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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.

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Apr 30, 2018

Education and the Obstructive Tactics of CDCR

anonymous

keywords: prisoner author, programming, education

I am currently an inmate at CSP-LAC. This facility has a contract with Coastline Community College, in Fountain View, California, to provide inmates with correspondence services for completing college courses. About a week before the start of each semester, this prison in tandem with said college, loans us electronic tablet devices, called e-readers, that are supposed to contain downloaded e-books for our classes.

However, ever since Proposition 57 was passed, I notice the teacher here started constantly telling us students that most of the e-books for our courses, which we are granted at enrollment, are unavailable for the e-reader (under questionable grounds/circumstances). Also, the college does not notify us about the unavailability of these books, and the teacher/proctor delays telling us until the last week before the start of semesters. I, besides numerous others, have experienced this problem the last three semesters. I recently had an interview with an educational supervisor, and the gist of his argument was that prison or college still have unlimited discretion in choosing who they want to provide books to and when. But I disagree since this constitutes discrimination and dereliction of their duties, especially in light of the new laws mandating more rehabilitation opportunities for prisoners.

Consequently, it appears staff are improperly limiting how much assistance we get in obtaining books to obstruct our early release opportunities, as they know most inmates are either indigent or are hard pressed to satisfy other needs with the little funds they receive, especially due to owing restitution...That is, we inmates are trying to maximize rehabilitation accomplishments; whereas, staff are minimizing them via obstructive tactics.

Apr 30, 2018

LETTER: Doing Prison Time in a County Jail

Fabio Soto, El Dorado County Jail

keywords: prisoner letter, realignment, AB109

Good afternoon. I'm doing an 11 year AB109 sentence in the county jail of El Dorado. Due to my classification I'm segregated in there. Max-pod, where I'm not allowed to work or participate in any educational programs, depriving me of my equal protections of the federal and state constitutions; of my conduct credits, milestones, my rehabilitation, work, unlimited visitations, all things that keep an inmate focused on his or her rehabilitation. Without these things it cruel and unusual punishment and mental abuse.

Some of the many issues are noted below:

1.Downgrading of mental health diagnosis after meeting for only minutes with no records.
2. Discontinuation of medication by a doctor who does not know the prisoner's diagnosis, and has not obtained their medical records but only read a summary.
3. Seeing the mental health doctor through a computer screen instead of in person.
4. Not allowing northern Hispanics to work but all other races can.

Overcrowding. Facility is too small for AB109 cases. This is just the start of many violations.

Thank you! Just trying to be heard.

Dear Advocates,

For more than three decades, the California Board of Parole Hearings, formerly the Adult Authority Board of Prison Terms, acting as the arm of governors past and present, have continuously operated in practice, policy and procedures to circumvent the law and [so] deny parole to indeterminately sentenced persons in the State of California.

Now, under the newly enacted Proposition 57, all prisoners/persons committed to the charge of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must face some form of Board recommendation and approval for early release. Under this law, the fox has been given charge of the whole damn chicken coop.

Due to the recent deluge of litigation against the Board through federal civil rights suits as well as individual federal and state habeas corpus petitions, there now exists a mountain of evidence that can finally be used to bring the Board’s practices out of the dark and into the light of public scrutiny. Through a 42 USC § 1983 suit, I propose to seek injunctive relief to:

CONDUCT all hearings and en blanc reviews through audio/visual recordings.
CONDUCT all comprehensive risk assessments through audio/visual recordings.
MANDATE that all Board personnel adhere to the law and not arbitrarily interpret any law or attorney general opinions of California penal statutes.
MANDATE that the appointment of commissioners and deputy commissioners follow State law and reflect California’s racial, cultural, religious, and professional population demographics.
MANDATE that any commissioner or deputy commissioner whose hearing decision, direct action or conduct that has been determined by any judicial decision to violate a prisoner’s Constitutional right(s) in two separate hearings shall be permanently prohibited from conducting or participating in parole consideration or related hearings.
MANDATE that the Board’s Chief Counsel and his/her staff review all parole suitability hearing recordings for compliance with due process and relevant law and provide written summaries of the Board’s conduct of the hearing, including whether the Board complied with all relevant law, and forward such summaries to all concerned parties.
MANDATE that any forensic psychologist who prepares or causes to be produced three separate comprehensive risk assessments containing inaccurate factual statements, misrepresentations, misleading criteria, prognosis, or diagnosis be prohibited from conducting any future comprehensive risk assessments for Board use.
MANDATE that any attorney appointed to represent a prisoner before the Board to do so in a zealous manner so as to equalize the adversarial process.
MANDATE that any attorney who represents prisoners before the Board who has not achieved a normal grant of parole success rate as defined by the statistical definition of “normal” within one calendar year shall be prohibited by the Board from any further prisoner representations and from holding office as a commissioner or deputy commissioner of the Board.
MANDATE that all attorneys appointed to represent prisoners in parole consideration hearings shall inform the prisoners represented of the total number of parole consideration hearings he or she has participated in and his/her rate of grants of parole at their initial client meeting.

My goal is to bring about positive change to the Board through a 42 USC § 1983 suit by utilizing all State and Federal judicial orders and decisions as exhibits for injunctive relief. While unpublished rulings can’t be cited as authority, they certainly can be used as evidence in exhibits showing a systemic pattern of practice by the Board to deny eligible prisoners parole. To this end, I’m seeking all decisions, orders, opinions, and rulings where the Board’s decisions were vacated for failure to follow regulations and/or pertinent law.

I am also intending to allege collusion between the Board, Attorney General’s Office and California Governor’s Office from the 1979 Morrisey 8 memorandum to present. I hope to create a conflict of interest between the State’s chief law enforcement officers (whose duty it is to uphold the law and protect citizens from arbitrary treatment by the government) and the Board. Help me make a change.

Apr 30, 2018

LETTER: Conditions of CCWF Administrative-Segregation

anonymous

keywords: prisoner letter, administrative segregation, ASU, womens' prisons, conditions, misconduct, abuse, guard assault

I am writing to inform you of the conditions of CCF Administrative-Segregation and the mental stress it has on inmates that are placed there...For starters, I have a court order for 100% cotton blankets due to my medical condition asthma and skin irritation... nothing was done... I was made to sleep with two thin sheets with all my clothes while the air-conditioners were on during record temperatures (freezing)... we are to get two hot meals a day meeting the 2200 cal diet. We have not received two hot meals, the portions are made smaller than the regular portions and they are on dirty trays and we have no choice or voice in the matter... African Americans are made to use butter for their hair to prevent breakage. We are allowed $55 shopping a month, but no grease, stating “someone could slip the cuffs off or make the officers slip;" Natural mayo, butter and any other (permitted items) can also, yet we black people leave hairless and embarrassed as if we were in slavery; saddest ever!

Lastly, of many more - over half of Ad-Seg are here for enemy concerns and/or the Investigation Security Unit uses informants to provide them information that’s not true, when in reality the institution as a whole has changed over to a programming place based on prop 57. Yet, accommodate their informants to prompt cases drugs/PREA and it sticks - when today, you might get in a cat fight here and there, they release people to the yard to get hurt and to fulfill their verbal contracts made with their informants and literally write up the inmates who they feel don’t have enemies or safety concerns. Sadly inmates come back battered, hurt and still placed back into population. Within the last four months because of poor slavery conditions there have been two girls that passed. One girl’s body set uncovered for nine hours until the inmates repeatedly asked to cover her since she was just in the middle of the floor dead. They did but she laid there until the next morning came. The second girl had a mental problem. The night before the C/Os pepper sprayed her and never gave her a shower, but you could tell she was not all there mentally. So they moved her to another room but again she was pepper sprayed. They put her on suicide watch with one mental person watching her and the psych-tech was so engaged with her coworkers, C/Os act that the lady died from the pepper spray giving her complications to breathe. She had been dead so long that the CPR was too late – they were going to leave that body on the floor until we complained (not again). They put her body outside in the cold until the coroner came. Again she was being watched by a one on one and the staff walk around and do a check every 15 minutes.

We are allowed to shower and smelly dirty showers three times a week never clean. We are given two rolls of tissue and for pads every 2 1/2 days. If you run out and if you need more pads for your womanly, it is not granted. I suffer from fibroids and bleed almost daily. They take the extra pads sometimes leaving me with none.

A partially blurred image of five claustrophobia-inducing cages arranged in a tight semicircle, the cover emblazoned on Dr. Terry Allen Kupers’ 2017 book Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It suspends readers in a moment of collective confinement. It is only later in the book that Kupers captions the cover’s image: a group of “prisoners participating in group therapy in the administrative segregation unit at San Quentin Prison” (pp. 58-59). The (perhaps accidental) cognitive dissonance between a so-called “group therapy” session and euphemistically-labeled “therapy cubicles” or “programming nodules” –in which incarcerated individuals appear barely able to stand up in much less physically interact with others in a “group” setting– highlights a painful irony at the center of issues of solitary confinement, one that sets the tone for the book.

Indeed, the image seems an appropriate introduction to the text’s material and trajectory. A thoroughly documented book that not only traces the historical trajectory of solitary confinement but also offers strategies towards abolitionist futures, Solitary offers incarcerated folks, abolitionists, and scholars alike a concise look into the uses and abuses of solitary confinement.

With a career as a psychiatrist spanning decades, Kupers began his journey into research on solitary confinement and its effects on incarcerated individuals in the 1980’s when he began working as a licensed physician at the Black Panther-run Bunch Carter Free Clinic in South Central Los Angeles (pp. 3-5). Part of his work included visiting his incarcerated patients in the jail ward of the Los Angeles County Hospital where he was met with “a horrifying scene” that catalyzed his move to researching solitary confinement.

Solitary begins with a brief history of solitary confinement, starting with Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Jail in 1773: three years before the founding of the United States of America as a nation with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Already a facet of early criminological thinking by the time of the nation’s founding, solitary confinement began as a Quaker-influenced attempt at more humane method of rehabilitation to facilitate “penitence: the origin of the term “penitentiary”. However, the “humane” alternative of solitary confinement showed itself to be a cruel style of punishment and social isolation for individuals already facing social death.

From this introduction, Kupers documents the normalization of both solitary confinement and supermax prisons before describing the racial disparities inside U.S. prison walls, a topic not often accounted for in mainstream media narratives of the criminal (in)justice system. Kupers, for instance, highlights an often ignored fact of life in prison: that when people of color are incarcerated, troubles with racism do not end. Rather, incarcerated people of color confront similar, if not more pronounced, racism inside prisons (pp. 77-84), which are highly segregated spaces.

A recurrent thread throughout Solitary also underscores the futility (in addition to the inhumanity) of methods of solitary confinement, which are often renamed as an effort to rebrand a patently torturous method (pp. 35-38). Not only do these methods not reduce gang violence –a justification for the measures– they often do lasting psychic damage to incarcerated individuals. Specifically in Part Two of Solitary, Kupers details the symptoms of what he calls “SHU [secure housing unit] syndrome”: a general term to describe the panoply of symptoms associated with time spent in solitary confinement (p. 54). SHU Syndrome –described in detail in Chapter 8 (pp. 151-167)– can affect incarcerated individuals in a range of ways and at a range of time frames after initial exposure to solitary confinement: from an immediate reaction to the confinement to post-release emotional issues. In this context, Kupers draws comparisons between SHU Syndrome and PTSD, while keeping a formal distinction between the two (pp. 162-163). On a related note, it is noteworthy that scholars who investigate the psychological consequences of torture point to a laundry list of afflictions suffered by survivors of torture, and many of these same symptoms are experienced by prisoners who spent time in solitary: “anxiety, fear, depression, irritability, introversion, difficulties in concentration, chronic fatigue, lethargy, restlessness, communication difficulties, especially in the expression of emotion, memory and concentration loss, loss of a sense of identity, insomnia, nightmares, hallucinations, visual disturbances, headaches, and suicidal crises” (p. 100).

Indeed, many of the symptoms associated with how prison officials carry out solitary confinement parallel torture methods used by CIA and FBI officials. Kupers draws out a clear connection between these methods of torture in U.S. prisons and the labored efforts by the Bush administration to contort the definition of torture of the Geneva Conventions, subsequently leading to the well-known scandal of Abu Ghraib (pp. 97-101). For example, keeping prisoners from sleeping for extended periods of time (p. 54) and the use of “stress positions” appear to be staples not only of CIA torture methodology, but also of solitary confinement strategy. In drawing these comparisons, Kupers critiques this “culture of punishment” in the United States, highlighting the direct consequences it has on the psyche of prisoners as well as on all Americans. For as Fyodor Dostoevsky presciently claimed, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Writing in third and final part of Solitary towards an abolitionist’s praxis (actions taken to put one’s knowledge to work towards real change), Kupers offers a five-step guideline towards a “rehabilitative attitude” and away from the “culture of punishment” inside prison walls: end the cycle of hostility, create mutual respect, foster a sense of agency, expand connection with the outside world, and sustain a vision of a better future (pp. 172-184). Chapters 10 and 11 act as an advocacy text for the humane treatment of prisoners, calling for investment in mental health care and a novel, managed treatment plan for incarcerated folks labeled “disruptive” or violent. With a short Chapter 12, Kupers echoes the calls of well-known abolitionists to redirect energy away from imprisonment and towards education and health resources. “The supermax experiment has failed,” he proclaims; the “foolhardy attempt to “disappear” the most troublesome of our social problems” led us to “[create] the monsters we love to dread” (pp. 239-240). With this conclusion, Kupers leaves readers with tools not only to argue against the ineffective supermax prison, but also to continue dismantling the prison industrial complex.

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