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Jun 23, 2017
keywords: Activism, Perseverance
From Prison Focus Issue 52
I parolled from Pelican Bay SHU in September 2015. With no help, I went from being an inmate to becoming an activist. Though it’s not easy to come by funds from your parole department, there are avenues by which one can accumulate monetary assistance via the Substance Abuse Service Coordinating Agency Program (SASCA). At times, it was almost as if I was being transpacked from one institution to another due to overcrowding. The housing conditions got as bad as having six persons per room, and up to 60 persons per location. Many men find themselves discouraged by the overwhelming burden.
Having graduated from Stockton’s very own New Directions drug rehabilitation program, where I spent six months, and a 45 day re-entry program, with Circle of Friends, I acquired AB109 funds and found housing in an environment that fosters sober living.
It was at this stage that I found myself embarking on a new chapter in life, and having found my calling, proceeded to volunteer with Fathers and Families nonprofit organization. I was doing various speeches and public appearances discussing topics such as solitary confinement, the STG program and other related activist work.
One of many highlights was having the opportunity to develop a strong working relationship with one Delores Canales, an advocate to end the use of solitary confinement in California, who invited me to speak at an event sponsored by her program, in San Rafael, California. The event benefited a Pelican Bay bus ride program from Southern California. It afforded me the opportunity to speak to many families whose loved ones are personally affected by the current solitary confinement conditions in Pelican Bay SHU.
While there have been many changes, small and big differences being made, the fight to end the practice of solitary confinement will continue until the complete abolishment of solitary confinement is achieved.
Of the many wonderful experiences I’ve had during this journey, speaking on the State Assembly Bill, “Boys and Men of Color” is perhaps my greatest achievement. It was held at the capital building in Sacramento, California and attended by California’s House of Representatives, and all the while as being one who was wearing an ankle monitoring GPS device.
I am living proof that with the right amount of dedication, perseverance and drive, that nothing, not even a prison validated status, can keep you from reaching your goals. For all those that are striving for a better world and are using activism as a vehicle, keep on pushing forward! Your hard work will be rewarded!!
Editor’s Note: The Family Unity Network Bus Trips to Pelican Bay State Prison organizes bus trips for families to visit their loved ones.
Jun 23, 2017
From Prison Focus Issue 52
I believe that the USA’s enslaved masses have a duty to challenge their conditions every step of the way. Among the many worthy causes that can be challenged three take priority: 1.The fight for our freedom, that must never be abandoned. 2. Educate and organize those, (youth/others) that are still free; so that the false dogma of prison being a rite of passage be a thing of the past. 3.
Work/dismantle CDCr from the inside out; this is easier said than done. But, nobody else is going to do our fight for us; while we sit on our asses all day watching T.V.
It doesn’t matter where, we are enslaved in the USA; the slavery system is full of contradictions. It says one thing on paper, but turns around and does another. The duty to challenge this racist system falls on those of us that are literate or semi-literate. We can take one battle every year; it can be something, as – unimportant, as a request for spoon/cup for every slave. Or something as dangerous as a petition to be given education and rehabilitation. We can’t truly expect, that the gang member, drug/alcohol addict, illiterate and ignorant slave to make sense of the intricate legal system. When, they don’t want to even read a book.
Most slaves are quite comfortable playing children games on their tablets, watching T.V., and playing dominoes all day. When they are approached to sign a petition or grievance; they won’t do it; “They say, I don’t want to get in trouble.” They have become officially institutionalized, comfortable in their slave conditions. So, it is back to us: “The paper pushers; the crying babies,” as they call us. I understand, that we are in a undeclared war; there is a dark force involved in keeping us ignorant, enslaved, broken, and eventually dead.
We have to be pragmatic, and learn how to fight these forces; without putting our safety in danger. Because we are not gonna be of any good help buried in the numerous mass graves found all over the world. – Sometimes, the fight must be done from the shadows, other times it has to be done in broad daylight; occasionally, the head of the snake must be chopped it off, or hundred to fifty little snakes must be wiped out. Although, it is not wise for other people to know where we sleep; there is nothing worse, than to be executed, right in front of our children.
Now, in the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (hereafter always “CDCr.”); just for starters, there are three main contradictions: “Drugs, violence/gangs, and cell phones.” CDC 115 (Disciplinary report) violating any of these three traps is doomed to die behind bars. (The Board of Parole Hearings “BPH” will go crazy calling us a danger to society for any citation dealing with these vices.)
CDCr’s Drugs: The slaves do their drugs for one thing: To escape their brutal, hostile, and cruel slavery conditions. I watched a news story about a millionaire CEO; that had it made; with a beautiful house, a yacht, and a beautiful family. He still felt the need to escape reality by enjoying heroine with a call girl. Now, imagine, how much more necessary it becomes to escape reality for a guy sentenced to a 100 years in prison, entombed in a room the size of your small bathroom. So, it doesn’t matter, how many trinkets are thrown our way, to make our stay more pleasant and comfortable. Eventually, human nature takes its course, and we want more, and more to escape the box. And truly speaking, who can blame us? In some European countries; the sick drug/alcohol – addicted is given the tools to overcome his addictions. In the USA our diseases are looked, as a way to make a buck.
In any given day: I can go to the yard, with a $100.00 dls green dot numbers and purchase a nice amount of any drug that I want. When I am tested positive for drug use, I will be issued a CDC 115 disciplinary report. This report will be a dirty mark in my file, used to deny my parole in perpetuity. This policy calls for two questions: Why in a system that is morbidly overcrowded, are illnesses used to extend our stay? And two, why not go to the roots of the problem: Eradicate the supply lines, and provide all the available means to help us cure ourselves of the disease.
Prison Gangs: CDCr alleges to have a zero tolerance for security threat groups (i.e. better known as “STG” or Prison Gangs.). All right, it is a nice policy, at least on paper. But, then what? What alternatives or incentives are given to the “STG” member to change and become an educated and civilized human being? Is the STG problem supposed to disappear, as by magic? By this time, CDCr’s administrations know that education is the key to take away the soldiers needed to make a gang. A gang without soldiers is lost, once the leaders die. I know for a fact that the education, the books, documents, poetry, arts, and access to all known sciences have given me the tools to defeat the gangs’ indoctrination attempts. Once, a slave is educated; he is in a position to question impositions, orders, manipulation, and intimidation; especially, if these pressures came from ignorance. So, it is time to question CDCr’s war on “STG” members.
When is CDCr going to launch a war on ignorance?
Which is the chief cause of gang recruitment. When is CDCr going to stock all of its law libraries with plenty of books, install computers in every building, provide paper, pens, pencils, and GED instructors? Why not give education a shot; after all, everything else has failed. The problem is not going to be resolved by locking up the gang leaders, killing their soldiers, nor 24/7 lock downs. Why insist in keeping a flawed system in place? Of course, it goes without saying that any CDC 115 received for STG’s related activities will be used to keep us enslaved for life.
Cell Phones: Almost every slave wishes he could be in contact with his family every day. Unfortunately, this is not possible due to overcrowding conditions and high cost phone bills. Solution: Black market cell phones a $1,000.00 to $1,500.dls a piece; not a cheap trinket. There is a drawback though. “If caught with a cell phone, one is doomed to die in prison.” For the slave that likes to pay attention to his surroundings and happenings, the hypocrisy of this policy jumps out at him. This isn’t right, they mean to tell me that: I get to die as a slave for a cell phone sold by prison staff; my family doesn’t get to see me, ever, as a free man. And the guard goes laughing all the way to the bank; CDCr gets to keep its cells full. Everybody wins except the slave. The BPH is unforgiving a CDC115 cell phone related incident are some of the worst CDC 115s, one can show up with. Because, it shows to them; that their rehabilitation system is a joke, a sick, damned joke.
Each one of these CDC 115s must be challenged via a CDC 602 grievance; then brought to the courts, via a petition for writ of habeas corpus or civil complaints. (It must be backed with regulations, statutes, and both Constitutions.) Of course, most likely the judges are going to rule against any types of cf relief; that we will be asking.
But, that is expected from a racist judicial system; that is known to have two types of justices, one for the poor and another for the rich and the law enforcement officers.
CDCr should not be allowed to create a system that results in CDC 115s, and then use these incidents to deny any possibility of parole. This system must be challenged every step, and the fat cats profiting from our misery, must be exposed.
Jun 23, 2017
keywords: Hunger Strikes
From Prison Focus Issue 52
Constitutional Violations And Significant Hardships We Are Forced To Endure In Folsom State Prison, Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU), Building 4
Within ASU Building 4 at Old Folsom State Prison (FSP), the majority of prisoners being housed here are CSP-Sacramento, High Desert and SATF prisoners. These same prisoners are all awaiting court proceedings and/or district attorney referrals; therefore, all 115 disciplinary reports against them cannot and have not been heard to receive findings of “guilty” to receive a disciplinary action.
This is important to note, because ICC (Institutional Classification Committee) still imposes a “Projected MERD” (Minimum Eligible Release Date) based on the initial 115 report, as if found guilty for the offense, violating due process of hearing and evidence. With the projected MERD imposed, prisoners still cannot be deemed “SHU” term or be transferred to “SHU housing” because the 115 report is pending district attorney rejection or conclusion of court proceedings.
This forces prisoners to remain housed in ASU for long term confinement of anywhere from a year to 14 months depending on the offense. This leads to prisoners sitting idle, in forced single cell. The following demands are in line with fair and dignified treatment of a human being:
PROVIDE ADEQUATE ACCESS TO COURTS AND LEGAL ASSISTANCE
Denial of adequate access to courts and legal assistance: The “law cage” is inadequate for prisoners who are illiterate, non-English speaking and/or undereducated. Many of the men here are facing serious charges that carry life sentences and even the most educated could not mount a proper defense or do legal research on their own. Access to properly trained legal assistance that a law library provides is in line with Lewis v. Casey
et al (1996) No. 94-1511. Currently, there is no access
to legal forms, copies or printing. It has been long established the “paging”
PROVIDE MEANINGFUL EDUCATION, SELF-HELP COURSES AND REHABILITATIVE PROGRAMS
Denial and/or lack of meaningful education, help courses and rehabilitative programs: Wright v. Rushen, 642 F2d 1129 (9th Cir. 1981), held FSP shall provide its ASU prisoners with education and rehabilitative programs. ASU prisoners are not afforded GED programs, and the high school diploma program is split between the entire facility and ranch plus ASU. Therefore, we are placed in a hard spot; ASU prisoners are neither first nor second priority, leaving no educational opportunities.
The college program is nonexistent at best. To add to the problem, those previously enrolled are forced to drop classes due to no TVs for video assignments, preventing them from acquiring degrees. FSP provides absolutely no self-help courses or counseling in anger management, behavior management etc. FSP provides absolutely no substance abuse counseling or programs, such as N.A. or A.A.
ALLOW POSSESSION OF TELEVISIONS
Denial of TVs: FSP has flat out lied on the ability to provide the necessary electrical outlets to allow the possession of a TV. Instead of fixing this issue years ago, FSP continues to cover up the fact the funds allocated (Inmate Welfare Funds) are spent leisurely on non-inmate stuff. Per Title 15, §3190(3), ASU prisoners are allowed the choice of a TV or radio.
Prisoners are forced to choose a radio due to FSP’s unwillingness to provide outlets. With no programs, education or meaningful time out of cell, the sensory deprivation, sitting idle, causes prisoners to lose their minds, forcing prisoners to harm themselves in order to get mental health care, which provides TVs per Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. ____(1994) “One does not have to await the consummation of threatened injury to obtain preventive relief.”
FSP’s attitude of “make us,” “we’re exempt,” is in violation and promotes prisoners to harm themselves to get a TV. Examine FSP record of prisoners needing mental health care while housed in ASU.
PROVIDE EXERCISE EQUIPMENT, INCLUDING PULL-UP BARS, FOR MEANINGFUL EXERCISE IN YARD
Denial of exercise equipment, including pull-up bars: CDCR began installing pull-up bars in all SHUs and ASUs throughout CDC prisons. FSP is one of the last if not the last ASU to install pull-up bars.
This was done so men can receive meaningful exercise in the small dog kennel type cages used as yards. With no ability to run around and exercise our legs, prisoners are left to sit idle for hours. CDCR agreed the pull-up bars were meaningful equipment. The permanent injunction in Toussaint v. McCarthy, 597 F. Supp. 1388 9N.D. Cal 1984) covers FSP, saying ASU prisoners shall be provided meaningful exercise. FSP has the necessary vocational jobs and classes to install the bars and build the equipment at minimum to no cost.
END CRUELTY, NOISE AND SLEEP DEPRIVATION OF WELFARE CHECKS
Sleep deprivation from welfare checks: Correctional officers (COs) on first watch create excessive noise with keys while walking every half hour; mixed with uncourteous loud metal on metal contact, it creates unnecessary cruelty and punishment. A CO’s equipment and keys can be properly secured on their person to prevent the excessive noise, yet when asked for courtesy, the noise is made extreme as a retaliation, thus waking prisoners every half hour the entire night.
KEEP ORIGINAL PROPER PACKAGING FOR COMMISSARY AND CANTEEN
Commissary and canteen: All items are repackaged into TRASH BAGS! This is forcing prisoners to use toothpaste out of trash bags. Deodorant that is gel is repackaged to trash bags, which causes the deodorant to evaporate and lose its purpose to keep the funk away. Coffee jars are repackaged to trash bags which causes coffee to go stale and harden. This is an irrational practice with no real security or safety reason, as proven by the fact that all packaging in canteen and quarterly packages is allowed within the SHU.
GIVE NON-DISCIPLINARY STATUS TO QUALIFYING PRISONERS
Denial of NDS (Non Disciplinary Status) to qualifying prisoners: Title 15 Article 7 Segregation Housing §3335 (A)(1) outlines and stipulates criteria for NDS. FSP’s warden is denying this status based on an underground memo of criteria not approved by the APA. FSP’s warden is attempting to extort information out of prisoners in order to receive NDS after being placed in ASU for “non-disciplinary” reasons.
FSP’s warden is attempting to force prisoners to cooperate with institutional investigations, violating a prisoner’s right to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
PROVIDE ADEQUATE AND APPROPRIATE CLOTHING AND SHOES
Denial of personal clothing and shoes: Prisoners are forced to walk around in their boxer underwear and state-issued T-shirt, which are normally extremely used and too large or too small. Prisoners are moved around the prison like this and remain all day like this.
Prisoners are provided one jumpsuit that is always over-sized, with no ability to wash or exchange it. In the cold winter months, prisoners are denied warm clothing or beanies to prevent sickness while out on yard.
During the summer, the warmer months, prisoners are denied appropriate clothing to cover up and still maintain coolness. It is a decency factor of allowing prisoners clothing and properly fitted shoes to remain dignified and in touch with the civilized world. There is no reasonable security issue or factors to deny a person decency.
PROVIDE FOOD BOWL AND CUP
Denial of a food bowl or cup: FSP is forcing its ASU prisoners to eat out of recycled (“washed”) trash bags, old zip lock bags and milk cartons and to drink from a 3 ounce “rubbery” reused cup. See Estelle v. Gamble, 424 U.S. 97 (1976). This treatment is unnecessary cruelty and punishment and violates prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights. The amendment embodies “broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards,
humanity and decency.”
Jun 23, 2017
keywords: Pelican Bay, Keramet Reiter
From Prison Focus Issue 52
From 2010-2011, while working as a contract psychiatrist for the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) providing supportive therapy and medication management for San Quentin State Prison (SQSP) inmates, I was inspired by the resilience of the Human Spirit and reminded of our shared humanity. When I returned to CDCr in 2014 I provided the same services via video-conferencing from my SQSP office to Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) and became more socially conscious. While my assignment was with a specific PBSP mental health program, I helped out with most programs. I resigned from CDCr PBSP in July 2016 due to a culture of retaliation, a pervasive divide and conquer mentality, and a deliberate indifference that corrupted moral integrity, compromised patient care, violated civil liberties and increased professional liability. Justice, fairness, and ethics seemed to be at times inconveniences for CDCr. Supervisors evoked policies and guidelines when convenient and to insist on their authority. As I voiced legitimate concerns, colleagues whispered stories of the negative outcomes for numerous providers who previously criticized CDCr policies or objected to some supervisor’s misguided “good intentions.” Even the physician union representative warned: “You don’t want to start a war with CDCr.” The unfortunate reality was as James Baldwin’s wrote: “To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.” 1
I left CDCr wondering how PBSP could remain in shambles after 22 years of court oversight. As I started educating myself about prison reform, I stumbled upon Keramet Reiter's 2016 book, “23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement.” 2 Within those pages, I found validation and some disturbing answers. I wish this book had been available to me before I started working in CDCr. Reiter, an assistant professor at the University of California at Irvine’s Department of Criminology, Law & Society and School of Law, ambitiously attempts to provide a cohesive picture of the historical context that birthed California’s first supermax, PBSP, in December 1989. She cautions that the story she shares remains fragmented due to CDCr’s veiled transparency. Reiter wanted to understand how the decision to build a supermax was reached especially considering that courts at the time were condemning lockdown facility conditions and experts were recommending more humane treatment and programming, and questioning the existing classification system that was leading to an increase in lockdown units. Shockingly, in researching California legislations, she found no records on the supermax other than a 1988 legislative debate about the naming of it. She interviewed prison officials, judges, lawyers, and some inmates and concluded: “Three factors forged the supermax: fear of uncontrollably violent prisoners, lack of transparency, and bureaucratic discretion” (p 203). Furthermore, she argues that prison officials’ “compliant resistance” to court orders has sabotaged prison reform contributing to more hidden and harsher practices and an over reliance on solitary confinement as a standard management tool (p 72). She urges, as others did in 1970s, better transparency to improve oversight and provide checks and balances on administrative discretion. However, I believe we have relied too much on laws and court orders to direct action. The Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in the confederate states and later the 13 th Amendment did so across the nation (except those convicted of crimes) but did little to change the attitudes or behaviors that continued to divide and oppress. Likewise, the culture of PBSP and CDCr impedes Reiter’s recommendations. In a culture with a broken moral compass to guide ethical behavior, transparency will be questioned, accountability will be misplaced, oversight will remain minimally effective, administrative discretion will be selectively enforced, and real meaningful change will have to wait. Reiter provides multiple examples exposing how the politics of transparency is such that those that resist exposure will find ways to actually conceal rather than reveal the truth, and information obtained may be a distorted reality.
In reading Reiter’s book, I see PBSP is as it began. Reiter revealed how a traumatized prison staff held hostage by its violent past has been unable to release themselves from the grip of fear and anxiety. By interviewing key prison officials she uncovered how the recurrent distressing memories of the revolutionary prisoner George Jackson, the August 21, 1971 San Quentin State Prison riot that led to Jackson’s killing, followed by the September 9, 1971 New York Attica Correctional Facility bloody uprising has provoked defensive actions by prison officials in an attempt to secure more control over their environment and the prisoners. The evolving community unrest and the reactionary political hard on crime attitude contributed to an increase in incarceration, especially of minorities, which in turn created overcrowding that disturbed the already fragile power structure and fueled the perceived need for more protection. In an attempt to curb prison officials’ discretion, the courts in 1976 eliminated the indeterminate sentencing law. According to prison officials interviewed by Reiter, they were no longer able to reward good behavior with potential for early release. With these growing restrictions and pressures, Reiter found that officials felt a growing loss of control. Repeated lockdowns were becoming routine to maintain order even though the practice was noted to increase tensions and hostilities. The practice of lockdowns, nonetheless, morphed into secretly designing a permanent isolation fixture for “prisoners they perceived to be the most dangerous to prison order- the ‘George Jacksons’” (p 84). Prison officials withheld that by 1988 “the rate of violent deaths in California prisons had fallen to less than half that of the late 1970s” and exploited the fears of violence to convince legislators that a supermax prison with more restrictive means of control was essential to maintain institutional safety (p 14). Every prisoner could then be threatened directly or indirectly with the security housing unit (SHU), i.e. solitary confinement. Soon after opening, PBSP prisoners’ alarming letters to legislators exposing abuses resulted in the 1995 federal lawsuit, Madrid v. Gomez, where Judge Thelton Henderson found PBSP violating prisoners’ Eighth Amendment right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment. The evidence proved: 1) guards using excessive force against prisoners; 2) inadequate medical and mental health care; and 3) unconstitutional housing of prisoners with mental illness in solitary confinement. Because of the code of silence among staff condoning these transgressions, a special master was appointed to monitor court ordered remediations. Henderson told her that not enough evidence was presented to find solitary confinement itself unconstitutional. Court oversight requires honest portrayal of the facts, not a misrepresentation with a desired result.
Reiter’s assertion that PBSP has only superficially complied with court orders and has “designed creative workarounds to avoid external oversight” is supported by my PBSP experiences (p. 199). CDCr credentialing staff confided: “Administration turns a blind eye to irregularities until auditors are at the door.” I saw how within days of a pending court audit, one of the mental health programs which had been operating over capacity for months with some inmates in overflow areas receiving little to no treatment was reduced by twenty patients. Normally transfers out of PBSP take months but this pending audit inspired officials to move quickly and make exceptions. Another blatant maneuver to appear favorably to auditors was when patient treatment plans would be reduced from the usual weekly 14 to a low of 2-4 with purposeful intention to discuss each plan meaningfully. Supervisors would not have needed to deceive in this manner if the truth was in compliance. Unannounced court visits would be more revealing of the true functioning of PBSP. Cover up is worse than the crime as it erodes trust. Integrity is not just the absence of lying, but telling the whole truth, as painful as it may be.
Despite court oversight, the provision of psychiatric care in PBSP continued with endless deficiencies that staff was conditioned to tolerate. The mental health program operated in crisis mode, a grave error as its reactionary defensive pattern only increased risks for all and led to conflict. Planning for program needs seemed to be afterthoughts. It took PBSP 2 ½ years to get an on- site psychiatrist after its opening. When I left PBSP in July 2016, two full time psychiatrist remained for the entire facility, the same number as when the Madrid vs. Gomez case was underway in 1992. Due to limited psychiatrists, supervisors ordered us to write discharge medication orders for unknown patients in the psychiatric hospital unit without evaluating them first. Anyone that objected to this unsafe practice received a disciplinary letter that was placed in their personnel file. Despite repeated requests by me, I never got a speaker-phone to provide translation services for non-English speaking patients, or a scale to monitor patient’s weight during hunger strikes, paranoia driven refusal of food, or anorexia. I could not order urgent labs unless a prisoner was admitted to the inpatient unit or sent to an outside facility. Routine labs were restricted to Tuesday and Thursdays. Chart documentation was often incomplete, with notes not scanned into the electronic system in a timely manner. Access to patients for treatment was limited by the narrow window of opportunity that custody could escort patients to confidential offices. At times guards would say patients refused appointments when they had not. Space limitations led to restricted services delivered. Even when space was not an issue, the treatment groups available were largely recreational. The “core” groups for trauma, substance use, or anger management had long waiting lists. Therapists were often pulled from one skeletally staffed program to cover immediate needs of another which disrupted continuity of care everywhere. Patients were hesitant to begin therapy not knowing if their therapist would be gone tomorrow. The shameful part was that at times, patients were then penalized for not progressing enough, or for filing grievances, by threats to be kicked out of programs. Patients were asking for help but the system was so chaotic and punitive that it was unable to provide the compassion and consistency that treatment demands. Patients were blamed for the system’s failures. Supervisors seemed inconsiderate and insensitive to life and death issues. In May 2016, a patient I had yet to meet, but who was assigned to me, hanged himself a day after being discharged from the psychiatric-medical hospital. I learned of his death through other patients, not through administration or my team. It was complete silence, as if this young man had never existed to the staff.
Per Madrid v. Gomez decision, patients with serious mental illness are to be excluded from the SHU. CDCr has an exclusionary diagnosis list that does not include oddly all of the anxiety disorders including Post Trauma Stress Disorder which is quite common in prisons. I do not know who came up with this list but if anxiety disorders were included perhaps many would not have been legally placed in the SHU. Even the diagnoses on the exclusionary list, however, were manipulated. Not infrequently I would be in disagreement with a social worker or psychologist who wanted to down-grade a patient’s diagnosis from Major Depression to adjustment disorder, or regard reported psychotic symptoms as malingering or, down-play suicidal ideation as manipulation thereby clearing them for the SHU. Once in the SHU, prisoners would receive rudimentary monitoring for decompensation every other week largely by a psychiatric technician at cell front. Cell front visits are not at all confidential so often understandably patients will not share much. I learned from those in the SHU that “psych was suspect” so minimal help was even requested from staff. Those excluded with one of the exclusionary diagnosis but serving a SHU term are housed in the Psychiatric Housing Unit (PSU). Both the SHU and the PSU are required to have an assigned psychiatrist. The last year I was at PBSP neither had one. Without an assigned psychiatrist to see them as needed, these very ill PSU patients were cycling back and forth, crisis after crisis, from the PSU to the inpatient psychiatric hospital. I was ordered to participate in the weekly PSU treatment team meetings even though I never evaluated these patients and therefore could give no meaningfully input. I explained this was not in the patient’s best interest and finally refused to provide PBSP protection when I was asked to do this for another program. Again I explained my reservations through the PBSP and CDCr chain of command without support. Instead, as often happens in CDCr, the whistleblower gets accused. I was told I was being irresponsible, not thinking of how my actions affected others, and that I was not a team player. Their way around this “inconvenience” was to list anyone present in the meetings even if they did not participate in the discussion. With or without my cooperation, CDCr would fill that psychiatrist line by writing “Dr McCall present” to comply with regulations. You cannot rationalize unethical behavior based on current needs. Leaders are expected to embody and execute moral integrity. Of more recent news, CDCr is attempting to take over three state mental hospitals (Department State Hospitals-Salinas Valley, Stockton and Vacaville) arguing that continuity of care would be improved. PBSP's substandard medical and mental health care is not unique, it crosses all sites. When CDCr cannot manage effectively and humanely their current system, Governor Brown and other state legislatures should not allow CDCr to expand into greater acute care. Not only would this be absolutely detrimental to patient care, but would cost the public much in expected lawsuits and human suffering.
Solitary confinement placement is at odds with the goal of rehabilitation or the facilitation of social reintegration. As little as ten days in solitary confinement can cause disruption in the sleep-wake cycle, diaphoresis, dizziness, heart palpitations, headaches, muscle deconditioning, joint pains, weight loss, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, anxiety, panic, depression, paranoia, anger, impulsivity, hallucinations, obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, memory and concentration difficulties, dissociation, hyper-sensitivity to normal stimuli, startled responses, hyper vigilance, hopelessness, helplessness, suicide, and suicidal behaviors. 2,3,4,5,6,7 In 2014, 79% of suicides were in isolation units (p163). Inmates in segregation have the highest rates of self injurious behaviors. 8 Some of these adverse effects can be long lasting and can devastate even those without mental illness. Patients would often lament, “There is nothing more dangerous than a man who has nothing to lose.” The SHU creates the “monster” CDCr claims to be protecting us from. When released from the SHU, some filled with rage and resentment have assaulted others; thus results of the confinement are leveraged by CDCr to justify such restrictive confinement. Others in attempts to escape such horrors, “snitched, ” guaranteeing them death, or took their own life, or provoked cops to kill them, or harmed themselves as a semblance of control over their lives. To think some prisoners have been held in the SHU for over 40 years is unconscionable.
Equally unscrupulous is the monthly release of 100 CDCr SHU inmates directly to the community without a transition or support to adjust (p. 168). A weakness of Reiter’s book is the exclusion of the PBSP mental health providers and leaders in the discussion of solitary confinement, and of how they negotiate their triple loyalties as care-givers, human beings, and employees. Seventeen years after Judge Henderson declared the housing of the mentally ill in the SHU unconstitutional, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2012 advised against segregating those with serious mental illness longer than 3-4 weeks. 9 Recognizing the harm from SHU placement even with a few days, and its $70,000 per year per prisoner expense, it is our clinical obligation to our patients and our social responsibility to all inmates to oppose such dangerous practices, much less to be involved in any way supporting its continued existence. Mental health providers should not be declaring anyone cleared for this type of high risk containment. To do so we give approval and legitimacy to the practice. Even the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) in their April 2016 position stated that “health staff must not be involved in determining whether adults or juveniles are physically or psychologically able to be placed in isolation.” 7 I agree with psychiatrist Kenneth Appelbaum that the APA, as the moral voice of our profession, needs to oppose publicly and categorically solitary confinement for all human beings regardless of whether or not they have mental illness, and to modify its current policy. 5 Doing so would be more in solidarity with the World Health Organization, NCCHC, and the United Nations position which all agree that prolonged segregation longer than 15 days is cruel, inhumane, degrading, and harmful to an individual’s health, and can constitute torture. 3,6,7
Aside from solitary confinement, ethical dilemmas abound as a CDCr psychiatrist. Physicians cannot allow ourselves to be used to advance CDCr’s purpose at the expense of our patients or our principles. Often I was asked to increase patient’s medicines because supposedly, per custody, the patient was manic, paranoid, and trying to start a riot. I would assess the patient to be coherent, linear in thinking, calm, perceiving risks realistically, and often would see no clinical indication to adjust medications. There was obviously a misrepresentation that was not substantiated through evaluation. I refused to chemically restrain them because custody labeled them “agitators” when they were expressing understandable frustration and/or peacefully building support for non-violent collective resistance. I learned to not take reports at face value. I often reduced the complex non evidence-based “cocktail” of polypharmacy patients arrived on. The greatest measure of success seemed to be “As long as they are not getting rules violations.” It did not seem to matter if the patient was so sedated that they needed prompting to provide for basic care, or was not leaving his cell to participate in programming, or that the dangerous medication combinations were increasing morbidity and mortality risk.
Recently a psychologist advised CDCr to do 30 minute welfare checks around the clock on prisoners in segregation, with the reported intention to reduce suicides. I have stated that sleep deprivation is hazardous to physical and mental health, and is a known method of torture. Most people with reduced sleep will be moody, have reduced tolerance for stress, increased risk for psychosis, and lowered immunity. This recommendation sounds like a recipe for increase suicide not less. A thoughtful benefit risk assessment of this practice points to more harm than good yet it is policy.
The original argument for the SHU was to reduce prison violence. However data on prison violence before and after the introduction of solitary confinement has shown that the isolation of prisoners labeled as dangerous or disruptive did not result in a reduction of prison violence. 13 Reiter argues that the SHU has “succeeded in eliminating the widespread collective resistance characterized by George Jackson and the Attica in the 1970s” but this too is not supported by history (p 194). The SHU inmates proved they could not be silenced as they peacefully organized the 2013 hunger strike of 30,000 prisoners across California in protest of the CDCr gang validation policy and SHU conditions. We are left perplexed as to the real purpose of the SHU. While working at PBSP I was repeatedly told that inmates in the SHU “earned their way there” for violent offenses. To learn from the book that the majority were there for allegedly being associated with gangs in absence of any rule violation or violent behavior was unsettling. Reiter found little evidence to support the myth of “worse of the worst.” She describes beautifully and respectfully how these prisoners developed discipline of mind and body through strict routines, how some learned new skills or a new language, how some drew life into their barren cells or wrote so descriptively to escape the constraints of prison. As we hear of the unnecessary struggles they face in and out of the SHU, we begin to see these criminals as human beings. To realize that CDCr perpetuated the falsehood of the “worse of the worst” reminded me of when prison officials’ staged a riot during one of Judge Henderson’s 1990s PBSP visit in a desperate attempt to manipulate the judge’s attitudes by altering reality to support their own agenda. PBSP’s past mirrors its present. With this and other examples Reiter provides, we are warned to be careful what narrative we believe. Reiter writes that the three “independent source items” sufficient to classify someone as a gang associate or member could not be reviewed by the accused inmate and the decision to use the source as “evidence” was left to prison officials’ discretion without any due process. Equally alarming was to learn that some of the “evidence” was culturally based, such as pictures or books of Malcolm X or Che, cultural music, the Mexican or Puerto Rican flag, Aztec calendar, certain tattoos, letters, and the eagle of the United Farm Workers or Mexico. By censoring these items in the name of institutional safety, CDCr could simultaneously legally strip you of your identity and criminalize your culture and sentence you to an 8 by 10 feet box indefinitely. A SHU survivor said to me, “CDCr throws gang titles around to dehumanize prisoners to the public” so they are forgotten and not worthy of the fight for justice. We must never forget Dr. Martin Luther King's words: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 14
Prison is a by-product of society’s racist’s underpinnings, and the SHU has been a tool for social control. This oppression reminded me of how colonizers defined Native Americans as uncivilized savages in need of “saving” through Christianization and reeducation, with the real intent to steal their lands and demean, marginalize, and slowly exterminate them. The 2015 Ashker vs Brown settlement which now prohibits CDCr from placing inmates into a SHU based solely on gang affiliation or validation status may remedy this grave injustice. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, “the numbers of California prisoners in indefinite solitary confinement has dropped by 99%” one year after the settlement. 15 This astonishing reduction illustrates how arbitrary was CDCr’s criteria, and how few prisoners merited continuation in such restrictive environment. The newly adopted 2-year step down program and the alternative to SHU, the Restrictive Custody General Population, may prove be more efficient instruments of repression. Vigilance is in order.
Prison is a tentacle of society and without addressing what feeds and maintains CDCr, there can be little transformative systemic change. As long as we ignore the contradictions of our nation we will continue to have racism and discrimination that creates oppressive economic, social, and political policies that legitimize a hypocritical system. Our country preaches “democracy” and “freedom” yet incarcerates the most, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. Our prisons and jails are the de facto mental health hospitals for our mentally ill. Twenty five percent of the prison population have mental illness compared to the four percent in the general population. The 1963 Kennedy Community Mental Health Act prematurely closed psychiatric hospitals without building the intensive services the mentally ill needed to be empowered and integrate into the fabric of our communities. As a result, many patients have become homeless, criminalized, and traumatized as they enter the jail-prison system. This is a disgraceful abandonment. Incarceration is not treatment, and cycling through different systems (legal system to mental hospitals) speaks of the fragmentation costing much suffering and money. As long as we the people fail to do our civic duty and hold our leaders accountable nothing will change and will only get worse.
Keramet Reiter masterfully provokes us to question the very existence of solitary confinement. Each discovery Reiter uncovers reminds me of the detachment and compartmentalization that many staff utilize to survive the daily demoralizing prison experience that removes them from the urgency of action. Staff is so busy putting out fires that it becomes very easy to look away and avoid discussing the ethical dilemmas of some policies and actions, while supervisors create more ill planned programs that never unfold into the promise of healing, and at times bring more harm than good. Staff deludes themselves into thinking that they are doing something when they are just contributing through their silence to the apparatus of deceit. In the end, this book’s message to me was that we are equally accountable for what we do and fail to do. As harrowing as this book is, it is inspiring. Now more than ever, with Donald Trump as president, we as a people must expect more from ourselves and our leaders. We need to define and defend our values. Nurture hope and connections instead of fear and hatred. “Redefine felons as people first and criminals second” (p. 64). Heal through restorative justice programs. Protest injustices. Eliminate the discretionary application of the law that disproportionately negatively impacts minorities. Latinos and AA make up ⅓ of United States general population yet make up nearly ⅔ of the prison population. Improve our education system and teach a cohesive inclusive history. Teach and demonstrate understanding and respect rather than retaliation. Dare to see minorities as assets not potential threats. Support self-determination not destruction. Provide jobs that can sustain families. House our people. Bolster our community mental health clinics and substance use programs. “...O, let America be America again—The land that never has been yet—And yet must be…” as Langston Hughes wrote. The struggle continues until the promises are fulfilled.
In solidarity with our shared Humanity, MM
References: 1. James Baldwin 1963 The Fire Next Time, 294 2. Reiter, Keramet 2016 23/7 Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement 3. World Health Organization 4. Vera Institute of Justice, "Common Misconceptions and Emerging Safe Alternatives"5. Appelbaum, Kenneth 2015 “American Psychiatry Should Join the Call to Abolish Solitary Confinement.” J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 43:406-15. 6. U.N 2011 “Solitary Confinement Should Be Banned in Most Cases, UN Experts Says.” 8. Appelbaum KL, Savageau JA, Trestman RL, et al. 2011 “A national survey of self injurious behavior in American prisons.” Psychiatry Services 62: 285-90. 9. Am. Psych. Ass. 2012 Position Statement on Segregation of Prisoners with mental illness 10. Mitford, Jessica. 1973 Kind and Usual Punishment: the Prison Business. 11. Schein, Edgar H. 1962 “ Man against man: Brainwashing.” Correct Psychiatry J Soc Ther 8(2):90-7. 12. The Physicians for Human Rights 2014 “Doing Harm: Health Professionals’ Central Role in the CIA Torture Program” 13. Briggs et al. (2003) ‘The effects of supermaximum security prisons on aggregate levels of institutional violence’, Criminology, Vol.41 (4) pp 1341-1376. 14. Martin Luther King 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” 15. Center for Constitutional Rights.
Jun 23, 2017
keywords: Women, Parole
From Prison Focus Issue 52
Strange Fruit, is an original work of wax on paper; made in the form of a collage. Done by Cn in 2017. “When I had to do an expedited visual work for the Paintoem, Life Without the Possibility of Parole, I used an image from a magazine, but drew the background,” says Cn. “I have a push, or thirst to bring attention to women issues. That’s what Life Without the Possibility of Parole is about. Strange Fruit, is to draw attention to a report that I read in the October 2016 edition of the San Quentin News. It stated, ‘During an 18-month period in 2014-15, the suicide rate at the California Institution for Women (C.I.W.) was eight times the national average for women prisoners and five times the rate for the entire California prison system.’ When I did Life Without, there was an aesthetic there. This was from a fashion magazine. This was of a young white woman, on a very serious subject. I say to myself, ‘Hey, much support in the prisoner rights movement comes from older white women in the Catholic Church. This is an image of them. They see their younger selves in her. Promote the $#@! out of this work.’ I could have used that same racial device in Strange Fruit. Life Without The Possibility of Parole was about the aesthetics. It was about the shape of that image in the magazine. Later on, I realized how I could use race to my benefit. That device really did not go unnoticed to me when doing a work on women suicide. But I couldn’t play on white populism; I had to speak the truth. So a black woman had to be used. Blacks out number all the other races combined in incarceration. There are lots of ways of committing suicide, but I think the hanging is the most salient in our human conscious. That being the case, that brings in Strange Fruit. ‘Strange Fruit,’ is the title to a song, sung by Billie Holiday. The tener of the song is about all this strange fruit hanging from these trees in the South. What was this strange fruit? Nooses around the necks of dead African-Americans. That’s why the piece is entitled ‘Strange Fruit.’ That’s why there’s a noose around her neck. Why a collage? Because I had discovered with Life Without, collages create a certain depth perception. The poem, is a play on the CBS television show Beverly Hillbillies. ‘California/is the place to be/Fun living/is the life for me…’ In Black intelligentsia, and its grass roots also, they have really latched onto Michelle Alexander’s seminal work, ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Her thesis is that 21st Century mass incarceration, and post incarceration reentry, looks very similar to 20th Century Jim Crow laws in the deep South. People generally agree with her thesis, and actively use the siren call to end the New Jim Crow. Incarcerated blacks even started the Neo Jim Crow Art movement, to which this piece is a part of. I hold up Sandra Bland as our 21st Century’s Emmett Till. Emmett Till, like Sandra Bland was a fellow Chicagoan, who took a trip down South in 1955. Emmett allegedly made a whistling sound in the general area of a white woman. He was only 14 years of age. He was bludgeon to death. His mother, from the North (Chicago), wanted an open casket burial to which a Jet Magazine photographer snapped a picture of his gruesome remains. It was the shot (photo shoot), heard around the world. Well, I’ve been holding up Sandra Bland to go with the theme of this work. What was her offense that caused her to lose her life? It started with a traffic stop; whose legitimacy is dubious at best. But an officer who physically feels the need to pull a motorist out of their car for smoking a cigarette? An activity that is associated with a high degree of stress, to which this encounter with this law enforcement obviously was. But I think anytime a person comes in contact with law enforcement, and especially an African-American with a white officer, it is very harrowing; because an African-American never knows where this thing is going. And Ms.Bland allegedly or apparently committed suicide while in a jail holding cell for a nonsensical lane change violation. The officer was fired as a result of this incident. In certain activist circles, it’s common to hear women say, ‘Prisons were not designed or intended for women