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Mar 07, 2018

PTSD SC: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Solitary Confinement

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Baridi J Williamson

keywords: PTSD, trauma, SHU, solitary confinement, prisoner author

(Published in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper:

California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) had been locking classes of prisoners up in solitary confinement since the ‘60s as part of CDCr’s para-military low-intensity warfare, to break the minds and spirits of its subjects, California’s prisoner class. CDCr’s solitary confinement has two operating components: 1) punishing you and 2) physically and mentally destroying you.

In the 1970s, CDCr’s report to then Gov. Ronald Reagan on revolutionary organizations and gangs resulted in Reagan ordering the CDCr director to lock up all radicals, militants, revolutionaries and jailhouse lawyers who were considered “trouble-makers.”[i] And a 1986 report by the CDCr task force stated that during the ‘60s and ‘70s, California’s prisoners became “politicized” through the influence of outside “radical, social movements.”
And conscious prisoners began to “demand” their human, constitutional and civil rights,[ii] as exemplified by those politicized prisoners of war (PPOW) like W.L. Nolen.[iii] In the late ‘60s, Nolen and other PPOWs filed a civil rights class action case challenging the inhumane, degrading conditions and institutional racism that was prevalent at Soledad Prison’s solitary confinement O-wing,[iv] as well as throughout CDCr’s prison system to date.

The 1986 CDCr task force report recommended that CDCr build “supermax” prisons for this politicized class of prisoners, which was echoed by the California prison guards’ union (known today as CCPOA) in continuing their low-intensity warfare upon California prisoners up into and through the ‘80s.
Shortly thereafter, California government through its apparatus CDCr, built its solitary confinement torture sites, such as Security Housing Units (SHUs) and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Segs) at Tehachapi in December 1986, New Folsom in December 1987, Corcoran in December 1988 and at Pelican Bay State Prison in December of 1989. All were designed with the malicious intent to destroy human lives through their diabolical low-intensity warfare scheme of mass validation – group punishment – indeterminate SHU classification and enhanced “debriefing” interrogation, known as “snitch, parole or die!”

Each of California’s governors and CDCr cabinet secretaries from 1977 to 2015 knowingly enhanced their system to become more repressive upon the prisoners held in solitary confinement in the SHUs. We prisoners have known for the past decades that California citizens have not condoned the torture of California prisoners. Nevertheless, since the ‘60s, each state governor and legislature knowingly sanctioned solitary confinement torture.

California’s CDCr – with the winks and nods of lawmakers and judges – has held countless prisoners in solitary confinement, whether it is called Ad-Seg, Management Control Unit, Adjustment Center, SHU or Administrative SHU, longer than any prison system within the United States, ranging up to 45 years of torture and acts of racial discrimination from Soledad Prison’s O-wing to PBSP’s new form of solitary confinement torture.

The case of Madrid v. Gomez was the first acknowledgement on the part of California authorities and judiciary recognizing the harm that CDCr had been causing – mental torture – to those held in solitary confinement across the state’s prison system.[v]

We prisoners have known for the past decades that California citizens have not condoned the torture of California prisoners. Nevertheless, since the ‘60s, each state governor and legislature knowingly sanctioned solitary confinement torture.

The Madrid case touched on the harsh conditions and treatment toward the solitary confinement prisoners at PBSP. It is a clear fact that during the years 1989 to 1994, PBSP had one of the most notorious Violence Control Units (VCUs) in the U.S. CDCr-PBSP officials utilized the VCU for to violate prisoners’ human, constitutional and civil rights by beating us and destroying the minds and spirits of so many of us for years.
An example of how some prisoners would find themselves forced into PBSP’s VCU is when the CDCr bus would arrive at PBSP and park outside the entrance doorway to solitary confinement – Facilities C and D. A squad of goons dressed in paramilitary gear with black gloves, shields and riot helmets would be there waiting. They called themselves the “Welcoming Committee.”

These guards, describing themselves as the Green Wall guard gang, using “G/W” and “7/23” as symbols for “Green Wall,” would roam through the SHU corridors assaulting, beating, and scalding prisoners. See Madrid v. Gomez.

The Welcoming Committee would select one or more prisoners and pull them off the bus – usually choosing those the transportation guards accused of “talking loud.” They would take each one to the side and jump on him, then drag him off through the brightly lighted doorway.

These guards, describing themselves as the Green Wall guard gang, using “G/W” and “7/23” as symbols for “Green Wall,” would roam through the SHU corridors assaulting, beating, and scalding prisoners.

When the rest of the prisoners were escorted off the bus into the corridor to be warehoused in the general SHU cells, they would see those beaten prisoners dragged off the bus “hog-tied”[vi] and lying on their stomachs or crouched in a fetal position, sometimes in a pool of blood.[vii] Later, they were dragged off to the VCU, where they were targeted with intense mind-breaking operations.

When these prisoners were eventually taken out of VCU and housed in the general SHU cells, they mostly displayed insanity – smearing feces all over their bodies, screaming, yelling, banging cups, throwing urine.[viii] And it was only when prisoners began to go public about the VCU at PBSP that CDCr ceased those practices.[ix]

The effects of solitary confinement at PBSP compelled CDCr to establish Psychiatric Service Units (PSUs) in response to the Madrid ruling for remedying the conditions that were destroying the minds of all prisoners who were held captive from the time of the Madrid ruling in 1995 through 2014, but they were poor and ineffective. Those released to the PSU from SHU fared no better than others held in solitary confinement at PBSP.
Prisoners in SHU continued to suffer mental, emotional and physical harm with no remedy made available by CDCr until we were released out to General Population units by the Departmental Review Board (DRB) between 2012 and 2014 and the Ashker v. Brown class action settlement in 2015.

These released prisoners were coming from a torture chamber, where by necessity they created coping skills like self-medicating. Typically, when coming out of solitary confinement, women and men prisoners show signs of depressive disorder and symptoms characteristic of self-mutilation, mood deterioration and depression, traumatic stress disorder, hopelessness, panic disorder, anger, obsessive-compulsive disorder, irritability, anhedonia, fatigue, feelings of guilt, loss of appetite, nervousness, insomnia, worry, increased heart rate and respiration, sweating, hyperarousal, serious problems with socialization, paranoia, loss of appetite, as well as cognitive issues, nightmares, muscle tension, intrusive thoughts, fear of losing control, and difficulty concentrating.[x]

Prisoners in SHU continued to suffer mental, emotional and physical harm with no remedy made available by CDCr until we were released out to General Population units by the Departmental Review Board (DRB) between 2012 and 2014 and the Ashker v. Brown class action settlement in 2015.

The California prison system realized that these prisoners held initially at PBSP and subsequently at Tehachapi and throughout the system had their constitutional rights violated under the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th Amendment guarantee of due process of the law, for decades.[xi]
Jules Lobel of the Center for Constitutional Rights and lead counsel in Ashkerstated:

“The torture of solitary confinement doesn’t end when the cell doors open. California’s continued violation of the Constitution and new evidence of the persistent impact of prolonged solitary confinement requires CDCR to make essential changes in their conduct and rehabilitative programs, and, more broadly, demonstrates the urgent need to end solitary confinement across the country.”[xii]

The Ashker v. Brown class action, settled in 2015, is a historic lawsuit exposing those violations and the harms they cause. We, as California prisoners and citizens of this state, deserve to be treated for the intentional cruelty caused by state-sanctioned torture. This is especially so for the hundreds of solitary confinement prisoners who have spent more than 27 months in any form of solitary confinement, which constitutes torture, according to the Ninth Circuit.[xiii]

CDCr has continued to shun its governmental responsibilities and has not effectively remedied the pain and suffering of thousands of solitary confinement prisoners who have been released to General Population through the DRB and Ashker. All of them are suffering from various aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Solitary Confinement (PTSDSC).

We, as California prisoners and citizens of this state, deserve to be treated for the intentional cruelty caused by state-sanctioned torture.

If you are reading this, join us in writing, emailing and calling Gov. Brown (916-445-2841 or, Secretary of CDCr Scott Kernan (916-324-7308) and Sen. Holly Mitchell (916-324-7308 or, who chairs the Public Safety Committee overseeing CDCr, and demand the following government actions be taken to remedy the decades of damage done to us:

That CDCr provide statewide men’s and women’s PTSDSC support groups modeled after the “Men’s’ Group” program we created at Salinas Valley State Prison Facility C, which has been approved by the administration – wardens, community resources managers (CRMs) – for our PTSDSC class and is only awaiting locating a sponsor to get started;
That CDCr allow all PTSDSC prisoners to go through this six-month relief program at their respective GP locations;
That CDCr provide effective in-service training of staff in fairly and respectfully dealing with PTSDSC class members, including in appeals, disciplinary and medical matters;
That CDCr adopt all recommendations in the 2017 report of the Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Lab at Stanford University, detailing the ongoing negative health consequences that Ashker class members have suffered following their release from long-term solitary confinement into GP:
Provide peer-facilitated support groups for all PTSDSC class members; and
Provide independent psychiatric care for all PTSDSC class members to receive PTSDSC mental and emotional health and psychological services in this form.
That Gov. Brown and the California legislature order the Board of Parole Hearings to stop denying our PTSDSC class members who are serving life sentences a fair opportunity to be released home, thereby doubly punishing and torturing us because we were unlawfully kept in solitary confinement without due process and exercised our constitutionally protected right to peacefully protest with hunger strikes to be released, refusing to debrief and become their snitches.

In struggle!

Prisoner Human Rights Movement
©Dec. 1, 2017, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Baridi J. Williamson. Send our brothers some love and light: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (R.N. Dewberry), C-35671, and Baridi J. Williamson, D-34288, P.O. Box 1050, Soledad CA 92960.

Jul 01, 2017

Pathology of the SHU (Security Housing Unit)

Ifoma Modibo Kambon (Corcoran State Prison)

keywords: prisoner author, SHU, trauma, PTSD

Prison mirrors society, surrounded by a landscape of electrified barb wire fences, warning signs for trespassers and gun towers, concrete structures of pathological incubators which breed psychological trauma. This experience was especially true for thousands of men subjected to decades of prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation in a restrictive environment. Not a single individual was unaffected nor immune from the state’s repressive program of behavior modification. In its extremity, the mind is decapitated from the body, the body decapitated from the spirit. ‘Pathology of the SHU’ is based on my personal observations and reflections on the systemic mental incapacitation of other human beings. Born out of the initial shock of imprisonment, a dehumanizing process set in motion an idea that regarded some human beings’ worth or value to be less than other human beings. Their personhood became less valuable than a chimpanzee imprisoned at the local zoo. Stripped of the moral or ethical values of our human identity, our lives became viewed from within the prism of a concrete cage. The moral justification in considering prisoners as less than a human person is based on the pseudo-science of criminology. This is the same science that once determined what constituted criminology by the measurement of a person’s skull or smile. We became ‘worst of the worst’ without any redeemable qualities.

Decades of being warehoused inside an unnatural environment produced unnatural thoughts and behavior. Captivity robs us of identity. Think for a moment about the common threads between prisons, circuses, and zoos. Such an approach will help us better understand how many men lost their human spirit. The commonality between the three is the feature of denaturing. People by their very nature are social beings. Both their individual and collective identity is formed through their interaction with other people within a social context. What this means is that who we are as human beings is forged by the reciprocal nature of our basic needs, wants, and desires - how we work and play with each other, and how we cooperate with each other in building networks, families, and other types of relationships. So it’s easy to see how this environment breeds internal emotional conflicts and psychological damage. Its effect on humans is the transformation of some men into a domesticated, docile, passive new species.

Imagine living in an unnatural environment where any social interaction doesn’t produce experience or knowledge that has some utility value. Experience is only limited to the past in the form of meaningless, senseless stories with no productive value. Our individual struggle is how to make ourselves meaningful and relevant both inside and outside these walls, especially when our physical, social, mental, and spiritual needs are controlled by Administrations of these human warehouses. My struggle is to maintain my self-respect, respect for others, dignity, and integrity, when everything around us stinks of broken minds and rotting flesh.

So my story is about how human beings became invisible and different. It wasn’t until my experiences at Folsom and San Quentin that I began to seriously take note of the psychological effects prison life was having on other prisoners. I began to reflect on all the horrors I personally observed. I concluded that the dependency complex is the source of the psychosis. At times this complex borders on anxiety, stress, mild depression, frustration and alienation. Often the cause of the complex is putting up with the constant bullshit and denials. How do we cope with the denials and responsibilities of being men, fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins and friends?

The dependency complex also creates disappointment and anger. These reactions were the result of promised visitors that didn’t show up, mail that’s never received or answered, money orders that were never received, and other bullshit denials. The disappointments led to mood swings, loss of interest, and restlessness. Some individuals became so lethargic they took on the behavior traits of a pigeon: eat, sleep and shit in order to pass the time. Others felt hopeless and helpless, losing their spirit to fight. Some chose to deal with their pain by suicide, others chose self-mutilation. I also heard the deafening screams, cries, and incomprehensible mutterings of men’s minds succumbing to madness. They became victim to the pathological incubator.

Because I talked about my 38 years of being warehoused inside the security housing unit (SHU), I was given a 9 month SHU term for a rule infraction, ultimately being warehoused in SHU indefinitely. I was told by the administrators of these golden gulags that I was a threat to inmates, staff, and the security of the institution. I am always asked how I survived decades of solitary confinement. The SHU back then was structured like a university or school of higher learning. It was an environment that gave me guidance, direction and purpose. It was during this era that I developed a new political consciousness. I began to learn about human rights, liberation movements, history, world events, justice, racism, women’s rights, etc. The environment was conducive to learning and teaching, because each one of us were held accountable for our actions. During daytime hours, we had quiet periods in which no talking over the tier was allowed. This time was used for self-reflection. There was a quiet period for both study and exercising. At no time was loud, disrespectful conversation permitted over the tier. We existed as a community. It was here I rediscovered my humanity, and it was here we practiced community values. I was introduced to the book Autobiography of Malcolm X. Most importantly he showed me the possibility of change, transformation, and redemption. The possibility of rebirth.

My early education in SHU challenged me to think before acting, and made me understand that our strengths and courage are forged by our willingness to not be afraid or undaunted by the challenges or difficulties.

But this is not to say I was unaffected by the psychological sufferings of other prisoners. The continued years in SHU produced migraine headaches, for others it marked the endless engagements in self-dehumanizing acts. Physically I was beginning to undergo internal changes that neither ‘will’ or ‘determination’ was able to resist. Some prisoners who were experiencing the same impulses acted differently. They reacted by throwing food, feces, or urine, and kicked on the cell doors, exemplifying the behavior of a caged animal who is now on display at the local zoo.

In order to cope with the stress, I adopted a vigorous program of exercise, meditation, reading, and playing chess. As time passed, even infallible prisoners, though using constructive physical and mental exercises in restraint, find themselves expressing bitterness and anger in a destructive manner. My only way of doing time had been interrupted, my tolerance snapped. I began hollering at those who I classified as fools, telling them to shut up or hang themselves. The noise was nerve-racking and disruptive, to say the very least. Somehow my own humanity was under assault. I became argumentative with folks suffering mental problems. Instead of separating people suffering from mental trauma, the administrators mix them in with other prisoners. No one was immune from the psychological incubator.

The past always informs the here and now, so I am never forgetful of the horrors at Vacaville State Prison, where medical experiments were conducted on human bodies. Prisoners became guinea pigs for drug research and testing. Years later, these experiments took on a new form: behavior modification. Another manufactured virus was unleashed in the prison environment which produced mindless zombies, broken bodies. After being targeted and selected for extreme psychological torture, I was sent to Pelican Bay. The germ unleashed into the environment was called Boogey Man. It was based on fear-mongering that led to the moral justification to subject human beings to solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. Their strategy was to break the minds and spirits of men viewed as a threat to inmates, staff, and security of the institution.

The classification committee’s job it is to determine whether a SHU prisoner is eligible for placement in general population. The only possible eligibility for placement in the general population placement was our willingness to submit to the classification terms for release. These terms are anchored to a process which entails prisoners informing (snitching) on other prisoners. Information may not be new or true. Year after year, decade after decade, we were exposed to pathological conditions that ruined hundreds of minds.

Can you imagine being invisible, without a voice?

Can you imagine being constantly told that the only way to gain relief from these conditions is if we debrief by becoming informants? Hundreds of men chose this path rather than suffer prolonged isolation. For others it meant becoming invisible. It meant having shit and piss thrown on you by the broken minds as a condition of internment. It meant the screaming and yelling of broken minds. It meant mail never received in its real time and space, because of the gang censors. It meant that presumption and fear-mongering became the new regulations. It meant parole denials, because we refused to become rats. It meant the constant bullshit of denials one puts up with daily. It meant no human contact or telephone calls with family or friends. It meant living in a dungeon for decades. It meant being told that the only way to better health care is if we debrief. It meant that we were allowed only a 15-minute phone call when a family member passed away. It meant 15 goddamn minutes to express condolences, and to listen and talk to people for the first time in decades. It meant living in a prison hundreds of miles from home. It meant having to share a jacket with other prisoners. It meant having to us a dog toothbrush because regular toothbrushes were security threats. It meant constantly appealing to the courts for relief, but being denied time and time again. It meant visitors behind glass, and visitors being subjected to the disrespect of the guards. It meant little children unable to embrace their daddies.

I became tired of being so tired, but kept on pushing. Culture and prison activism were criminalized. It meant the criminalization of dissent. It meant the criminalization of art. It meant the criminalization of assembly, speech and association. It meant that through dehumanization we were ‘the worst of the worst’. It meant walking everywhere in your shorts or having to squat and cough to go to the yard by yourself. It meant the State-paid psychologists supporting the inhumanity of solitary confinement. It meant overwhelming stress from the violence of gun shots and stabbings.

It meant hearing your father’s voice for the last time. It meant feeling the guilt of not being there for family and friends in a meaningful way. It meant no phones while you awaited the news no one wants to receive, death phone calls. It meant that after a year of not hearing from my mother, when I finally heard some news about her she was given two weeks to live, but died days later. It meant the enormous grief, pain and resiliency of watching my father, mother, sister, son, brother, all dying in consecutive years.

This story is about struggle, pain, hope, suppression. Most importantly it is about the men whose spirit, minds, and bodies survived. It was the bond that we had with each other that helped forge the courage and strength to resist the campaign to destroy our minds, bodies and spirits. This story is not only about me, but rather the community of men who understood that there’s strength in our commonality of struggle. We put aside our artificial differences and answered the revolutionary call to organize, to put aside our differences and build collective will and purpose. This is for the men who maintain their self-respect, dignity and honor.

In kindred spirit,

Ifoma Modibo Kambon

Dec 01, 2017

The Continuing Legacy of Mary Rubach

Katherine Rubach

keywords: mary rubach

Mary was born on February 3rd, 1924 in London, the first child of Ernest and Dorothy Pigott , he, a sales representative for Watermans Pens and she, a dance teacher. The family, Mary now with two younger siblings, Joy and Robin, were not well off, but fortunately inherited a house from an uncle in Bournemouth, where they moved. Attending Queens Mount on scholarship, Mary was hailed as the school’s first student to have ever successfully passed the High School Certificate. Mary was also quite sporty, becoming captain in the field hockey team. She was a good swimmer and learnt lifesaving skills, which were soon put to use when as a 14 year old, she saved a drowning girl at sea. Mary frequently attended a Spiritualist Church with her mother.

At a time when girls of her class did not go to university, Mary did, studying geography and history at Exeter. The family was little touched by the war, though her father did serve in Africa. She was part of the land army during her summer holidays which meant picking fruit and digging potatoes. With 21 years and a degree and teaching diploma, Mary got a job at a Boys School. Later she moved to a school closer to home where her help was needed. (Her father, having depression, was given a leucotomy operation. This lead to a life in a wheelchair.) Mary struggled to maintain discipline in her classes and after four years she gave up teaching, feeling like she had failed and not knowing what to do next.

She volunteered in London at the Bermondsey Settlement, which offered social, health and educational services to the poor of its neighbourhood. It had a particular focus on music and dance. She was impressed by her mentors in this work, and later saw this time as deeply formative. This was the beginning of a lifetime thread which found Mary working with people on the fringes of society. After a year, she trained as a probation officer and social worker, and worked with delinquent children, and then assisted in school medical examinations. This was her first experience of feeling capable in a job.

In 1953, at a Fabian Society meeting, she was told of a conference taking place at Bedford College with Dr Ernst Lehrs. This led to regular visits to Rudolf Steiner House for lectures, eurythy and painting classes. She was 29 years old when she went to Dornach for the Mystery Dramas and met Hermann Rubach, 18 years her senior. He was German, but had been living in the U.S. for the last 29 years. They married on his birthday, May 1st 1954 in London with Reverand Heidenreich and sailed on the Queen Mary for New York. They settled in San Francisco and then Berkeley. He became a life-insurance agent and she trained in social work.

Christoph, was born to her in 1959, and Katherine in 1963. Mary was a thoroughly dedicated mother, alongside supporting her husband in the anthroposophical society. Herman became a Class Reader and chairman of the Anthroposophical Society in Northern California, as well as at times being West Coast Representative. The Rubach’s held a weekly study group at their house on the hill, through which many people passed. They advertised these at the UC Berkeley campus - home of radical thinking in the 60’s and beyond. Mary played an important part in the founding of the Christian Community in San Francisco, although she was not at the time an active member she was seen performing her name sake in the Oberufer Christmas plays. She enjoyed water colour and studied different approaches including Collot d’Bois’, as well as giving painting classes in her home. The couple often hosted visiting anthroposophical lecturers and thus they met Francis Edmunds, leading to a year sabbatical at Emerson for the family in 1971. Mary helped found the local Rudolf Steiner School (too late for her children), and taught aspects of the “Extra Lesson” by Audrey McAllen. She also tried in various ways to introduce aspects of the Waldorf curriculum into the schools her own children attended, often as a storyteller. For 12 years she volunteered at The Creative Living Centre, a day centre where people could go who had recently been discharged from a mental hospital. There she offered eurythmy, art appreciation and drama to the attendees.

Mary decribed how after working with anthroposophy for 33 years, she began to question its role in her life. She wished to make a difference in the lives of people who were suffering. Mary’s concern for the disadvantaged led her to seek ways of helping the homeless. She co-founded and lead a drop-in centre for homeless women and children which was enriched by the arts and crafts, she encouraged.

Herman became increasingly dependent on his wife’s care over a 7 year period. Iscador had often been of help in the family. Herman had paid for his cousin Gisela to receive treatment for cancer in Arlesheim. She lived for another 40 years cancerfree. Mary’s mother lived for 20 years after treatment. Now Herman was diagnosed with prostate and advanced bone cancer. He made a complete recovery and regained his vitality, but suffered multiple small strokes loosing his speech and mobility. Mary nursed him at home until his death in 1992. After this trying period Mary was suddenly free to pursue new interests. She traveled to the UK and Germany and made cultural trips to Greece, Ireland and the south western states in America. She attended the Anthroposophical Schooling Course at the Centre for Social Development in Sussex and hosted the English Eurythmy Theatre on their tours of the USA. She did storytelling in the community and enjoyed ‘clowning’.

It was at this time, that she began to work for prisoners, both writing and visiting them. She worked for a small organisation called California Prison Focus, whose aim it is to defend the rights of prisoners who were regularly mistreated in the Californian prison system. With this work she experienced that she had found a real task in life, and she dedicated much time and effort to it over a 12 year period, traveling to San Francisco to work in the CPF office 2 to 3 times a week as well as working from home. She used her car to drive small groups to Pelican Bay (super max high security) Prison, where prisoners rights were clearly being violated. This was a day’s travel and Mary was 80. They interviewed and supported prisoners. Only through this organization could prisoners have their voice heard, and the law regarding confinement of the mentally ill was changed because of it. Mary’s children sadly had to encourage her to give up this work, in 2007 bringing her to England, but she remained very connected and continued to write to prisoners she had come to know. Prisoners clearly felt deeply grateful to Mary and continued to write to her even when she could no longer reply.

Mary moved into the annexe of her daughter’s house in Forest Row, and immediately became active in the anthroposophic community. She attended study groups and went regularly to lectures and conferences. She tried to connect with the prison system here to visit prisoners, but this proved not possible. She will be remembered by some for her clowning, which brought out a side of her that longed to be on stage. With her money Mary had always supported multiple charities with small donations. This continued in England. Most of the charities were connected to human rights, animal rights and agriculture.

Mary’s memory become increasingly weak. She lived in the moment, but could still say things that were very too the point. In 2014 she had a bad fall, and a live-in carer became necessary. She remained active until the end, taking regular walks and enjoying the company of friends and family and even attending lectures. Three days before she crossed the threshold she came down with a chest infection and she was able to cast off her earthly garments on September 22nd as dawn broke.

Her contentment with life, and the gratitude expressed to those around her was inspiring to many. People spoke of her uniqueness, her humour, her straight forward way of expressing her thoughts, her generosity and selflessness. They frequently expressed how lucky they felt to have known her. Mary has left behind her two children, Christoph and Katherine, and her four grandchildren, Amanda and Simeon Rubach and Daniel and Brendan Beaven. Peace be with her. ●

A chapter completed,
A page turned,
A life well-lived,
A rest well-deserved.

Apr 30, 2018

Idaho's "Inmate Companion" Suicide Watch Program puts California to Shame

Kim Pollak

keywords: suicide watch, welfare checks, suicide

More than 200 Idaho incarcertaed individuals volunteer to help prevent prison suicides by helping staff stand watch over suicidal people 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Eight of Idaho’s ten prisons, housing about 8,ooo men and women, have what are known as companion programs. Though some were skeptical when the Inmate Companion Program was started in 2004, the program has proven to be successful. Since it was launched, no individuals under the suicide watch program have completed a suicide. (Idaho reports an average of two successful suicides per year.)

People who want to volunteer must have good speaking, listening and writing skills, be physically healthy and mentally stable, and show respect for all people, according to the department’s inmate companion program guide. Participants receive four hours of training and attend co-watch shifts with experienced companions before taking shifts on their own.

When an inmate tries or threatens suicide or displays other mental health symptoms, medical staffers evaluate the inmate and place him or her under one of three types of watch:

1. Acute suicide watch, for actively suicidal inmates who have already injured themselves or threaten suicide with a specific plan. Staff members maintain constant, direct observation at all times, and inmate companions are not used.
2. Nonacute watch, for potentially or inactively suicidal individuals who either express tendencies without a specific threat or plan, or who have a recent history of self-destructive behavior. Inmate Companions assist the staff.
3. Close observation, for those with increased psychotic or mental health symptoms that (supposedly) require placement in a holding cell for stabilization. Inmate Companions assist the staff here, too.
4. Each companion takes a three- to four-hour shift. Every 15 minutes a prison officer or health worker checks on the the individual who is suicidal.

One companion explained that when she’s assigned to a suicide watch, she starts by introducing herself and asking a few questions, trying to find a connection and to learn which topics to avoid. The volunteers are taught to keep what the inmates tell them in confidence.

Kevin Kempf, Idaho Director of Department of Corrections states that what makes the inmate companion program so successful is that the companions are peers. “...a lot of good things comes with peer support.”

The peer support program provides an opportunity for healing to both the individuals under suicide watch as well as for their support companions. According to one companion, “It is therapeutic for me to feel like I am there for someone.” Another stated, “As someone who suffers from depression, it helps me to get outside of myself."

Source: ●

Apr 30, 2018

LETTER: Red Roses: Transsexual Political Organization (Excerpts)

Eva Contreraz

keywords: prisoner letter, transgender, LGBTQ

What is Tee? Of recent, CDC’s Men’s prisons began to issue the girls the same kind of clothes women’s prisons issue. As with everything else about CDC, they are pulling little scams with this initiative that was forced on them by the Quine v. Beard case. Everything we get from CDC for our transitional needs – hormones, clothes, makeup, bras, panties and surgery – was forced on CDC by courts; they’ve never done it on their own volition out of humane consideration, they always fought it. And these new developments have only come after decades of girls pleading and cutting genitals and body, hanging themselves and overdosing on psych meds to kill themselves from gender conflict, jumping off the tier, starving themselves, going off in every direction – psych cells, rubber rooms, five-point restraints. Ask me how I know, because I’ve lived it, in the 80’s, 90’s when we were getting nada. Today’s generation of girls didn’t have to live through that. We were the pioneers, putting down so much blood and tears, crying, always crying. Not even the courts would give us anything. The consciousness wasn’t there yet, until the mid-90’s, when my friend Dee Dee Farmer in federal prison won in the US Supreme Court (Farmer v. Brennan (1994) 511 U.S. 825 114 S. Ct. 1970), and we got a little relief, more rights.

Dee and I were from a group called Transsexuals in Prison (TIP), which included girls from other states prisons, founded by Vanessa Meriwether in an Indiana prison... We were all dedicated to fighting for ours in prison and court and outreaching for help and support...
…The Standards of Care (SOC) that governs diagnosis and treatment of transsexualism worldwide requires that we have all of our transitional needs...I 602’d for all this… These characters have no respect for our intelligence whatsoever. I expect it will be denied and go to court. This is 21st century America, allegedly the most civilized country in the world, and we have to deal with shit like this. We have to take it, girlfriends, because CDC has never once done nada for us and are not about to start. We have all of this coming off the tip top as women. We have to take the shotgun approach and demand everything. So move those 602’s and lawsuits and show them who is the woman!

… We are transsexual women. We are not transitioning in accord with the SOC treatment guidelines that DCC partly follows in the hormone and surgery policy. Transsexualism is a mental health issue, or so says western medicine. Bueno. All these women items are therapy, mental health treatment for us in our transition to get over as women. The SOC says the very thing. We need them for our mental health stability. Hormones and surgery, in and out of themselves are not enough… We need to step up our resistance to patriarchal CDC and create new law.
…The last time I checked, only female staff can pat down and strip search women in women’s prisons of CDC, absent an emergency. When we raise this issue, staff tell us what they always do, “This is a men’s prison”, improperly insinuating that we are men. We must emphasize in our 602’s and lawsuits that we are diagnosed by transgender specialists employed by CDC to be psychological women, are accordingly accommodate for the fact with hormones, clothes, surgery. Our interaction with male staff must also come within this frame work, and they should not be allowed to pat or strip us unless there is an emergency in progress. To have these things done to us by a related impact in us: trauma, humiliation, anxiety, depression, resentment, anger, low self-esteem and so forth. Bad mental health…

Each time we go out to the yard..., about once or twice a week, if that – everyone must strip naked in the day room… The girls are not required to strip, can keep our clothes on, but must be waved with the wand. But this is a mere courtesy, not policy, and any cop can make us strip if they want. Coming in, men must strip to underwear only, but girls can stay dressed. Again, this is only being polite. It needs to be policy, because we are physically and psychologically assaulted to be stripped by men in front of men, akin to rape. That’s how I feel each time. It’s another 602 issue and court case.

We are referred to verbally and in documents with masculine pronouns – he, him, his. No no no. we are women. It is a mental health issue with us. It is psychologically injurious to use masculine pronouns to refer to us, a trauma that can result in self-harm, deficiency of self-esteem. The California Legislature currently has bills moving for us to be referred to by CDC in the feminine, and transmen in women’s prisons in the masculine, and for those who identify as no gender, some other way. And also so that we can get a legal name change in court without CDC’s discretion to say yes or no. Nevertheless, these bills are not on the Governor’s desk yet, nor has he agreed to sign them if they do get there. There is no assurance they will get there amid the current right wing political backlash. 602. State habeas corpus. Psychological injury, trauma, inferiority complex, thoughts of self-harm or suicide. A state petition is easier and faster than a federal section 1983 lawsuit.

Many people are saying hosannas over the Quine V. Beard case having to do with transsexual surgery and female accessories for us girls in the men’s prisons and male things and surgery for transmen in women’s prisons. I had hope myself. But on closer observation, it is not all that great, truth be told. The case was a settlement, there was no trial, and it was agreed CDC did no wrong, had not violated our rights. The bottom line – as far as a hella lot of girls go – is that Quine signed the settlement because it guaranteed her surgery only and CDC said never mind the girls, we got the girls, and now we are seeing how they got us. Many, many, many girls who applied for surgery are being denied on the flimsy basis that they are getting hormones and psych counseling and so they don’t need surgery. That’s it. But so was Quine getting that. Why are we surprised, we who known CDC better than the back of our hand? All the denial notices are identical from letters, different only in the girl’s name and number and the date. It is an insult to our intelligence and dignity.

A lot of girls are frustrated and angry and resentful. It is going to require a whole stack of lawsuits, while Quine has had her surgery and is now in a women’s prison. So many of us feel betrayed. Hey, let the truth be told. I will not mince words. It’s reality. The interviews for surgery are supposed to be done by surgeons and doctors of mental health who treat us on a regular basis and have the professional training and the career experience of interacting with us personally, according to the SOC. But here, nickel and dime crackpot yard psych quacks are doing the interviews, who have absolutely no training on transsexualism whatsoever. The committee in Sacramento CDC Headquarters who makes the yes or no decisions – who are these people? A ghost panel. We have never seen them and they have never seen us. Yet they are making decisions that will affect our entire life one way or another based on interviews conducted by incompetent psych staff who by the way they treat us are a disgrace to the profession. This is preposterous. The whole Quine affair is one big tangled mess. It was a bad settlement.

… Some may say one step at a time, but like, I don’t have time. I want my girl shit right now. And in this fight for our very existence every blow we deliver we must count. And you know, we prisoners know an awful lot about lawyers, from public defenders to prisoners’ rights lawyers. Once a lawyer is assigned to a case by a court, as in a prisoner’s civil rights action, the prisoner loses control over the case and the lawyer calls everything, and can’t be fired, and the court won’t care if the prisoner disagrees with the lawyer. Just because they are court appointed lawyers does not necessarily mean they are going to do the right thing, and especially with people like us, who everyone is antsy about. We appreciate the good hard work they put in for us that turns out right. Nevertheless, at all times when the most critical issues of our lives are in the mix, we alone are driving this car.

And that’s the Tee.

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