RCGP: The New Modern SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison

Art Ramirez

Issue 49

Prison Focus Issue 49, Spring 2016  

Editorial note: We have minimally edited portions of this article for clarification and brevity, with the author's permission,  .

The Restricted Custody General Population Housing Unit (RCGP) occupies a unit at Pelican Bay that was vacant for two years before the Ashker v. Brown decision. The creation of the RCGP is outlined in the Ashker settlement. I will not repeat what it says. This article is to share with readers what the settlement doesn’t tell you about the RCGP.  As of right now both A and B Sections are empty and may be for future Step Down Program. The A-Section has had one inmate housed there. None of these prisoners have debriefed, are drop-outs, rats or SNY. All are placed here on account of 1030s coming from confidential prison informants (flesh eaters). Confidential, unverified information influences what prison administration place in our C-files [central files]. We arrived on January 27th, 2016, to Pelican Bay State Prison RCGP.

Most of you know me by “Big Smiley” Art Ramirez after being in Corcoran SHU’s two year Magnification SHU Program, coming then from the Short Corridor PBSP SHU in November 7, 2013. I was the first to come out of the Short Corridor by the Departmental Review Board (DRB). All of that was the result of the third Hunger Strike. When the DRB finally starting releasing us after all those years in the Short Corridor and the SHU, many of us had been there since in opened in December 1989. Many or most were just as grey-haired as myself. My best to all, I wish upon all to decompress and continue on with your time in much more comfortable surroundings. Now we can use our five senses for what they were intended and our eyes and ears back in place. I was told this RCGP is a mainline program but the only mainline we can see is from our cages, or when we go to visit or to the law library. There was nothing in place for us when this unit opened. This used to be a Psychiatric Security Unit (PSU).

All of us have strong morales and ethics and have encountered plenty of obstacles on account of 1030s already. Not debriefing is also a strong factor why we were placed in the RCGP. This “pilot program” is the new SHU: a secret type of prison program controlled directly by Sacramento for reasons yet unknown. We are told the RCGP is first of its kind in the California prison system. A more friendly unit, the public was told, disguised on paper as a mainline program, yet what we experience is not so different from the SHUs of our past. We are each at or over fifty years old, maybe one or two a bit younger, who have been in SHUs for over twenty years of our lives. We can clearly see what is behind the curtain. We were told we would have a concrete yard where we could congregate, but instead have been placed in cages. There were no pull up bars. After our complaints, we have been told pull up and dip bars will be placed in the cages. With more firm complaining, a basketball hoop was drilled into the wall and handballs for when it is decided that we will be allowed on group yard.

For those who didn’t read my article in Prison Focus number 42, Spring 2014, pages 9–10, on the STG Inactive Magnification SHU Program, let me share that what the DRB talked about then is happening now with this RCGP Unit today. A “more modern SHU:” where you are not cuffed as you walk to the medical clinic, law library, or canteen, but still being deprived of group yard or group day room except for one prisoner allowed one hour in the day room every other night. One and a half hours every day in “exercise” cages. We are allowed one six-hour contact visit every ninety days and three-hour window [non-contact] visits weekly Saturday and Sunday. Every day continues to be a struggle, but because we continue to shake the tree hard, some things are coming into place, such as shower shoes and coffee packs in lunches. All we are asking is for Pelican Bay to follow Title 15, for us to receive our attorney visits, confidential phone calls with attorneys, weekly contact visits, and the other basics that we are entitled to. It does not help with roughneck guards obsessed with giving out 115s. We did not come here for more punishment.

This RCGP has only been open one month. We’ll see how it develops since the strings are pulled from Sacramento capitol. Yet there are a lot of things that need to be fixed now. We should be allowed the same number of phone calls and visits as those on the mainline. Now, phone calls and visits are tied to whether you have A1-A status, only available to those with jobs. In other places, we were given A1-A status if we were in education, but not here. We were told we would be going to a “restricted” mainline; we expected full mainline privileges, just separated from the other GP units. That has not been the case. I only hope the Ashker v. Brown team do not give up on us in this program since the RCGP Unit is a product of the Ashker v. Brown settlement. It now appears that in negotiating that settlement, not much thought was given to how this program should work. Whatever planning went into this RCGP unit should have been in place when we arrived on January 27, 2016. When I say “team” I acknowledge those attorneys who won this victory and to us finally seeing justice done through the release of many long term prisoners from SHU. We would like the same justice to continue with this new RCGP Unit to function as a mainline with education programs, weekly contact visits, group yard, and group day room. We would like all who come into RCGP given A1–A status. There has been abuses of power from the prison administration long enough, especially against those of us who spent decades in Pelican Bay SHU. Myself a total of 33 ½ years in the SHU straight. Where is the acknowledgement that we deserve more now? Where is the common sense and logic coming into the development of the RCGP? Why begin all over when none of us in this section did anything “wrong” to be placed here.

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