In our collective October 2017 “Statement of Prisoner Representatives on Second Anniversary of Ashker v. Brown Settlement,” we stressed the importance that "prisoners and our families will have to re-energize the human rights movement, to fight against the continuing violations of our rights"… reminding all involved, “we must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to.”
As many are aware, our current collective movement began in the bowels of Pelican Bay State Prison – SHU – Short Corridor, wherein prisoners of all races and various geographical areas, became openly conscious of what we had in common, rather than what was different (divisive), we recognized we’d all been subjected to the same adversary’s boots on our necks; all members of a prisoner class, subjected to decades of solitary confinement torture.
We became aware of the fact that those of us serving “term-to-life” sentences, were all akin to the living dead, our existence being that of a mind numbing, spirit destroying, endless nightmare. I believe coming together in the “short corridor” wherein we witnessed the toll of our slow decay, together with the prisoncrats progressively punitive, oppressive provocations, was one cause of our awakening, leading to us coming together as “The PBSP – SHU- Short Corridor Collective.”
Our struggle was focused on ending long-term solitary confinement, and improvements to conditions therein. We stood up together and collectively we educated our loved ones, and general public, about what had been in society’s shadow for far too long. We publicly “drew the line” and said, “No More!”
As a committed collective of fellow human beings, a large majority hailing from working class, poor communities, we lead our struggle -- from behind the walls – putting our lives in the balance, at that point, our lives being all we had, we demanded an end to our torture, based on our “inherent right as human beings, to humane treatment, inclusive of dignity and respect for our loved ones, and the unfortunate generations to follow.
Notably, our collective membership had been the subject of the states’ decades long “war against the working-class poor, tough-on-crime” (focused and applied mainly upon the poor), politicized, vilified and branded as “the worst of the worst” in order to justify our subjection to endless torture (lasting more than 30 years)!
In this climate, we came together and utilized non-violent, peaceful protest actions, mass hunger strikes and work stoppages, which, together with the support of our awakened loved ones, and countless other people of conscience outside the walls (while all along, suffering with us), exposed our plight to the world community.
In 2012, we introduced our collective “Agreement to End Race-based Hostilities,” making clear our united intent to no longer be the source of our mutual adversary’s manipulation tactics, centered on keeping us divided and violent towards one another, which was thereby used to justify our adversaries agenda – supermax, indefinite warehousing, and thereby demonstrating our humanity in the face of the provocations of our oppressive torturers. We pointed out the fact that, in the absence of race-based violence, our mutual adversary/s would be forced to end their policy of warehousing us in the small cells indefinitely, and open the prison up for meaningful programming and privileges, beneficial to the prisoner class.
I mention the above points as important reminders of the fact that THE MAIN BASIS FOR THE SUCCESS WE’VE ACHIEVED TO DATE HAS BEEN OUR COLLECTIVE UNITY INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE PRISON WALLS, MAKING STRATEGIC USE OF COMBINED LITIGATION, AND PEACEFUL ACTIVISM, ACTION TOOLS, WHICH TOGETHER WITH OUR RELATED COLLECTIVE BELIEVE IN AND COMMITMENT TO OUR CAUSE, IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF “THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE”.
OUR ADVERSARIES ARE CONSTANTLY RESISTNING ANY CHANGE BENEFICIAL TO THE PRISONER CLASS! HISTORY DEMONSTRATES THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR NEED TO STAND TOGETHER COLLECTIVELY, AND REFUSE TO ALLOW THOSE IN POWER (AT THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE) TO HALT OUR PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENTS’ DEMANDS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND REAL JUSTICE, BECAUSE, HISTORICALLY, EVERY CLASS ACTION, CIVIL-SUIT “VICTORY” FOR THE PRISONER CLASS IN CALIFORNIA HAS BEEN MANIPULATED BY PRISONCRATS TO THE ULTIMATE DETRIMENT OF THOSE THAT SUCH “VICTORY” WAS INTENDED TO BENEFIT. IT’S A NON-STOP BATTLE!
Reflecting on the above, as well as our historic, collective group mass hunger strike protests across the California system, of 2011-2013, brings to mind an often quoted phrase (as a sort of benchmark of what’s wrong with society) that of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, reflecting on his own incarceration, famously said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Our collective coming together in the context of having been demonized – tortured over 3 decades – composed of working class poor – facing extreme adversity for a powerful, well-funded adversary toppled (to an extent, losing their supermax jewel – PBSP – SHU) by our peaceful protests, and related global condemnation (and litigation), epitomizes a great side of our society! I hope it’s an example of a growing social revolutionary process.
From Zinn’s Reader “The Optimism of Uncertainty” (1993 book, “Failure to Quit”, page 642) “The struggle for ‘justice’ should never be abandoned because of the apparent over-whelming power of those who have the guns and money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold onto it. That apparent power, has, again and again, proven vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs, dollars, moral fervor, determination, unity organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience – whether by Blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.”
I greatly appreciate your time, attention, courage and dedicated, supportive commitment to our collective struggle. Our strength and power come from our unity! And I am certain we can and will continue to make positive impacts upon the system; forcing real changes; beneficial to all.
I hope we all continue to move forward, confident our fight is a worthy and just cause; working together in imaginative, strategic ways. It would be great if people will share, promote and build on the subject. Examples are in my “Open Letter…” possibly adding a supporting petition, signed by as many as possible, even if such is presented, after publicly presenting the “Open Letter” to the named parties.
There are more innovative, imaginative ideas that I’m working on, and will share for your consideration soon. In the meanwhile, stay strong and have a Happy Holiday Season and New Year. In Solidarity and Respect, Todd ●
Todd Ashker, C58191
KVSP – ASU- 2/194, Box 5106 Delano CA 93216