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Jul 01, 2015
From Prison Focus Issue 46
On April 30, shortly after the publication of our last issue (#45), the Office of Administrative Law approved amended censorship regulations proposed by the CDCr last year. The amendments, titled "Obscene Materials," are to California Code of Regulations, Title 15, sections 3006 and 3134.1. (All subsequent citations herein are to California Code of Regulations, Title 15.) Now in effect, the amendments are essentially indistinguishable from those initially proposed and published by the Department in April 2014, which drew sharp public criticism.
In response to the public criticism, the CDCr said that the public had misunderstood its intent and announced that it would be going back to the drawing board. Later, on October 20, 2014, the Department re-noticed the public on further changes. Despite talk of going back to the drawing board, the October revisions were minor and were limited to section 3134.1, subdivision (d), and section 3135, subdivision (c). (Section 3134.1, subdivision (d) was non-substantively revised to harmonize language with amendments that had been approved and adopted, on October 17, 2014, concerning "security threat groups." Otherwise, a few words were added to section 3134, subdivision (d) to provide minimal clarification of language initially proposed in April 2014.)
In initially justifying the changes, the CDCr repeatedly raised concerns about publications containing the "propaganda" of groups that are "oppositional to authority and society" and/or "deviant in nature." The Department claimed it necessary to disallow the publications of such groups, as well as publications indicating "association" with such groups, to ensure the safety and security of its institutions.
Many read this as a declaration of the CDCr's intent to ban rights-oriented periodicals that publish articles and letters by incarcerated persons, such as this publication, The Rock or the San Francisco BayView—all of which have been censored or withheld in the past.
EMPTY ASSURANCES FROM THE OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW
In a memo dated April 30, 2015, Mark Storm, Senior Attorney with the Office of Administrative Law, wrote that his agency's action in approving the amendments "eliminates disparity among institutions regarding processing and clarify [sic] existing statutes on obscene materials in institutions." A plain reading of the amended language, though, shows that said "disparity" is not eliminated and ample room is left for ambiguity and abuse.
Granted, pursuant to amended section 3134.1, subdivisions (d) and (e), ultimate authority to place text-only publications on the CDCr's Centralized List of Disapproved Publications rests with the Division of Adult Institutions. However, individual officers ranked Captain or higher may be granted authority to "disallow" correspondence at their personal discretion under (unamended) section 3135, subdivision (a). In addition, amended section 3134.1, subdivision (d), permits institutions to "temporarily" withhold individual issues of periodicals even if those periodicals do not appear on the Centralized List of publications.
Pursuant to section 3135, subsection (b), officers are not supposed to disallow mail due to "disagreement with the sender's or receiver's morals, values, attitudes, veracity, or choice of words." Yet, this is cold comfort given that qualified officers have free reign to disallow mail. This includes personal mail containing materials they consider obscene, and containing materials or photographs they think indicate "an association with validated STG [security threat group] members or associates." (See § 3135, subds. (c)(12) & (14); the latter paragraph which is newly added.)
Newly added section 3135, subdivision (c)(14) dangerously expands the reach of censorship rules because of loose regulations permitting a person's validation as a "security threat group affiliate," and the severe consequences that attach to being validated.
For readers unfamiliar with the term "security threat group" or STG, the CDCr defines it (in section 3000) exactly as it defines "gang." Both are so broadly and vaguely construed as to be applicable to most any "group of three or more people" that can be implicated—however insubstantially, tenuously or inconclusively—in "misconduct" of any type. (See § 3000.) By the same token, "Security Threat Group (STG) Behavior" is circularly defined as conduct "demonstrating a nexus with an STG." (See § 3000.)
As most of our readers are painfully aware, being validated as an STG affiliate is tantamount to a second sentence on top of the underlying (court-ordered) sentence one is already serving. Validation is determined by investigation and affirmative conclusion reached by the CDCr alone. There is no independent review of any kind, much less a judge or jury. Affiliation with a security threat group is based on association with a person, or persons, already or formerly validated; or, with a person not yet validated who later is. (See § 3378.2, subd. (b).) It requires no violent behavior or prohibited conduct of any kind.
Once validated, a person is sent to the SHU, without any further determination of violent or criminal behavior. Individuals are held in isolation on a prolonged or indefinite basis, spending up to twenty-four hours a day in tiny concrete-and-steel box. Such treatment constitutes torture according to internationally recognized standards, and moreover is an affront to commonly held notions of dignity and humanity.
Back to the topic of disallowed mail: As earlier stated, written materials and photographs are subject to being disallowed if they "indicate an association with validated STG members or associates." Practically speaking, this means possession or receipt of disallowed materials can be used to validate or re-validate a person as an STG affiliate. (See, e.g., § 3378.2, subds. (b)(5) & (6) (regarding written materials and photographs).) For example, if your uncle is validated and if you've written down his address next to his name on a scrap of paper, this may be used as a "source item" counting against you. As such, it may be combined with equally flimsy “evidence” to validate you as an affiliate, or to retain you in the SHU if you're already validated.
CENTRALIZED LIST OF DISAPPROVED PUBLICATIONS INCLUDES WINDOWS 7 FOR SENIORS FOR DUMMIES AND YOUR CHILD'S DEVELOPMENT FROM BIRTH TO ADOLESCENCE
The most recent Centralized List of Disapproved Publications of which this writer is aware is dated June 1, 2015. It is fourteen pages long. Conspicuously absent from the list are many political works that the CDCr has previously deemed "gang-related" and/or has used as "source material" supporting validation (e.g., The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; Soledad Brother by George Jackson). There is one possible exception here that this writer has noted: The World of Jack L. Morris, a book that apparently features poetry, artwork and writing of a man kept in Pelican Bay's SHU for some twenty-five-plus years.
The bulk of the items named on the list, such as Hustler or On Our Backs, are (or are plausibly named as) sexually explicit publications. The California Penal Code affords prisoners no right to read, purchase or receive "obscene" publications as defined by the Penal Code. Of course, Hustler and similar magazines are legal for sale to adults on the outside who enjoy their full First Amendment rights.
Other titles, although few that this writer has noticed, play into CDCr's interest in maintaining the "safety and security" of its prisons. One example is US Army Special Forces Guide to Unconventional Warfare: Devices and Techniques for Incendiaries. However, if the CDCr were truly concerned about safety and security, whether in its prisons or anywhere else, then it would do best to focus on promoting an atmosphere and culture in which people are treated with dignity and as humans, rather than focusing on censorship or even more coercive approaches.
The numerous other titles named on the June 1, 2015 Centralized List of Disapproved Publications include 500 Fairy Motifs, Basic Drawing, Thirty Something Magazine, Color for Painters: A Guide to Traditions; Complete Anatomy and Figure Drawing; Drawing and Illustrations; Drawing the Living Figure; Felon Fitness: How to Get a Hard Body Without Doing Hard Time; Life Drawing; Martial Arts: Traditions, History, People; The Big Book of Drawing; The Art of Faery; Windows 7 for Seniors for Dummies; Windows 8 Application and Development for Dummies; Window 8 Quick Step; Your Child's Development from Birth to Adolescence.
One might infer from these titles that the CDCr doesn't want those under in its control to be able to communicate their feelings or experiences through artistic pursuit, or to draw any peace from it. One might also infer that the CDCr doesn't want people who've been released after prolonged incarceration and privation to enter the world equipped with basic skills needed to operate the digital technology that permeates our lives; or, to be prepared for parenthood.
LACK OF NOTICE REGARDING DISALLOWED PUBLICATIONS
Pursuant to former and amended section 3134.1, subdivision (e), a centralized list of disapproved publications "shall" be distributed to each of the Department's institutions. How often such a list must be updated or distributed, and whether or not the list must be provided to all people in custody, is not stated. In any event, this writer was recently unable to locate a copy of any centralized list through the CDCr's website, and only obtained the copy discussed herein as the result of another person's public information request.
This presents an issue for those with family or loved ones inside: How can they know in advance whether or not any given publication (or any other material) that they may want to send in will be rejected? And, how can they know in advance if an item will be deemed obscene and/or used as the basis for disciplinary action against a loved one? The amended section 3134.1, subsection (d), only clarifies that "prisoner addressees" must be notified upon a publication being withheld—i.e., after they have wasted their money buying and shipping the publication.
In June and in November 2014, two vigorous public campaigns were mounted to oppose the censorship regulations now in effect. People on either side of the walls expressed their views in printed periodicals, via the internet and/or directly to the CDCr. During the two campaigns, a total of over five hundred comments were cumulatively submitted to the CDCr through one organization, Californians United for a Responsible Budget. Some percentage of all the comments received by the CDCr, which were overwhelmingly negative and included comments independently submitted by individuals and organizations, have since been "responded" to in digest by the Department. These are included in the Department's Final Statement of Reasons dated April 30 (available at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Regulations/Adult_Operations/docs/NCDR/2014NCR/14-05/Adopted%20Regulations%20Effective%204%2030%202015.pdf; last visited August 4). A single concession won through the campaigns can be pointed to: The Final Statement of Reasons, in contrast to the 2014 Initial Statement of Reasons indirectly referenced in the third paragraph of this article, omits all references to "groups deviant in nature, opposed to authority and society."
Aug 20, 2015
keywords: Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement
From Prison Focus Issue 46
Here we are, after three extensive peaceful hunger strike protests by California prisoners, the last of which was the largest hunger strike in world history, involving over 30,000 people and lasting 60 days, strikers and their loved ones have met cold-hearted retaliation from California Department of Corrections. Yet people in solitary and their families and supporters continue to keep putting on the pressure, educating the public, and organizing to stop the brutal prison practice of solitary confinement. California keeps people in cages and concrete cells in extreme isolation for years, with no human contact, no natural light, no phone calls, and access only to horrible food and negligent to abusive ‘medical care.’
A new massive state and now nation-wide mobilization called Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement began on March 23, 2015 and will continue on the 23rd of each month.
Ever since the spring of 2011—when prisoners in Pelican Bay's Security Housing Unit (SHU) Short Corridor sent five human rights demands, in writing, to CDCr officials and sent those demands out to their families, human rights organizations, and anyone else who might listen—solidarity organizing on the outside has attempted to match the intensity, geographical span, and astute human rights work begun by the prisoners. During the three hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, people all over the world were inspired to act, outraged at the exposed realities of solitary confinement. The prisoners' courageous actions prompted worldwide media and United Nations attention, legislative hearings, proposed legislation, some CDCr changes, and national and international solidarity actions. Indeed, most media formerly refused to even acknowledge that California holds people in solitary confinement and has had individuals locked up for decades. Now, major media openly reports “The horror of solitary confinement—which often masquerades under names such as ‘prison segregation’ or “restricted housing”— remains clear today.” (Washington Post editorial, July 1, 2015).
However, the public at large seemed to lose momentum once the massive hunger strikes halted. While hunger strikers, in unconscionable living conditions, try to recover their health and restore their organs, damaged by refusing food for so long to get the world's attention, the public buzz about the horrors of solitary and the talk in classrooms and churches about the moral imperative to abolish solitary quieted down. People seem distracted from thinking about the thousands of people tortured in extreme isolation.
“We don’t want them to have to hunger strike again.”
Recently, in response to a proposal from people incarcerated in the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU involved in the momentous 2011 and 2013 California Hunger Strikes, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) initiated Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement.
Statewide Coordinated Actions are re-focusing the spotlight on the torture of solitary confinement, from the grassroots, and revitalizing the general public’s attention to end it.
Since March 2015, community organizations, loved ones of people in solitary, and human rights advocates have been mobilizing monthly actions in cities across California, including Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Culver City, San Diego, Oakland, Arcata, San Francisco, Pasadena, San Jose, Manila, Pt. Reyes, and Santa Barbara, on the 23rd of each month.“Our outside supporters…across the state [are] publicly rallying on the 23rd of each month for the purpose of keeping the subject of our endless torture in public view, and thereby exposed to the world!!! The 23rd of each month is symbolic of our 23-plus hours per day in these tombs-of-the-living-dead-and it is hoped such rallies will spread across the nation!!!” (Todd Ashker, March 30, 2015)
Indeed, Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement are spreading across the nation. Organizations outside of California and outside of the United States are excited to join this effort. There are over 75 endorsers and co-sponsors in California, nationwide, and globally, and organizations and prominent individuals keep adding on. Groups are organizing 23rd actions in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania (soon also in Colorado, Utah, & Washington, D.C.). People mobilizing in numerous locations at once are circulating much needed information and putting the realities of solitary confinement and other prison human rights abuses in the forefront of national concern.
Locations for actions on the 23rd range from busy downtown centers in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Oakland; the site in San Francisco where tourists wait to tour the torture chambers of now closed Alcatraz prison; university and college campuses; gorgeous seascapes on the Pacific coast of California; Chuco's Justice Center, base for the Youth Justice Coalition and others; the Kinetic Sculpture Race, a bicycle "Triathlon of the Art World," 70 miles south of the Pelican Bay torture chamber; to a major metropolitan commuter transit center in Boston. All this activity is in stark contrast to the sensory deprivation of solitary confinement torture cells.
Actions have included public rallies with speakers, including members of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and formerly incarcerated persons; informational booths; performances and discussions of If the SHU Fits - Voices from Solitary Confinement: A Reader’s Theatre Performance; rolling fasts; massive distribution of literature at big festivals and fairs; chalk-ins about solitary confinement; educational encounters with passersby; press conferences; letter-writing to incarcerated persons; a giant puppet performance of the people defeating the prison industrial complex and use of solitary confinement; public screenings of the documentary Breaking Down the Box [ ]; and letter-writing in support of California Senate Bill 124 to define and limit solitary confinement of youth.
Participants have given out thousands of handbills about the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement, the prisoner-class led human rights struggle, the CA Hunger Strikes, the Agreement to End Hostilities, how to get subscriptions to publications for people locked inside, invitations to help grow CFASC in Northern California, Human Rights Pen Pal applications, etc. All of those materials are available at the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website, so anyone may have the ability to set up an informative action.
These mobilizations outside the prisons help bring hidden torture into the public eye, show the world that folks who are incarcerated have support, update people on the conditions inside and the needs and work of the Prisoner-class-led Human Rights Movement, and make clear that solitary confinement is unacceptable.
The courage that prisoners continue to demonstrate after the three Hunger Strikes, while upholding their Agreement To End Hostilities across racial/ethnic and geographic lines, should give us all the strength to organize in our own communities. It is up to us to demand that the torture ends. People suffering in solitary confinement don’t have time for silent bystanders or toothless legislation.
A massive public movement is essential to end this torture. We must break through the silence and pressure the courts, legislatures, halls of power, and media to act to end solitary confinement. We do not want the people in prison to have to risk their lives in another hunger strike! Please become part of these important mobilizations on the 23rd of every month.
"We will be with the prisoners...in the courts, in the legislature, and out in the community. We will use every venue available to us, UNTIL THE TORTURE IS ENDED.” [Marie Levin, California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition]
Oct 10, 2015
keywords: Pelican Bay State Prison, California prison conditions, prison conditions, "welfare" checks, sleep deprivation, "security" checks
From Prison Focus Issue 47
Correspondents at Pelican Bay State Prison SHU report that as of August 1, guards have implemented “welfare checks,” occurring every thirty minutes, or forty-eight times per day. Guards are conducting the checks in an aggressive manner, routinely banging the metal wand against doors, stomping through the corridors, slamming doors, and shining lights in prisoners’ eyes while they are trying to sleep. Given the reverberation of noise throughout the concrete and steel pods, this results in virtually non-stop disturbance throughout the cell.
As a result of the Coleman settlement regarding the treatment of mentally ill and developmentally disabled prisoners, CDCR was ordered to conduct “welfare checks” on prisoners in regular intervals. It was left up to the Department to design a system for implementation of these checks. CDC implemented a system with electronic wands which the guards must connect to a metal button by each cell. The wands beep with every connection, and due to the concrete and steel design of the SHU pods, each sound reverberates loudly throughout the pod, as well as in adjoining pods.
Although it is possible to conduct these checks quietly, and that the beeping should be turned off turning the night, guards are showing no awareness or respect for how much noise they are creating while making rounds. Many are convinced that the guards are using these checks as a method to harass prisoners and disrupt their sleep, as well as an excuse to disrupt programming throughout the day.
Sleep deprivation and relentless exposure to loud noise are known methods of torture. Some prisoners are considering going on hunger strike again as a method to combat CDCR’s latest tactics. As one prisoner wrote in a letter to Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of CDCR, "Deprivation of sleep is a common form of torture and has no place in a civilized society. Sleep is a basic human need and a fundamental constitutional right and I shouldn't have to be starving myself so I and my fellow prisoners can get some sleep."
In addition to the disruption of the checks themselves, guards have used the implementation of this system – required in numerous CDCR facilities – as an excuse to disrupt what little programming exists at the SHU. Reports include that food services are running hours late, showers are not provided at regular pace (usually they can do 3 or 4 showers in an hour, but now they are saying that showers are taking over an hour each), and that yard time is not starting until after 9am some days, when yard time must start at 7 or 7:15am each day in order to ensure that everyone will get yard time that day. In August, lawyer representatives for CPF who came to visit Pelican Bay were denied visits to nearly half of those on their approved visit list, told only that there was no way the guards would be moving one person per hour for the visits, which had been scheduled weeks in advance. The rationale for all of these delays is that guards are simply unable to keep schedule with the new responsibilities of the welfare checks.
We have heard reports of these checks presenting a severe nuisance and disturbance from other SHUs as well as Pelican Bay, including Corcoran and Tehachapi. In the other SHUs throughout the state, reports have been consistent for over a year that while it was possible to conduct the checks quietly, particular guards would be extremely noisy, and that the consequent sleep deprivation was creating agitation and high levels of anxiety throughout the SHU pods. Conversations between individuals, already challenging, are dampered because people must try to get sleep whenever they can. A perverse outcome given the name and nature of these checks, those with mental health issues report exacerbated symptoms due to the levels of anxiety they are experiencing.
In all of the SHUs, including Corcoran, Tehachapi, and Pelican Bay, guards have encouraged people inside to file 602 forms complaining about the practice in hopes that Sacramento will stop the program and they will not have to do the work involved. In October of 2014, a group of individuals at Corcoran filed a group 602 on this issue, based on the fact that checks are not effective. On the outside, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition has taken action and encouraged its network to write letters to Warden Ducat at Pelican Bay and is in dialogue with Coleman attorneys, who are aware of the distress resulting from the checks.
The following is a letter to CDCR officials from Michael Bien, one of the lead counsel on the Coleman case, explaining why the current situation is not an acceptable implementation of the court’s orders in Coleman.
Letter from Michael Bien:
We write to raise very serious and emergent concerns regarding the recent implementation of the Guard One system in the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU. We received correspondence today indicating that at least one prisoner is on an active hunger strike and that a group hunger strike is planned. The Warden at PBSP must assert control over custody staff in the SHU and their efforts to undermine the implementation of this CDCR policy.
We have received multiple credible reports from multiple prisoners that custody officers in the SHU are intentionally awakening each and every prisoner in the SHU every 30 minutes through not only aggressive use of the Guard One wand system and excessive stomping/key jingling noise throughout the rounding, but also by repeatedly slamming the door to the Pod, and shining their flashlights into every prisoner’s eyes. We have also received several credible reports that multiple prisoners have required medical attention due to the resulting effects of sleep deprivation and that many others are experiencing severe psychological distress. As you know, CDCR has experienced resistance to the implementation of welfare checks and Guard One in other prisons and segregation units, which appears to have been successfully addressed by supervisors at those locations, including death row.
PBSP either lacks adequate custody staffing or as part of the job action, they are so contending that they are unable to carry out the rounding requirement while maintaining basic regular programs in the SHU. We are reliably informed that yard time, canteen, mail, and shower opportunities have been severely curtailed since the implementation of Guard One, and that prisoners are being told this is due to the lack of staff available for any activities other than the completion of welfare checks. We are also informed that access to basic hygiene supplies (shavers) and to clean laundry has been interrupted due to the alleged shortages in staffing resulting from Guard One implementation. We ask that you urgently review the impact that the Guard One implementation has had on the regular PBSP program and that any necessary staffing adjustments be made immediately. Correctional officers have made clear that they are forced to restrict these other activities on the Unit as a result of Coleman requiring them to do Guard One rounds. Other forms of retaliation have been a new policy to restrict ventilation on the unit by closing the door to the yard.
Finally, we ask that the apparent campaign of misinformation on the part of PBSP’s custody staff immediately end. We have received multiple and consistent reports that custody staff is telling prisoners that Coleman counsel are specifically responsible for the implementation of the Guard One system in the PBSP SHU and for the harms that prisoners in the SHU are experiencing as a result of the misuse of the system, and that their complaints about the system can only be addressed by us and not through the normal grievance process. Encouraging prisoners to write to us rather than to use CDCR’s grievance process reduces command staff’s and headquarters’ access to information about conditions in the SHU and hinders your ability to monitor and correct these serious concerns. We will, of course, respond to inmate correspondence, but we continue to encourage prisoners to use 602’s and medical grievances to complain about the deprivations they are suffering in the sHU.
As you are well aware, Guard One was CDCR’s chosen method to implement a long-standing requirement of regular welfare checks in CDCR’s segregation system. We certainly did not ask for, and we most strongly object to, the retaliatory and dangerous manner in which PBSP staff have chosen to implement this valuable tool in the SHU.
Thank you for your immediate attention to what appears to be an increasingly dangerous situation. Conditions in the SHU, even when it operates routinely, are very difficult for human beings to tolerate. Whether or not the conditions cause permanent harm will be decided by the Ashker court. CDCR has now substantially worsened conditions in the SHU by its mismanagement of the implementation of Guard One.
-Michael Bien, Attorney
Mar 10, 2016
keywords: security threat group, prison industrial complex, step down program, racism, government oppression, torture, RCGP, Ashker v. Brown settlement
From Prison Focus Issue 48
It is said, “In times of war, the laws fall silent."
In no time in modern history are these words more relevant than now. It is a time of undeclared class warfare, of oppression by the top 1%, the ruling class, and of tyranny of the despotic oligarchs. It is absurd to see the paradox of our democracy: that in the so-called land of the free there are more people incarcerated and executed, per capita, than in any other western country (at 2.4 million, with a recidivism rate of 43%). Furthermore, political prisoners that do not conform to the rules of the corrupt, despotic oligarchs are validated as a “Security Threat Group” (STG) and are subjected to prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement, aka torture.
The minority/lower class (MLC) is arrested and incarcerated at a higher rate, exceeding any other western nation, under little more than suspicions, speculation and/or assumed gang association. Government officials sanction, commission and conduct widespread torture (in violation of international, constitutional and domestic law which the US wrote and ratified) as well as senselessly kill unarmed minorities with impunity. As I sit and wonder why prisons are taking our lives, it's wise to ask who is to blame for the trials and pains we are forced to endure? Who is to blame for stripping our fathers, mothers and children away from their friends and family for years, decades or lifetimes (often with no physical contact) at the drop of a hat?
Is it the fault of the big businesses that lobby extensively to stay and corrupt politicians with massive campaign contributions, that help pass subversive legislation aimed at furthering prosecuting, incarcerating and oppressing the MLC?
Is it the fault of the government officials in collusion with the bought and paid for media (government mouthpiece) that exaggerate and manipulate facts, isolated incidents and targeted survey statistics, as well as play on people's emotions in order to obfuscate policies in legislation, to further the gain of the private prison industrial complex (PIC) and guards unions (such as corrections Corporation of America, CCA, Association of State Correctional Administrators, ASCA and American Correctional Association, ASA) to control the mobility of the MLC?
Is it the fault of the legislators (primarily Republican) who continue to deprive the MLC of essential benefits that strengthen and sustain a community’s prosperity?
Who is to blame?
Totalitarian culture dictates that in order to subordinate the masses, instruments of oppression need to be imposed and enforced. The manner in which these instruments are utilized and imposed varies drastically:
• Racial Profiling
• Convicting and incarcerating the MLC (with such draconian policies as gang injunctions, gang enhancements, 3 strike laws, mandatory minimums, stop and frisk, vague and ambiguous indictments and gang validations and ‘special circumstances’.
• Sentencing political prisoners who refuse to conform to the oppressive ideology and status quo to indefinite solitary torture!
• Imposing felonies for any major crime/infraction in order to deprive the MLC the right to vote, bear arms and attain financial support and assistance, affordable housing, vocational training and other opportunities.
• Cutting the programs, benefits and financial support for mental and physical health care, higher education, substance-abuse programs, prison alternative programs, welfare, food stamps, vocational/liberal arts/afterschool programs, unemployment benefits etc.
• Inflating college tuition prices, raising taxes and refusing to raise minimum wages to coincide with increased costs of living.
• Intentionally squandering and/or mismanaging tax payer dollars, passing detrimental policies that benefit big business corporations and other institutions aimed at oppressing the MLC, while rerouting public funds to build more prisons and push their agendas.
• Manipulating the American people by means of tautology by the government-controlled media that shapes and corrupts public opinion with excessive coverage of government based agendas, demagoguery, fear mongering, omission of facts, obfuscation of political events, and depriving the MLC of a voice on any news outlets, agencies, Sunday talk shows, or political debates. (This is more prevalent for Mexicanos in matters of immigration, refugee status and border security, despite being Mexican - Americans are excluded from news agencies "immigration specialist" panels.)
These are but a few instruments of oppression used to keep the MLC (and to some extent, the remaining 99%) oppressed, dependent, controlled, incarcerated, and in solitary torture (for the strong-willed political prisoner).
I ask myself, who is to blame?
It's a fact, that in the United States, the American government accepts democracy only insofar as it increases the "legitimacy” of their state objectives. Politicians should take measure, first and foremost, to uphold their integrity and that of their constituency, make changes and implement legislation that advances the prosperity of the people. Michael Chrighton spoke best when he said, "it is the proper function of the government to set standards for the integrity of information it uses to make policies."
It is amazing how easily the masses can be manipulated (by the 1% ruling class) into believing anything they are told, content with meager incomes, by means of low/stagnant jobs/wages and stronger financial gross domestic product (GDP) that only benefits the rich. We are content with an autocratic government/Congress intent to impose subversive policies and laws, with the pretext of change, while strengthening and expanding the ramifications of draconian policies by means of obfuscation through rebranding and relabeling. It is amazing to see the people, time and again, believing the lies spoken by politicians as they are elected to the government offices, in hopes of change, and more so failing to believe that being blinded to reality is not only detrimental to themselves but to their friends, family, children, and generations that preceded them. And so, to those who continue to elect the same government officials that refused to take action, I ask…who is to blame?
The paradox perpetuated by the US government lies in the hypocritical demonization of other countries’ governments (primarily Russia, China, Iran, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [North Korea]), civil rights violations, censorship of the press, freedom of speech and expression to government controlled media, while at every step taking more draconian measures and actions. A recent United Nations investigation confirmed that the US has fallen short of the civil rights responsibilities for its handling of protesters in Ferguson and the prolonged solitary confinement of prisoners.
The UN rightly defines solitary confinement as torture. Civil rights violations and ethnic discrimination is emphatically evident through the ever present draconian policies aimed at repressing the disenfranchised, by means of military weapons and equipment, patrolling the streets, and actions taken to suppress protesters, rivalling that of any country. Other examples are the prosecution of children as adults in order to impose life sentences (while criticizing other countries for utilizing child laborers), and authority’s senseless killings of our class with impunity, and repressing any opposition to government policies with violent crackdowns, from occupy Wall Street to immigration protests to Ferguson.
With the most recent forced outage of Bill Moyers and friends, the oppressive censorship of the government and corporate-controlled media has come full circle. Freedom of speech does not exist in our communities, as the laws fall silent and the only media coverage is to push the agenda of the despotic oligarchs. It's not surprising that excessive civilian casualties by US actions, such as airstrikes in the Middle East, are not covered by the media. The NSA continues their mass surveillance on the American people, government bailouts with tax-payer money, and Wall Street-friendly bills, legislation, and tax breaks/subsidies for the rich are spun as a positive. Now the Senate Intelligence Committee CIA interrogation investigative report on torture has been transitioned from cruel and unusual punishment to a debate on effectiveness at best, or accepted as essential at worst.
As a youth, I, as well as our community, was subjected to a poor and inadequate educational system with limited opportunities to pursue advanced education or scholastic studies, due to limited resources. Across the state of California, there are multiple policies and laws put in place to restrict and criminalize the association between neighbors in the MLC communities, deemed Gang Injunction laws, which categorizes practically every minority in our community as a criminal gang member simply for being a Mexicano (or minority). Any trivial arrest or alleged crime in our community is overwhelmed by excessive, vague, and ambiguous charges to link any crime to a street crime, in order to impose a gang enhancement to double any sentence mandated. Furthermore, any speculation of association with your neighborhood friends can potentially find you on a gang injunction federal indictment, subject to excessive prosecution and indefinite solitary torture.
These are but a few of the subversive policies implemented in a minute to appease the P/PIC in corporate interest lobbyists who vie extensively for political favors, in exchange for gifts and immense campaign contributions, in order to pass draconian policies that serve their vested interests, on the pretext of change, while obfuscating their objectives of undermining the peoples and constitutional rights, while propagating the reinstitution of oppressive card for ration, prolonged or indeterminate solitary torture, life in prison and execution on a broader spectrum with no constraints. The policy and instruments of oppression that CDCR utilized to validate me as an ‘associate of an associate’ of a prison gang are the same policies that they rebranded as STG/SDP (Step Down Program) in response to the Ashker vs. Brown class action case, in order to sanction all held in the SHU torture chambers, while providing no reform to which it speaks. The STG/SDP policy upholds all of the previous guidelines with a delusion of additional draconian, big, and ambiguous policies which attribute any action, infraction and/or ‘behavior’ to an assortment of so-called STG/SDP behaviors; behaviors including the prior history of communities, handshakes, workouts, cultural arts and reading material, or the gathering of two or more people allegedly looking suspicious, labeled as “association”). This policy ultimately reverts any ambiguous policy to the discretion of the ICC Staff (§3341.5, §3378.2).
I'd like to take the time here to praise the strong efforts of the collective on both sides of these walls of oppression, for our historical achievements in drawing back the major injustices suffered by all of us here in Pelican Bay SHU, as well as Ad-Seg Units throughout California. Through dedication, sacrifices, and the collective efforts and actions of those of us in SHU, as well as our strong, dedicated supporters on the streets, we were able to make positive changes that have propelled our struggle and efforts forward to meet our ultimate objective of abolishing solitary confinement entirely.
Many individuals who have been in the SHU for years, even decades, are getting released to GP. Though as the great Delores Canales said, "This is only the beginning."
They continue to uphold the same structure and policies of the STG/SDP that condemned us to solitary torture for years with impunity. They continue to uphold the same discriminatory policies that equate any action and assumption to a STG behavior. They continue to uphold the same instruments of oppression to validate individuals on vague speculation, and not actual behavior. They have included many calculated, open ended, and ambiguous policies to allow them to arbitrarily abuse the regulations.
They have upheld the same coercive, self-implicating journals in attempt to compel us to validate any STG label they want to impose on - with no base to any actual "behavior". In addition, they have created a whole new SHU relabeled Restrictive Custody General Population Unit (RCGP) that allows them to circumvent all regulatory policies based on assumed threats to the institution/GP, as they revert back to their same old subversive tactics. As always, we must thank the strong leadership of the representatives, legal counsel, and the collective for having the foresight to institute themselves into the regulatory proceedings, as our struggle moves forward.
Furthermore, the obscene material section essentially restricts/sensors all free speech, press and reading material that they deem oppositional to the status quo, the authority, or CDCR. In addition, the new subversive policies being imposed on the pretext of change are intentionally aimed at expanding CDCR's reach to sanction torture, and expand the scope and spectrum to include any and all inmates in CDCR custody with no constraints, notwithstanding false claims of being a "voluntary program", and that journals are not being used against you, as 33378.3 (b) states "voluntary journals is the only way to progress through the steps", and 33378.3 (a) "participation in the journal program is not intended to be used against you, however, if the information is intended to convey STG threats or activity, it will be evaluated."
These draconian policies are strategically structured to produce adverse effects, as is true for the parole/probation system. I.e. the ramifications of recidivism and failure, assuring a continuation of revalidation, re-incarceration (revolving door policy) and assure as one can never pay their debt to the state. Who are they trying to fool and who is to blame?
We have come to live at a time and place that restricts us of our federal, state, and constitutional rights, with impunity. We as a whole are deprived of our freedom of speech, due process, rights to be free from punishment based on gang association, and right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment (i.e.: solitary torture), to name a few. It is due to the vested interest of the P/PIC that we live in such an oppressive policed state that advocates their ‘war on drugs’, ‘war on crime’, and ‘war on gangs’ that the prison population is ever expanding and the ramifications are more emphatic – at the expense of the MLC communities. Furthermore, politicians, government officials and their lackeys are quick to advocate for leniency, accepting ‘apologies’ ("everyone deserves a second chance", "let's put the past behind us ", and "one should be forgiven for one's mistakes"), and for utilizing their laws for themselves and their cronies when it's to their advantage. On the other hand, they are quick to push for zero tolerance laws and bills to restrict and oppress the disenfranchised.
In our community, this ever present war on the poor and lower class, “leniency, apologies, and the laws” apply to, and benefit, the top 1% and upper-class. They do not exist nor apply to us, as for us the ‘Laws Fall Silent’.
It is the policy of the Republican Party and corrupt government officials that continuing to cut funding for public programs and benefits that deprive us of the opportunities we need to sustain a productive community. It is our tendency to blind ourselves to the reality of the blatant actions of government officials who continue to pass draconian policies to further incarcerate peers, take from our communities, grant subsidies, tax breaks, loopholes, and impunity to the oil barons, Wall Street execs, and big businesses that fund their campaigns and write their laws. It is only in our communities that the wars against our class are being waged, and only for us that the Laws Fall Silent.
It is no wonder that in our times, the most educated minds remain incarcerated around the world, the most fervent informed advocates and those that have the power to produce positive change are demonized as gang members for challenging the status quo and enclosed indefinitely in solitary confinement - torture. In a time when sending meager signs, messages or hashtags on the internet, are being touted as an act of advocacy in support of civil rights, while ignoring the atrocities of the real advocates, demonstrators, and protesters out on the streets, making real change. It is imperative that people reassess their perspectives, values and proclivities. People have an inherent tendency to scrutinize those who do not conform to their views and beliefs, to demonize the ignorant as opposed to inform them, to berate children to get A's in school, homework and tests (when they themselves are not highly educated), and to belittle individuals instead of lifting them up.
We should stop finding it necessary to blame the next man/woman to take responsibility for our own inability to inform and advance our people with the right modes and tools to bring about real change. We need not allow these walls and chains to ever contain nor define us. It is our responsibility to educate our children and instill in them the proper values and morals they will need to sustain them throughout life. It is up to us, whom the youth look to for leadership and guidance, to inform and advance our people with the right moves in tools to bring about real change. We need not allow these walls in chains to ever contain nor define us. It is our responsibility to educate our children and instill in them the proper values and morals they will need to sustain them throughout life. It is up to us, whom the youth look to for leadership and guidance, to inform them that ‘knowledge is power’, not guns and violence. We must organize and strive to inform our people and community of the wrongs and corruption taking place in CDCR and every facet of the government. It is on us to give them the tools and methods they need to produce change; to petition government officials, pass legislation, challenge the court/government’s devious policies, bills, and decisions.
We must have a counterbalance for all of the subversive government's devious policies, bills and decisions.
WE must have a counter balance for all of the subversive government controlled media, which attempts to corrupt the masses into believing any lie, ideology or anything they want one to believe. Such as, but not limited to, distributing informative pamphlets, newsletters and publications, creating instrumental coalition blogs, internet sites and think tanks that address key issues, as well as organizing group discourses, attending town hall meetings, peacefully organized demonstrations, protests and so on. Communication, discourses and organization are imperative factors to precipitate action and change. We need to capitalize on all of the instrumental achievements by such organizations as CFASC, PHSS coalition, CURB and all of our loved ones - our supporters and backbones. It is only by these methods that we will produce change in that we may come to cease asking, who is to blame?
In conclusion, I ask, who is to blame? Who is to blame for being compelled to sign for a violent crime that produced no weapon or witness, for my validation as a political prisoner because I'm Mexicano with strong convictions, tattoos, and because I refuse to be subjected to the status quo (being subjected to a prolonged or indefinite period of time confined in a solitary torture unit)? Who is to blame for being indicted on a RICO for hearsay, assumed association and speculation, or for the 1% ruling class, corporate interest groups and P/PIC utilizing every instrument of oppression to keep us suppressed? Who is to blame for the ‘laws falling silent’ on our communities?
Madness is not the perpetual actions one takes to try to produce change. Madness is a cowardice, using excuses to standby and do nothing! Edward Dowling said, in 1941, "the two greatest obstacles for democracy in the US are first, the widespread delusion by the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror of the rich lest we get it." As they continue to try to utilize their instruments of oppression to weaken our resolve, trust that our resolve grows stronger. As the laws fall silent in our times of class warfare, torture, and oppression, trust we will not, as we ask who is to blame?
(The Brown Movement Coalition promotes peace, prosperity, social and economic opportunities and equality for my brown brothers and sisters, minorities and all of our disenfranchised, suffering under oppression.)
Mar 10, 2016
keywords: sleep deprivation, Pelican Bay State Prison, solitary housing unit, "welfare" checks
From Prison Focus Issue 48
For over 5 1/2 months, men in Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (PB SHU) have suffered ongoing sleep deprivation from jarringly noisy “security/welfare checks.” The 'checks,' being done every 30 minutes in CA solitary confinement units, are particularly loud and distressing for the women on death row, due to guard aggressiveness, and in PB SHU, where there's an additional problem-- cramped, concrete architecture that amplifies noise.
Forty to forty-eight times daily, checks in PB SHU subject prisoners in small concrete cells to the reverberating “boom” of steel unit doors opening and slamming shut, guards stomping up and downstairs through pods that echo, rattling keys and chains, striking Guard One metal pipes on cells, banging metal buttons to beep loudly at each cell, and shining flashlights into people’s eyes.
In PB SHU, these malicious 'checks' occurred for approximately a month before the 2013 historic prisoner hunger strike. Then stopped. Then restarted on August 2, 2015, as prisoners and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) finalized a settlement in landmark civil rights case, Ashker v. Brown. The 2013 hunger strike, initiated in PB SHU, involved more than 30,000 CA prisoners protesting prolonged solitary confinement and the cruel, inhumane and tortuous conditions. The Ashker case, also initiated by PB SHU prisoners, in California, eliminates indeterminate SHU sentences, prohibits SHU punishment based solely on (alleged) gang affiliation, and is resulting in many people's liberation from SHU to prison general population. It appears that CDCR is attempting to prevent further effective human rights work by prisoners in solitary by instituting a debilitating and internationally-condemned torture technique: sleep deprivation.
These 'checks' in PB SHU must stop! Here in the words of the affected prisoners:
“...[A]s you know, they're killing us with these Guard One/Welfare Checks. ... I don't know what to do? We really are suffering right now and I can assure you that this is worse than the hunger strikes.” PB SHU prisoner Oct 2015
Prisoners in PB SHU consider the 'checks' retaliation for their successes, including the Agreement to End Hostilities (created in 2012): “The prisoners collective spirit is alive! And I believe this is something that the administration feels, and fears! And I think is the reason they have implemented the security/welfare checks!!” Letter from PB SHU, Oct 2015
Awakened 24/7, prisoners are experiencing severe stress, weight loss, dizziness, nausea, headaches, eye problems, stomach and bowel problems, faintness, depression, and accelerated heart rates. They cannot concentrate, exercise, read, write, or do legal work- the things that help them survive.
CDCR claims these 'checks' are suicide prevention, although there have been no suicides in PB SHU for over 10 years. These checks are causing serious psychological and physical harm. They “are counter-productive to their so called intended purpose (mental health care) and serve zero legitimate penological purpose other than to harass and mentally torment us prisoners,” PB SHU prisoner, late August 2015.
Sleep deprivation is a torture tactic used to break people. It can actually lead to suicidal thinking and/or tendencies.
Research shows that interrupted or deprivation of sleep threatens people, living otherwise healthy lives, with numerous chronic and potentially terminal conditions, including brain deterioration, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, strokes, heart attacks, and certain cancers. Risks are remarkably higher for people living in solitary confinement, an already traumatizing environment, with horrendous or completely denied medical care, inadequate and unhealthy food, and a lack of natural light and human contact.
In January 2016, under pressure from the American Public Health Association; demonstrations at PBSP and CDCR; phone, email, and letter campaigns; administrative grievances by prisoners; and inspections by attorneys and the judge monitoring the Ashker settlement, PB SHU checks from 10pm to 6am were reduced to once an hour. However, this change does not alleviate the debilitating and inescapable loud noise and lights, now assaulting the prisoners 40 times daily, rather than 48.
Keep the pressure on to end this torture.