners and their supporters. And this organization must, at the very least, be prepared to wage an ongoing fight for the abolishment of the thirteenth amendment to the U.S. constitution.

Strength is gained though a nation-wide organization of class conscious prisoners and their supporters.

Comrades interested in working on the cutting edge of the prisoners rights struggle should carefully study cases such as this. Learn how the plaintiffs lost, expand and perfect their arguments, and then file again. See: McMaster v. State of Minn. , 819 F.Supp. 1492 (D. Minn. 1993)

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