Dec 01, 2020
By Louis Powell (Signer of the Agreement to End All Hostilities.)
At the request of Min King and Kim Pollak of California Prison Focus, I will dissect solitary confinement as I experienced it for 38 years. I make no apology for transition into animal aggression as a result of fear-induced manipulation and psychology of the environment. I will not water down the atrocities committed under the disguise of the CDCR protecting society and the security of California prisons. Throughout the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's, I along with other similar situated black prisoners under indefinite solitary confinement, attempted to appeal to the International Court of Justice for relief, all to no avail. The painful memory of the tortuous time spent under solitary confinement will haunt me to my dying day. I have been free from solitary confinement since the end of 2015, and since then, in my writing I bare the suffering of a human being desperately seeking a compassionate pardon from God fearing people of society. There is no relief for me so long as I remain unsuitable for parole. Under the disguise that I lack empathy for that crime that brought me to prison. I am deemed unsuitable, even though I have paid my debt to society two fold. [I will encast pre-historical events before my incarceration in parenthesis. Otherwise, everything else is personal experience or by way of direct observation, to the best of memory.]
I had a choice of joining the ranks of many broken men or else I could surrender to suicidal thoughts or I could emerge with superior ability, such as Friedrich Nitezsche's Superman.1 I chose to emerge while in complete darkness, in becoming a new man. I couldn't even see my hands. I kept my eyes closed in order to defeat the psychological factors of darkness, nudity and stench that had triggered my asthma. I allowed my state of mind to fall into delusion for emotional stability, which brought me relief from an agitated depression. Years later I would be explaining to other men about how instead of fighting the losing battle of holding onto one's sanity under insane conditions, I consciously allow a degree of insanity into my state of mind. I did this, in order to preserve as much of my sanity as possible. This technique would help only a few, others would either fall into total insanity or agree to work as a prison snitch for relief. Between the 1950's and 1990's, the prison psychiatric department did not voice any opposition to the mental torture of prisoners under solitary confinement. Both the federal government and the military industrial complex had contracts with the prison psy dept. The mental breakdown of prisoners was fodder for the psych dept., to conduct experiments in performing [lobotomies), shock treatment, and all kinds of psychoactive drug therapy under the disguise of mental health treatment.
While in darkness with my eyes closed, I began to tell myself grandiosity stories, by fantasizing about being inside the hull of a slave ship during the 17 century, bound for the unknown. Plus I was more fortunate then most who would undergo ten days of complete darkness. See, at the age of 16 years old, a non-religious entity known as the MALCOLM X FOUNDATION of Compton California in 1967, they selected me among a small group of twenty teenage boys, all black, to be psychologically indoctrinated under their ideological school by militant reformers, all funded by the federal government. The X foundation armed us boys with an enhanced ideological education and extensive training in mental, physical and psychological discipline. My prior training along with the stench and nakedness inside the darken cell would provide a realness of actually being on board a slave ship.
Yes, the fantasy provided me with the feeling of greatness to help my ancestors to overcome their fears and the inhuman environment inside the ship hull. Each day, I fell deeper into the fantasy until the quiet cell door opened for me to exit on the tenth day.
Initially a few blacks started transitioning themselves into becoming a new man. By the end of the 1970's, the philosophy of the new man had spread to every prison solitary confinement unit in California. The new man's discipline behavior and professionalism would infuriate the non-professional prison guards who were racist and chauvinistic. I would receive a disciplinary report for using the words of a new man in an essay I wrote. The prison guards stated the term of the new man is a prison gang orientated words. During the disciplinary hearing, my defense was the African Heritage Study Bible King James version at COLOSSIANS 3:10 of which read and have put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. The disciplinary hearing officer was so relieved that I gave him a way out of finding me guilty. He told me that he was under pressure to find me guilty, of which went against his conscience. After being found not guilty, prison guards would retaliate by conducting cell searches and either confiscating all my writings or tearing it to pieces. Other similar situated blacks would receive the same treatment. They started claiming that our writings were gang oriented material. It didn't stop us from writing, so they took away the writing stationary. When this occurs, we simply train ourselves to write essays in our minds, and then we lock it away in the archive of our memory banks until we can obtain stationery.
WAR OF ATTRITION
Solitary confinement during my long journey has been the most dangerous and deprivation aspect of doing a prison term that has absolutely nothing to do with paying a debt to society. Solitary confinement has been a Vietnam of actual learning and executing combat. I have been suffering from war neurosis since the 1970's, and I am not alone. The CDCR will never acknowledge that hundreds of long term solitary confinement victims are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Racial hating white prison guards provided the contraband of war to particular white racist prison gangs to use against blacks in general. I have been shot at with prison made zip guns, I've had a prison made bomb toss into my assigned cell twice. I have come under spear attacks, and even had to use hand to hand combat techniques to prevent myself from being stabbed to death.
Sleeping during the hours that is active with movement is a definite no. There are always those undisciplined prisoners who won't listen to being given good healthy advice. Prison guards routinely open up the wrong cell door so a target individual can come under attack by two or more individuals, But equally more dangerous is flammable liquid like lighter fluid that would be thrown over a sleeping prisoner bedding while he slept, I knew three blacks being awakened by fire burning them. Even though they survived the fire attack, their bodies were disfigured.
Between the years of 1970 to 1986, racist and chauvinistic prison guards would smuggle into solitary confinement unit of particular prisons, things like lighter fluid, gunpowder, hacksaw blades, handcuff keys, bowie knives, actual hand guns, and even at Folsom a stick of dynamite for racist prisoners to use in a conspiracy to kill Yogi Pinell, one of the San Quentin-6. The progressive minded blacks under indefinite solitary confinement weren't pacifists sitting back waiting to be murdered. For most every action taken against blacks there was a counter retaliatory response of equal magnitude. Blacks had to learn how to make effective rudimentary instruments of war. This called for weaponizing everything from deodorant, to baby oil, to sulfur from matches, creating a jelly-like napalm substance and even the King James Bible for its paper contents. I've seen a flamethrower made and put to use, crossbows and other instruments of prison warfare being used with such precision that prison officials ban the candy jelly beans. They would ban all petroleum based hair grease and other hygiene products like dental floss.
Ultimately, my survival, and that of other similarly situated Blacks' - if we wanted to live to see tomorrow - depended on our ability to master the art of prison warfare.
Years and decades of solitary led to many doors, at least fifty percent of prisoners would go through the Stockholm Syndrome, about ten percent went criminally insane into homicidal rage, five percent would have a nervous breakdown and two percent would simply drop dead and the remaining thirty-three percent would suffer from Post-traumatic stress disorder.
During my first three years of solitary, I realized that activity deprivation resulted in myself and others similarly situated prisoners pacing back and forth in our small cells for hours like lions inside a lock cage. I was among the first group of blacks in the 1970's to start a program of collective exercising every morning during the weekdays beginning at 8 am. It gave us a recreation to look forward to every morning, of course it didn't go over well with prison guards who claim that our collective exercising was an act of militaristic training. Then we started cadre educational classes using, initially, the Christian Science Monitor newspaper that was more political than religious. It was the only reading material that was allowed beside the Bible. Prison guards started putting bad conduct reports in our central file calling us communist because we use the term cadre. Only in the Tracy prison solitary confinement unit did Mexican participate in the collective exercise program and the educational cadres. Throughout the history of solitary confinement we would go without seeing the outside landscape of trees, grass, plant life or dirt. The outside natural world eventually became a fantasy, by the time 2015 arrived, and I first saw the setting sun, I had no idea what I was seeing, it took a long few minutes for me to figure it out.
I developed relationships and associated with Blacks from all walks of life, I could care less if they were a prison or street gang member, a muslim or christian or simply non-affiliateds. They were my brothers. And I could care less about how many affiliation reports were placed in my central file for being in association with any prison or street group. I've seen too many try to avoid their brothers because they didn't want an affiliation report placed in their central file. Imagine going years without social conversation with anyone. I knew what would happen. In every case the individual went insane, and there was nothing we could do to help them. Then they were beyond help. There was a lot of degeneration of morale, emotional and intellect. Too many prisoners of every racial class become reduced to throwing their human waste of urine and even feces at the opposing race and even at prison guards.
A noticeable difference between whites and blacks under solitary confinement during the entire 1970's was that not a single white attempted suicide or showed any outward appearance of suffering environmental stress. There are several reasons for this said phenomenon. One is that prison guards did not manipulate an anti-white environment that placed them at a racial disadvantage. Also, Whites were not living under the prospect of never getting out (indefinite solitary confinement). They knew their exit date. Lastly, they were under no form of discrimination by the prison administration.
Likewise, not a single Mexican attempted suicide or showed any outward appearance of suffering environmental stress. Several reason for said phenomenon, the prison guards didn't manipulate an anti-mexican environment that place them at a racial disadvantage, also mexicans weren't under indefinite solitary confinement, they knew their exit date, and lastly, occasionally, a Mexican or two faced invidious discrimination that didn't provoke any collective protest.
The absolute noticeable difference between Blacks versus White/Mexican was the impact that institutionalized racism was having on Blacks. It was mentally breaking down a lot of the blacks under indefinite solitary confinement. There would be attempted suicides by cutting their wrist with razor blades, and there would always be attempted hangings with a few successful ones. I've seen too many blacks have or feign nervous breakdown. It made no difference, real or not, they would become fodder for the psy department, and there were no rules or laws during the 1970's against force drugging those who refuse to take the medication for depression.
Environmental stress was real, the prison guards did manipulate an anti-black environment that placed blacks at racial disadvantage. Some blacks would have nightmares of being assaulted during a set up, their frightening screams would wake everyone up. Racist prison guards were so abusive towards blacks in solitary confinement that whites and Mexicans felt superior because they weren't being abused. Throughout the entire history of the CDCR only blacks felt the sting, pressure and drowning by high pressure water being used on them. Racist prison guards in Tracy's solitary confinement unit in 1978 and 1979 decided to have sports with myself and several other blacks. The high pressure water was worse than being tear gassed. In the San Quentin adjustment center, a mentally ill black prisoner in an adjacent cell from me would be bullied by a sadistic prison guard. Afterwards, the prison psy would shoot him up with psy medication.
I would take the racist incidents by prison guards, and use it as propaganda fodder for the Public Broadcasting radio station of KPFA 94.1 FM in Berkeley California, Max Schwartz would create a radio program for sunday night at ten o'clock called: PRISON POETRY- STATE OF EMERGENCY. For black prisoners under solitary confinement to report incidents, it was a state of emergency. Prison Poetry- State of Emergency would become so popular with a large listening audience of middle class folks that the security squad of the CDCR would deem it to be a threat to prison security. The security squad would place a confidential report in my central file. They accused me and Max Schwartz of using the radio air for incendiary speech. They filed a complaint with the Federal Communication Commission about KPFA allowing incendiary speech over the air wave. They consider us blacks reporting on racist incidents inside the solitary confinement units throughout the department of correction as incendiary speech. During a live airing of State of Emergency in late 1980, the radio station KPFA came under heavy attack from several individuals firing automatic weapons, Max Schwart and others inside the radio station came close to being killed. Max Schwartz would receive a death threat hours later, he was told to leave the United States. The FCC would force KPFA to end the Prison Poetry State of Emergency; it went off the air. And Max Schwartz left the United States for good, he went to Paris France to live. I would be taken to an isolation cell on San Quentin death row, I was placed under incommunicado from both the inside prison world and outside society. The isolation was only temporary.
In December 1984 I would parole from the San Quentin solitary confinement unit of North Block to the streets of south central Los Angeles gang infested neighborhoods. My freedom would be short lived, I would be forced to take the life of a combative drug/alcohol influencer intruder inside of my family home. A black municipal court judge oversaw the preliminary hearing trial. This particular judge was under political pressure to bound me over to superior court for first degree murder, Instead the Black Judge stated for me to stand trial for voluntary manslaughter. The following quote is what this judge said on record:
“All right. Well, as I see it, you have a guy that drinks a half gallon of gin within six hours, goes over to a person's house and perpetuates an argument and is asked to leave. The brother refused adamantly. He was not going anywhere, and based on what we know, the other didn't go either.
So he is confronted with two drunks. And he goes upstairs. No one told either one of those two to go upstairs, but one of them gets up. He is drunk enough to get up, charge after him..
Based on everything that has been introduced by the people, he was charging him at the time he was shot, and he shot a warning shot. He didn't heed. So he shot him. I think that is 192 sub 1, voluntary manslaughter.”
That's right. This Black Municipal Court Judge bound me to stand trial for California Penal Code section 192 sub 1, voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice." Days later, I was about to see first-hand racism played in the judiciary arena, A White Superior Court Judge totally disregarded the Black Municipal Court Judges written order to stand trial for voluntary manslaughter. This White Superior court judge with equal status of the Black judge, allowed the prosecutor to change the charge to first degree premeditated murder, to be tried before twelve jurors. This was done despite the fact that the White Superior court judge stated on record that he did not believe a jury would find first degree murder. In fact, the all black jury could not reach a guilty verdict, it was a hung jury.
At the second trial, I was charge again with first degree murder. The new jury, a mixture of races return a verdict of guilty of second degree murder, thanks to the prosecutor's underhanded, deceitful tactics in manipulating the facts and evidence, including making witnesses unavailable in order to secure this tainted wrongful conviction.
This was a political conviction that should sadden and enrage the justice conscious voters. A criminal justice system tained with unfairness, injustice and racism should never be.
I returned back to prison to serve a second term in 1986, I went straight back into solitary confinement.
California Supermax Prison of Pelican Bay
California's first super-maximum state of the art prison solitary confinement unit would be one floor underground. Its entire complex was designed to break down the nervous system of human beings, it had military implications. The inside temperature is never at a thermal equilibrium, heat and cold temperature is used as a weapon, by creating optimal environment effects. It does create stress, both physically and psychologically. The solitary confinement unit at PBSP does have a secret component to it. If California suffers a pandemic wherefore tens of thousands of bodies need to be stored in refrigeration, the solitary confinement unit can be transformed immediately. And if tens of thousands of bodies need to be cremated, the unit can be transformed immediately into a huge incinerator.
During the wee hours of the morning of December 14, 1989, I would be the very first of my racial kind to enter the supermax of solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison. There were six blacks, six whites, six north mexicans and six south mexicans on the bus ride to Pelican Bay on bus number 1, a second bus followed. Of the six blacks, one was a transsexual name Silver, Silver was being sent to Pelican Bay because the court had order the CDCR to provide Silver with hormones shot, in retaliation, prison officials decided to punish Silver for filing a civil action that led to the court decision. I would tell Silver during the bus ride that both of us would be making history, I would be the first black to enter PBSP-SHU, and that he-she would make history as the first Queen of PBSP-SHU.
Upon exiting the bus, several news reporters from Crescent City California were allowed on prison grounds to take pictures of the first arrivals of PBSP-SHU. The newspaper reporters would put our pictures on the front page of their newspaper with the heading of the worst of the worst. The CDCR had created thin paper like jumpsuit used during the bus ride. The jumpsuit was cut off of me, I was left completely nake with leg and waist chains on. I was force to walk the gauntlet of two rows of all white male prison guards, there wasn't a single prison guard of color among them. All of the prison guards was holding a baton while screaming all sort of profanity and degrading racist epithet, while being called a nigger, piece of shit, mud people, gorilla and buckwheat as I walk the gauntlet, I could imagine how my ancestor felt right off the slave boat in 1619 at Jamestown Virginia. I chanted through the screaming guards that it is through a historical miscarriage that I find myself a captive in one of America's prison kamp. I doubt if they heard a single word I was saying.
I was escorted to the C Facility which had 12 separate housing cell units. Each housing cell unit had pod's A thru F, and each pod had eight double cells. Now all of the F pods would be designated for those suffering from mental illness. In time I would come to learn that blacks were the predominant racial class in the F pods. The state of California had started closing up a lot of their mental health facilities throughout the state. They emptied out the criminally insane from the mental hospital, and transferred them into the solitary confinement units of PBSP-SHU. The F pods filled up so fast that the E pods would be used as overflow. Not quite into my second year, someone authorized me to be housed in the F pods of any unit. Prison officials at the insistence of the prison gang intelligence unit wanted to put me under more pressure. For the next ten years, I would be housed in a cell in the F pods for short and long intervals. Being in supermax solitary confinement would test a person to their breaking point. But to be subjected to nerve-racking noise of insanity is unendurable. My hearing started deteriorating, I began to pray for total deafness over the thought of allowing the constant noise drive me into insanity. I began to take notice that the criminally insane that arrived from one of several mental hospitals weren't noise makers. It was the majority of young blacks who hadn't even been under solitary confinement six months.
The truly insane individuals were not synchronized in erratic behavior with the bandwagon. I come to believe the majority of the young blacks were acting out of frustration with no physical activity whatsoever. Plus they were economically the disadvantaged class of prisoners with absolutely no outside support network of family or friends. For too many weeks, I had misread things, it had been a long time since I've been in close proximity to undisciplined blacks or blacks who were doing a set term inside the Security Housing Unit. To see adult black men having a tantrum was a culture shock for me. They would act out until the prison guard overseer gave them an extra apple or something. I decided to test the hypothesis that the maddening screaming all night was the result of frustration of having nothing to do but idle time. I would utilize my limited resources to buy every black in the pod a bag of chips or box of crackers. Then I would create sociable dialogue by telling them things about me, and about my life experiences, of which they found enjoyable. What I was telling them, I first wrote it out each day, to one day, turn it into my autobiography. They had never in life met an older black with my life experiences that entertained them, as well as having them to see me as a cultural hero. I got them to participate in a daily exercise program that exhausted them, I would join them in talking loud during the day time, and at night we slept noise free. I was no longer suffering from sleep deprivation, I then show them how I believe I could get each one of them a state loaner television. I told them the biblical story of Jericho, about how together we will bring down the walls of our Jericho. I had long ago develop myself into a social engineer and a theoretician. Inside of the solitary confinement units of PBSP all of the similarly situated blacks began to open the social door of sharing food products from canteen and vendor packages with whites and mexicans. It led them to show blacks that they could be just as ort more generous in giving. They could easily afford to, their trust account were in the thousands. Nevertheless, we succeed in turning every pod in PBSP into a communal living environment, of which would lead to non- violence discourse over the years. Prison officials had placed me in the Floods in order to drive me to my breaking point or into insanity. I would counter what they did, and use the F pods as a way to benefit others trying to mentally survive.
The prison guard overseer would spend his entire working shift under the nerve-racking noise five days a week. Prison guards who had never been sadistic would become so inside Pelican Bay solitary confinement unit. I would first establish dialogue with the prison guard overseer of the unit. I would offer him a proposition of being able to work noise free. I suggested that he go to the property room and obtain state loaner televisions, and give a television to those in F pod without an appliance, under the condition of conducting themselves as model prisoners. It worked, and a few days later, the unit overseer was on the telephone telling other unit overseers that Powell could control the criminally insane. The thing was, they weren't criminally insane. I would eventually be able to choose which unit F pod I would go to. The different overseers wouldn't tell each other that all they have to do is give the disruptive individuals a television on the condition that they behave themselves. By the time D Facility with ten units opens up, I would become known as a nomad that moves about once a year or every few months. Every cell in solitary confinement had two bunks, you could only cellie up with your racial kind, there were some exceptions of course. I had a samoan cellie for nearly a year, he would parole, I would have more cellulite than any other prisoner in Pelican Bay history as a security housing unit. My strategy was to cellie with particular compatible individuals for only one year. A lot of prisoners would remain cellie together for several or five or past ten years together. A lot of elderly prisoners who grew old under solitary confinement would drop dead from heart attacks, chronic illness or simply loneliness. I had a cellie in his 70's who was experiencing chest pains, by the time he made it to the medical clinic, he dropped dead. He was the first of two elderly blacks who died from heart attack, several or mexicans drop dead, and at least five whites drop dead from heart attacks. By 1995 the whites and mexicans had a little over ten years straight of solitary confinement. Whereas the blacks on average had been under solitary confinement several years prior to the turning of 1980. Hundreds of prisoners under solitary confinement would debrief for relief. I consider every one of them as victims of mental torture. The white prisoners under solitary confinement began to react dangerously under the pressure by killing their cellie. So many died of strangulation at the hand of their racial brother. At least three Mexicans killed their cellie, no blacks in PBSP died at the hand of their cellies, however blacks had more cell fights with each other then any other racial class.
The CDCR was criminally driving prisoners under solitary confinement insane as they cooked the books to gain more taxpayers money in the name of security.
There were numerous key whites and Mexicans in the 126 pods in two facilities. We blacks needed the opportunity to occur whereas key whites and mexicans are situated in the same pods as key blacks. It was the only way to coordinate a united front. It would take nearly two decades for the pieces to fall into alignment. And before that occurred, we needed to be able to communicate with those of one's racial kind that were significant to the cause. But each of the races had a voting process that was democratically time consuming, it would take too many years to obtain a yes or no vote for any type of collective protest. See the solitary confinement indeterminate class was under semi-incommunicado with each other. It took a lot of creativity to establish solid lines of communication, but once the guards discover a particular line that they would shut it down. By late 2010, blacks offered a way to obtain one's racial brother vote through democratic centralism. Each race would have a number one representative who decided yea or no on engaging in mutual protest. In the short corridor of PBSP-SHU were the indeterminate class, the very best of California prisoners. The short corridor was units D1, D2, D3 and D4, holding close to 175 prisoners of significance. In D1 pod E/F, the alignment lined up. It would take six months to do the impossible, spreading the word to all of California Prisons and county jails about a massive hunger strike, and the demands. Blacks under indeterminate solitary confinement had developed a field of expertise in political science. They knew the art of propaganda, and all the news outlets to reach at, by the time they finished, people in Europe knew about the upcoming hunger strike. The first hunger strike made California history, The second hunger strike made United States history and the thir' LE Strike' was heard around the world. Prison officials did everything in their power to break the backbones of the short corridor collective, it was to no avail. By 2014 thousands of prisoners under solitary confinement throughout the state of California were being released. During the course of the hunger strike, we encast it with a historical class-action civil suit. Today the CDCR is still retaliating against the representative team that provided leadership and guidance to the protest. At first they attempted to have the state attorney general office prosecute sixteen members of the representative team composed of all the racial classes. When the attorney general refused to waste the taxpayer money on a prosecution they could not win. They decide to take their revenge through the parole board who has denied everyone of the representatives who appear before them for parole. I am among the representatives.
Coming soon: The Chronicles of Political Dirty Wars
The Book, by Louis Powell
Louis Powell is 68 years old, has been incarcerated since 1986, has been eligible for parole since 1999, denied parole five times, had his hearing postponed three times, is known as a peace maker and mentor to youth on the yard, survived decades of solitary confinement, recently had pneumonia, has a home to return to, as well as a wife, son and community who are eager to welcome him home.
1 Superman, German Übermensch, in philosophy, the su- perior man, who justifies the existence of the human race. “Super- man” is a term originally used by Friedrich Nietzsche in his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.