Here you can search for articles that have been published in our newsletter. Our newsletter is primarily written by and for prisoners, their friends, and families. You can receive a paper copy at your home (or send one to your relative or friend in prison). We request a donation of $20 or more for four issues to help cover editing, printing, and mailing costs.
Please visit our archive if you would like to download pdf versions of our past issues.
Click on an article's title to see the full text.
Oct 24, 2016
keywords: Hunger Strike
From Prison Focus Issue 50
On June 7, men incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI) began a hunger strike, aptly named, “Dying to Live.” Although this writer is unsure of the number of participants, or even if the strike has ended, although it does not appear so, what is clear is the purpose of the strike, which is similar to those of the California hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013. In 1990, an individual in the custody of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WI DOC) had to have been “recently violent” to be placed in administrative confinement, but today, a mere “history of violence” is sufficient. Strikers resolved to refuse food until prison officials meet the following six demands:
1. Placing a legislative cap on the use of long term solitary confinement ( A.C.)
2. DOC and WIS legislators adopt/come into Compliance with the U.N. Mandela Rules on the use of
3. Oversight board/committee independent of DOC to stop abuse and over classification of prisoners to
“short” and “long” term confinement.
4. Immediate transition and release to a less restrictive housing of prisoners who been on the long term
solitary confinement units for more than a year in the Wisconsin DOC.
5. Proper mental health facilities and treatment of “short“ and “long “term Solitary confinement prisoners.
6. And immediate FBI investigation into the mind control program that the DOC is currently operating in the
system designed to recondition and break the prisoners the DOC considers a threat to their regiment.
According to letters from hunger strikers, the Dying to Live hunger strike had become a serious health crisis. Within 10 days after the strike was initiated, WI DOC had acquired court authorization to force feed the prisoners, and began doing so about three weeks into the strike. The forced feeding was reportedly suspended on August 15. They allowed the two most committed hunger strikers, to go without food or water for 72 hours, until they were severely dehydrated, then tube fed them again on Thursday August 18. Seventy two hours without water is a medically held time limit that would and is generally believed to kill most people. The hunger strikers believe Waupun staff will continue force feeding them every 72 hours in an effort to make the hunger strike as unbearable as possible. One striker said he suspects that the DOC is intentionally keeping them on the brink of death Strikers report other strike-related retaliatory attacks by the Warden and prison staff, as well.
On August 13, community members marched around WCI in downtown Waupun WI in an action organized by Milwaukee IWOC, the Incarcerated Worker’s Organizing Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Marchers protested the use of indefinite solitary confinement and aimed to spread the word about an upcoming nation-wide prisoner protest movement that began on September 9, 2016. One march participant stated, “The DOC has been force-feeding our friends for more than 50 days now, three times a day. There is no reason to shove a tube down someone’s nose three times a day other than to hurt them and coerce them into giving up their protest. We won’t let Secretary Litscher’s goons torture our friends anymore.”
Outside supporters are demanding that the DOC allow LaRon McKinley and Cesar DeLeon to drink bottled water, and that Wisconsin meet the striker’s central demand: a one-year cap on any form of solitary confinement. They are asking people to contact Warden Brian Foster, DOC Secretary Jon Litscher, and Governor Scott Walker. More information, including phone numbers and email addresses which can be found at SolitaryTorture.blogspot. com
Oct 24, 2016
From Prison Focus Issue 50
California Prison Focus has been informed of a limited hunger strike planned in California’s Santa Clara County jails, starting October 17, 2016 and ending midnight October 30. This peaceful protest, according to information that’s been circulated to people out here, is in furtherance of the following demands:
1. End meaningless classification reviews and biased appeal process
2. End placement in solitary confinement when there exists no serious rule violation to merit such placement
3. End policy/practice of denying inmates adequate clothing
4. End jail profiteering and exploitation of prisoners and their families through contract bidding of commissary
vendors based on kick-backs and political incentives for campaign contributions
5. End recidivism and misappropriation of Inmate Welfare Funds
(How the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department can be expected to single-handedly end recidivism within its jurisdiction is beyond us. Nonetheless, whoever put out this information has suggested some concrete ideas. including expanding and providing constructive programming and privileges for all inmates regardless of classification status and the reallocation of Inmate Welfare Funds toward education and rehabilitation programs.)
The information provided indicates that organizers are united in the name of the Prisoner Human Right Movement, and emphasizes:
“By no means is this to be considered an attempt to promote or benefit any form of gang, nor is this to be considered gang activity. This…is an attempt to enlighten and remain inclusive regardless of race, creed or color of top/shirt due to classification. . . .We all have a stake at hand, and we all serve to benefit from any success that may transpire as the result of our collective efforts.”
Oct 24, 2016
From Prison Focus Issue 50
Prisoners in various Minnesota correctional facilities filed a class action suit in an effort to secure minimum wages for the work they performed in the many prison industries. The industries in question produce items such as furniture, truck and auto body products, mattresses, textiles, and notebooks; they also provide services such as data entry, assembly, market research, and printing to private companies with whom the state has contracts. The plaintiff prisoners also alleged that prison officials sell prison industry products in interstate commerce to governmental entities and to the private sector. The plaintiffs alleged that in 1991, total sales for prison industries exceeded $11 million, and forty percent of the sales were in the private sector.
The prisoners are paid between fifty and seventy-five cents per hour, and they may earn good time credits on those days they work. The substance of their complaint consisted of an alleged violation of their statutory and constitutional rights by the state’s failure to pay them minimum or prevailing wages for the work performed in prison industries, and by punishing prisoners who refuse to work in industries by depriving them of good time credits.
This case, like so many others filed on the prison employment issue, boils down to the thirteenth amendment’s sanctioning of slavery for this segment of society. Regarding prisoners, the district judge said, “they are in fact engaged in involuntary servitude, not employment.” “The law is clear,” the court continued, “that prisoners may be required to work and that any compensation for their labor exists by the grace of the state.” The bottom line, it was held, is that “the Thirteenth Amendment’s exclusion of prisoner labor from the prohibition on involuntary servitude is a[n] economic reality”
Title 18 U.S.C. § 1761, the Ashurst-Sumners Act, provides that: “[w]hoever knowingly transports in interstate commerce any goods, wares, or merchandise manufactured, produced, or mined, wholly or in part by convicts or prisoners shall be fined or imprisoned or both.” Even though it was alleged that prisoners working in prison industries produced products sold in interstate commerce, the court ruled that prisoners could not enforce the provisions of the law.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, requires employers to pay their employees a minimum hourly wage, which is currently $4.25. The Act defines “employer” as “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee,” and defines “employee” as “any individual employed by an employer.” Courts were ordered to construe these terms expansively in order to further the congressional goal of outlawing from interstate commerce goods produced in violation of the Act. Where the employee/employer status is uncertain, the law requires that the economic realities of the relationship, and not technical concepts of employment, are to control. The court in the instant case ruled that “[w] here inmates work in the prison pursuant to penalogical work assignments, the economic reality is that they are not employees.” The district judge then launched off into some technical concepts (ignoring the economic realities) to justify his ruling that the FLSA does not apply to prison industrial workers.
This case also addresses constitutional and even a RICO claim. But all were lost when the court granted that state’s motion to dismiss. Readers are urged to independently study each aspect of this case, as all are important in working to expand this field of the law. Although it is necessary to keep knocking on the judicial door in an effort to secure relief in this area (and to educate the courts on the futility of expecting some good to come from maintaining a segment of society in a perpetual state of irresponsibility, dependency, and slavery), the ultimate solution must be a political one. The courts will recognize political strength. Strength is gained though a nation-wide organization of class conscious prisoners and their supporters. And this organization must, at the very least, be prepared to wage an ongoing fight for the abolishment of the thirteenth amendment to the U.S. constitution.
Strength is gained though a nation-wide organization of class conscious prisoners and their supporters.
Comrades interested in working on the cutting edge of the prisoners rights struggle should carefully study cases such as this. Learn how the plaintiffs lost, expand and perfect their arguments, and then file again. See: McMaster v. State of Minn. , 819 F.Supp. 1492 (D. Minn. 1993)
Oct 24, 2016
From Prison Focus Issue 50
Before any impressive re-birth into society, a dark, dismal death must first occur. More often than not, the death is attributed to that moment at sentencing when, in this case, a newly turned 16-year-old Stockton youth was sentenced to 19-years-to-Life in the penitentiary.
Raymond Aguilar was that teenager sentenced in San Joaquin Superior Court back in 1990. Today, Aguilar is free, and living in Stockton, and though less than 100 days after completing a 26 year CDCR stint, he is already advocating for youth and life term inmates alike.
“I got to Pelican Bay in 1993-94 and went right to the SHU,” Aguilar says of his Security Housing Units debut. “Back there, most of us were lifers, validated gang members and murderers. There is no hope no more, that’s the end of the line, that’s it.”
In an era before indigenous sweats, before contact visits and before SHU inmates were afforded many of their current rights, Aguilar made his way through the toughest channels in the California Prison system, literally as a child. Before escaping his teenage years, Aguilar’s reality would be transformed forever.
Early childhood was nothing pleasant for Aguilar growing up in Stockton. Aguilar was one of four children born to his married parents and raised amidst consistent dysfunction. Aguilar attributes the minimal stability he had to his grandmother, yet admits that a lot of what he witnessed from his grandmother was far from wholesome.
“My entire family was involved with drugs,” Aguilar said. “My parents were using, my grandmother was selling drugs, Drugs and violence were always a part of my life, even before I went to prison.”
Aguilar’s life sentence came after the shooting death of a 35-year old man. The man had been someone Aguilar “didn’t like” and Aguilar attested to having “problems” with the man in the past. In a warped-reality, Aguilar’s crime had been committed in protection of the same family members that should have been protecting him.
With more than two decades of prison time completed, Aguilar has made his return to society a triumphant one. It is nearly impossible to prepare for that moment of release, yet it seems as if Aguilar has aimed towards that very moment, his entire adult life.
After tasting the vile taste of having the Governor reverse the decision of the Board of Prison Hearings to grant him parole, Aguilar knew first hand that his freedom was not in his control. Yet finally relief for Aguilar came on September 16, 2013 when the Governor approved Senate Bill 260 requiring a youthful parole hearing after completing 15 years of the initial sentence.
During a powerful public comment at the Board of State Community Corrections Proposition 47 ESC Meeting in late June, 2016, Aguilar captivated the law enforcement-heavy audience with the simple reality of his life’s experiences. Aguilar went from tattooed murderer who was voiceless for 20-plus years, to one of California’s premiere experts on self-rehabilitation as well as an expert navigator of the system’s wicked reality created for our youth. The change he has made personally is not as shocking to Aguilar as was learning that there are tons of people on the outside fighting for prisoners who are fighting to retain their sanity; for prisoners in solitary confinement.
“It was a shock because inside we do not believe that many are out here fighting for us,” Aguilar said. “These people are fighting daily to expose the injustices that we experience in solitary confinement. If more people knew it would make a difference.”
Understanding that each moment behind the locked door is a tool of preparation for the hopeful day of release is important.
“When I was back there, all we did was exercise,” Aguilar said of his SHU tenure. “Exercise was a part of our discipline, reading was a part of our discipline, being consistent with our program was a part of our discipline. So 25 years later, now that I’m out here, I’m thinking, ‘how can I be consistent out here like I was in there?’ Things are a lot faster out here; in the SHU we talk about keeping our word and sticking to it. You can keep to your word out here too. Because guess what? A lot of people out here don’t.”
The strength, determination and tenacity that it takes to endure the SHU, will be the keys to success in making a positive reentry into society. The true victory is not in getting out, but staying out. Believing that, while in the midst of a 20-plus-year prison commitment, is no easy task.
The strength, determination and tenacity that it takes to endure the SHU will be the same keys to suc-cess in making a positive reentry into society.
In there that’s all it is, being strong,” Aguilar said. “We are all determined to not fail. So when I came out here, it was the same concept. I’m like, ‘OK, I am not going to fail, I’m going to adjust’. One part of the constitution says advancement demands change, so in order to advance we must change. So I advanced myself from the SHU, to the step-down program, to society. Now, how am I going to adapt? Well, I’m going to be mentally strong, physically strong, but emotionally that is the part I have to deal with.”
The realities of suffocating one’s emotions for decades takes its toll. Re-addressing those emotions may be the steepest valley long-term inmates have to face. The emotional stability it will take to avoid recidivism has to begin on the inside, prior to being back in society.
“We don’t deal with our emotions in the penitentiary,” Aguilar said. “We push everything to the side. So now, out here, be prepared for an emotional roller coaster. When we’re back there, we don’t talk about love, or affection, or kindness; those words are alien to us. Now I am dealing with all of those emotions and those feelings. Yes, I am committed to my job. I’m strong and I’m focused, but emotionally, I have to admit I break down daily inside myself.”
“I’m speaking to the brothers back there, I wish they would make time to deal with their emotions, because when you come out here, it is going to hit.”
Oct 24, 2016
From Prison Focus Issue 50
California Prison Focus is soon approaching the twen-ty-fifth year of our existence. Our priorities since day one have included doing legal interviews with
people imprisoned in California; historically speaking and foremost, those held in prolonged isolation, without judicial review or oversight. They’ve also included publishing about the abuses of human and civil rights and human dignity that go on inside prisons.
The occasion of our twenty-fifth anniversary is therefore a good time to remember that in California, as well as through-out the US, the news media have no special right of access to the prisons. (See, e.g., Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817 (1974).)
Moreover, for almost as long as we’ve been around, the press has ostensibly been banned from conducting face-to-face interviews with members of California’s incarcerated public. This is due to an executive order issued by former Governor Pete Wilson in 1997. Yet, we know from watching TV news that CDCr has welcomed members of the press to interact with its wards whenever it’s suited the CDCr’s interests.
Wilson’ 1997 ban on the media came on the heels of the CDCr’s apparently unsuccessful attempt, in late 1996, to push through the same ban via proposed changes to California Code of Regulations, Title 15. The changed regulations would have further disallowed confidential correspondence between representatives of the media and those inside.
In response to Wilson’s decree, legislators introduced a succession of bills that would have granted journalists the affirmative right to interview imprisoned persons. No fewer than nine such bills were introduced between 1997 and 2011, beginning with SB 434, sponsored by Senator Quentin Kopp during the 1997 legislative season.
With a single exception, all of the above-mentioned bills were overwhelmingly adopted by both houses of the legislature, only to be later vetoed by Governor Wilson and his successors Gray Davis, Arnold Schwartzenegger and Jerry Brown. (See the bottom of this article for further details.) The single exception was AB 1886, which passed with a solid majority in the Assembly in May 2004, before the author requested cancellation of the Senate’s vote. Meanwhile, a similar bill, SB 1164, was making its way through the legislature that Spring. During final Senate and Assembly votes held in August 2004, SB 1164 readily passed, respectively by margins of 22 to 7 and 44 to 34.
The vetoed bills generally included provisions allowing the CDCr to deny particular requests from the media or to reasonably limit access where concerns for safety and security were invoked with some degree of specificity. Particular requests might have been denied, for example, where re-quests to interview any one individual were excessive.
“Excessive request” provisions no doubt reflected rhetoric being bandied about at the time of Pete Wilson’s executive order: In 1997, Wilson and representatives of the CDCr were cynically broadcasting one-sided/lop-sided messages about prisoners becoming celebrities and exploiting celebrity to personal advantage and ill effect. It was as though issues of transparency, overcrowded prisons, and the public’s inter-est in knowing what was going on with one of the largest and largest-growing sectors of California’s government were non-existent.
Media access in California in 2016
As stated at the beginning of this article, the press has no special right of access to the prisons, either in California or in the US at large.
California Code of Regulations, Title 15 (as updated through January 1, 2016), section 3261.5, subdivision (b) provides: “[N]ews media and non-news media representa-tives shall be allowed to interview inmates in person in accordance with the visiting requirements of sections 3170 through 3176.3.” Sections 3170 through 3176.3 pertain to all visits other than confidential attorney visits; generally meaning, visits by a person’s loved ones and social acquaintances. Otherwise, the access of the media is subject to the CD-Cr’s independent discretion and is curtailed and supervised.
(See § 3261.1, subd. (a)–(c).)
Representatives of the media shall not “enter condemned units, the execution chamber or any area currently affected by an emergency situation without approval of the Secretary of the CDCR or designee.” (§ 3261.1, subd. (c).) “Confidential mail,” under Title 15, section 3141, does not include correspondence with representatives of the media.
(This writer strongly doubts that confidential correspondence between representatives of the media and those inside has ever been permitted under Title 15—regardless of the CDCR’s endeavor in 1996 to explicitly ban it.) Penal Code section 2601 however permits those imprisoned to “correspond, confidentially, with any member of the State Bar or holder of public office, provided that the prison authorities may open and inspect incoming mail to search for contraband.”
Summary of legislative efforts to grant the press the affirmative right to conduct face-to-face interviews with people in California’s prisons (1997–present)
1997: SB 434 (sponsored by Senator Quentin Kopp) pass-es both houses and is vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson
1999: AB 1440 (sponsored by Assembly Member Carole Migden) passes both houses and is vetoed by Governor Gray Davis, who takes office in January 1999
2000: AB 2101 (sponsored by Assembly Member Carole Migden) passes both houses and is vetoed by Governor Gray Davis
2001–2003: No legislation is introduced; Arnold Schwarzenegger takes office in November 2003 after Gray Davis is recalled in a special election
2004: SB 1164 (sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero) passes both houses is vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger; no Senate vote happens on AB 1866 (sponsored by Assembly Member Mark Leno), because the author requests cancellation of the Senate vote
2005: AB 698 (sponsored by Assembly Member Ray Haynes) and SB 239 (sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero) pass both houses and are vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger
2006: SB 1521 (sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero) passes both houses and is vetoed by Governor Schwarzeneg-ger
2007: SB 304 (sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero) passes both houses and is vetoed by Governor Schwarzeneg-ger
2008–2010: No legislation is introduced; Gloria Romero, the Democratic Majority Leader from 2001 until 2008, is termed out in 2010
2011: AB 1270 (sponsored by Senator Ammiano) passes both houses and is vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, who entered office in January 2011