A Call to Action - Violence in California Jails and Prisons

Rallie Murray

(a version of this call to action was published in Prison Focus Issue 56)

Call To Action:

Based on years of concurrent reports from people inside California prisons and jails it should come as no surprise to anyone that physical assault and inciting violence by guards is endemic to prison culture. Over the years, California Prison Focus has received letters from incarcerated people across the state reporting their abuse in detail; we are here to call attention to that abuse and to fight back against the system that allows it to continue. Since the widespread use of cell phones and social media, public has finally been exposed to the full scope of police brutality towards people of color across the country. But the violence in prisons remains largely invisible to people outside, as strict regulations prohibit media access and incarcerated people are not allowed the use of cellphones that would enable them to document their abuse. Like their co-conspirators on the outside, prison guards operate with a code of silence. The “thin green line” enables them to perpetuate violence against the people in their charge. The likelihood of being brutalized by law enforcement, especially for black and brown men, both inside and outside the prison walls, puts a huge segment of our society in danger of having their life and liberty taken from them. Prisons are institutions that are designed to break people down.

Violence is a way of exercising power over the imprisoned population; to break people’s spirits, to keep them in their place and to terrorize them into silence. The threat of physical violence is used in conjunction with other threats to coerce people to debrief (become an informant) and to make other decisions desired by correctional officers (COs), which often endanger prisoners’ safety and lives. It is used as an attempt to discourage filing appeals, complaints and lawsuits, and as a form of retaliation against individuals who do so. Inciting violence leads to unwarranted written violations and charges that are placed in ones file resulting in loss of privileges and up to 15-year parole denials. In addition, these violations may result in years of solitary confinement. Even if an investigation ultimately finds the prisoner innocent of the charges, the individual is usually held in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) until an investigation is completed. These investigations can take years, while one languishes in the horrible conditions of extreme isolation. Physical assault and inciting violence through excessive use of force provides guards with unfounded justification for putting prisoners on long-term lockdowns where they may not be let out of their cells for weeks or months at a time; losing “privileges” including programming, phone calls, and family visits. When group violence breaks out, triggered by excessive use of force by guards, the incident is usually referred to as a “prisoner riot”, a form of propaganda attempting to justify the killing and abusive treatment of prisoners.

In addition, Correctional Officers (COs) often take no action to stop violence they witness that they may or may not have incited in the first place. We know that extreme violence has not ended. The National Prison Strike this year has drawn the attention of people across the country, as did the California Prison Hunger Strike in 2013. But far too many people are unaware of prison guard culture, the code of silence, the corruption, discrimination, and lack of repercussions for those in positions of power and authority who violate CDCR policies, state and federal law, and UN sanctioned human rights. Letters and reports to the officials in charge of maintaining the safety of these facilities are met with the same response time and again - things are fine, we’ve looked into this, etc. First-hand reports like the ones included in this post go ignored or brushed under the rug, as do far too many 602s (written complaints by people held inside). As long as we the people do not demand their accountability, the CDCR can continue to ignore the demands of people inside and allies on the outside to address abuse and extreme violence perpetrated by COs.

Down below you will find reports from people in prisons and jails across California documenting violence and abuse. It is up to us to help make sure that these people are heard and that their treatment doesn’t go ignored. Please read, share, and take the time to demand that the CDCR be held responsible for this abuse.

You can contact them at: Office of the Inspector General 10111 Old Placerville Road, Suite 110 Sacramento, CA 95827

 

California State Prison - Pelican Bay

“The most serious incident on 04/10/2017 happened when I was exiting the shower. My hand was smashed by the ‘very powerful’ security door which is controlled by the COs who are supposed to be observant of what is going on especially as I am the only inmate. My hand was crushed by the door, my fingers became swollen, especially my middle-finger which had a 1/3 inch gash.

"On 05/29/2017 there was a second incident where I was exiting my cell for the showers and again the CO closed the door of my cell as I am walking out for showers. I jumped back as the door hit me and almost crushed me.”

“[Prisoner name redacted] has lupus and is therefore particularly sensitive to the sun. He stated that the yard cage does not provide sufficient shade. He has been denied the hat that he has had in his property and told that he can purchase a beanie from the canteen to protect his head. Instead, [name redacted] protects himself with a wet towel, but still has sun spots on his bald head. [Name redacted] reports that the Guard 1 has a silencer but that the guards rarely use it. The men must tolerate the loud bang and the lights being shined in their faces every 30 minutes [re: welfare checks]. The Guard 1 checks in conjunction with the loud fans are causing sleep deprivation, which has led to, among other things, severe mood swings. Warden [name redacted] deliberately, arbitrarily and wantonly deprived him of Non-Disciplinary Segregation (NDS) in an attempt to extort information from him. [There is] no way to track time. Poor ventilation, hot, humid, and forced to tolerate loud fans all day, which are loud yet provide no relief in the cells.”  

 

California State Prison - Corcoran

“I had had my second back surgery on my lumbar spine. After the surgery, I was a lot worse than before the surgery. I cannot feel my groin, or my lower leg. The surgeon tried to tell me that being paralyzed has nothing to do with the surgery. When I feel, I was able to feel before the surgery. I cannot do nothing but lay on my bunk because I really can’t walk and I’m in too much pain. They won’t give me a wheelchair either. I was trying to get seen by a doctor here but they won’t let me talk to anyone.”

“…They then arrived and put handcuffs on my wrist through a tray slot in the door. I hit my face on the wall; that’s when my lip busted open. I felt a punch to my lower back toward my right rib…[and saw] CO [name redacted]. I felt another punch and then was slammed to the ground…that’s when I heard the alarm go off. The COs put a sheet over my head and it went around my neck. I passed out. I felt more kicks and punches. I fell out of the wheel chair directly in front of the ‘ASU-Z’ front door. I knew something bad was going to happen this time because they didn’t press their alarms. At that point, I had no more fight in me and I was dragged back to my cell where I just laid in pain.”

“I witnessed four guards beat inmate [name redacted] on 05/02/2018 while he was in handcuffs.”

“Corrupt COs violate civil rights of mentally ill inmates.”

“An inmate was arguing with [name redacted A] about refusing to run dayroom and phone calls on and off for an hour. So when pill call came at 8:15 pm that night CO [name redacted B] who was instructed by [name redacted A] to open [cell] 120. When the inmate stepped out [name redacted A] challenges the inmate to a fight saying “come on come on”. CO [name redacted B] firedthe block gun. The alarm was not pushed nor was there a command to “get down”. CO [name redacted A] continued to challenge this guy while walking towards his cell. Again CO [name redacted B] fired the block gun. No alarm no get down issued. The inmate got down and CO [name redacted A]/[name redacted B] discussed what they were going to do for 2-3 minutes. Then they pulled the alarm. When the sergeant responded with other COs they were all laughing while [name redacted A] was gesturing how the inmate was dodging the shots. They thought it was funny to use an inmate for target practice.”

 

California State Prison – Sacramento

“It all started on 05/01/2016, I had a fight in the yard. Three COs ran over and beat me, breaking my left knee in half. I was to have screws and wire put in my knee and it took 40 hours. They [the COs] retaliated on me after I started with the paper work and filed it with the court.”

“I was violently shoved to the wall, then the floor roughly with a boot to my ribs also. As of this date [02/27/2017] my ribs are still painfully hurting and my back too.”

“While I was housed at CSP-Sacrament Represa PSU, I was beat so bad my back was broken. I was also forced to swallow urine and feces mixture on two separate occasions. I still have nightmares and constant back pain!”

“On 02/14/2018, ISU officers [names redacted] lied saying I spit towards their K-9 Jackson when all I did is call it a mutt (I also have 3 witnisses that were there and seen the incident) and as they were escorting me to A-Yard Sallyport they called me n*****s, monkeys, etc. And when they went to put me in a holding cell I resisted them by placing my right foot into the back of the cage they then slammed me into the ground and started kneeing me in the back of my head and on the side of my face calling me more racial slurs. After they assaulted and battered me they threw me into the holding cell barely conscious. I suffered a busted lip, chipped tooth, cut on my right eyebrow, and a wrist contusion and fractured hand (which they, meaning medical lied saying there’s nothing wrong with my hand) and the RN who was assigned to do a 7219 medical evaluation on me was very biased towards me refusing to put down all of my injuries and when she asked me for my statement she didn’t put down anything that I told her. What she wrote down was based on the information she got from the ISU officers. I’m not the only one in Ad-Seg on false documentation and have been assaulted and battered by police or COs. It’s me, [name redacted], [name redacted] and we are all Black MALES, there is no other ethnicities back here in Ad-Seg. On matters like these, there is a lot of racism here in CSP-Sac and life-threatening danger, and I’m not talking about the inmates.”

 

California State Prison – Los Angeles County

“The staff of Lancaster have attacked me while in handcuffs which I suffered a broken nose and over 15 individual injuries which have still not been reported as of 11/13/2013 [letter received 8/06/2018]. None of these injuries suffered have been reported by over 10 officers and no investigation of excessive force has been conducted by the CDCR, the OIG, or the Internal Affairs in Direct Violation of the right to an investigation and all duties to investigate under these concerted acts to conceal violations committed byCDCR et al.”

 

Correctional Training Facility - Soledad

“On 04/02/2017, I was battered by an inmate here at Salinas Valley State Prison. I was denied medical treatment, which was proof that the corrections officers never did an incident report. Then on 04/03/2017, the next day, the same inmate that had battered me on 04/02/2017 battered me again with his homeboy. I woke up at Natividad hospital with a broken jaw.”

 

Richard J. Donovan State Prison

“The COs put the EOP/DPP [Enhanced Outpatient Program/Developmental Disability Program] inmates in harms way. I am a transgender EOP/DDP inmate. I’ve gone through a lot of pain and suffering while in prison by the prison guards using illegal use of force. The COs always say stop resisting and beat up the inmate that they want to hurt. Some mentally ill inmates are afraid to approach the COs because of how their responses are. I’ve been mistreated for all of my prison time and county time. COs use my DDP status against me as well as other EOP/DDP inmates. All of the prisons I’ve been to have mistreated all EOP/DDP inmates...They [the COs] want to hurt.”

“On 08/10/2017 an inmate was being held in the cage in front of my cell and many others, he had a free staff suicide watch. But 3 guards tell him to hit his head against the cage, which he does. But hard! A dozen times. He tells them over and over ‘you are telling me to do this!’ Instead [the guards] tell him to hang himself, which he starts to do. He ties the cloth around his neck. He passes out and goes on his knees and they decided to pepper spray him! They take him out and take it off his neck and body slam him onto the cement because he talks to them and repeats what they were telling him to do! They place him in another cage right next to the other one but with handcuffs behind his back! They called medical and took him to CTC [Correctional Training Facility]! Never seen him again!”

 

Mule Creek State Prison

“Last year, I had an incident involving a CO Sergeant [name redacted]. I reported it the next day, and then the retaliation began. At first [name reacted] put me in a stand-up cage and began pushing me against the walls. He said my little ass will be raped. When that did not get a rise out of me, he said he would kill me. He put his hands around my throat and choked me ‘til I lost consciousness.”

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