Jun 10, 2016
keywords: Ashker Settlement, Guillermo Pimentel, Agreement to End Hostilities
From Prison Focus Issue 49
This report is informed by (1) in-person interviews conducted at Pelican Bay State Prison in March 2016, (2) letters recently received by California Prison Focus from incarcerated correspondents at the Bay, and (3) reports made to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition by those with incarcerated loved ones, penpals or legal clients at the Bay.
As we emphasize each time we publish, the names of interviewees and correspondents have been replaced with anonymous designations to guard individuals’ confidentiality. Any overlap with anonymous designations used in other reports in this issue of Prison Focus is purely coincidental: Each of our contributors assigns and randomizes their own anonymous designations when preparing reports.
CPF had scheduled nineteen interviews at Pelican Bay in late March. Yet, seven of the people we’d planned to speak with were unavailable, or so we learned upon arriving. Most of the latter had been released from the SHU and had been transferred to other prisons shortly before our visit, and another had actually paroled—all positive developments. The remaining individual allegedly declined our visit.
Of the dozen men we did speak with, six were in the SHU. All were relatively recent arrivals, having been sent to the Bay from other SHUs or ASUs during the 2014–2015 time period (but in any event prior to the Ashker settlement, with the exception of one of them).
Five of the other six men we spoke with were in the general population (also called the mainline). Three had been let out of the SHU in January or thereabout, after receiving reviews by the Internal Classification Committee (ICC). The fourth had seen the Departmental Review Board (DRB) before Ashker settled, under the then-ongoing DRB “case by case” review process.
Finally, we also spoke with one person in the Restricted Custody General Population (RCGP) Unit opened in late January of this year. He, too, had been released from the SHU per the DRB’s recommendation and before Ashker settled.
Because the individual and situational circumstances of our March interviewees varied from one person to the next, we heard a variety of grievances—too many to possibly discuss herein. This report will therefore focus on several common themes that clearly emerged.
RECENT SPATE OF CELL SEARCHES
One of the first things that we heard from several folks on the mainline, in March, is that they’d just gotten off of lockdown. The lockdowns, we learned, involved a minimum of three yards, and had been in effect for up to two weeks. Men from two different yards described cell-searches that lasted for three and four hours, while they were made to wait outside in the driving wind and rain and winter cold. Moreover, they were allowed nothing to wear other than t-shirts, boxers, shower slippers and rain jackets. Noting that the dining hall, a dayroom, etc., could have been used instead of the outdoors as a waiting area, Mr. F succinctly stated, “They do this to torture us.” His legs had literally turned blue during the ordeal, he added.
What pretense had been offered for such abuse, we don’t precisely know. Mr. F said that usually a memo is posted to inform prisoners of the reason for any lockdown, but no memo had been posted at his yard; rumor only had it that something had “gone missing” from a facility. Mr. C otherwise vaguely made mention of a “routine search.” The bright note is that nobody mentioned any inter-group hostilities having preceded the lockdowns.
It’s worth noting here that complaints of lockdowns at Kern Valley State Prison have been nearly constant since the beginning of this year. Whether this is a new pattern at Kern Valley or not we don’t know, as our contacts and our allies’ contacts are by and large fairly new at Kern, having been sent there upon release from the SHU and following the settlement of Ashker.
Adding to all of the above, just the other week we learned about a search and outright cell-trashing that had happened at the Bay. The officers involved included Officer Guillermo Pimentel. Yet, we have affirmative information that this cell-trashing was definitively not preceded by any inter-group hostilities, which is positive news to us and other proponents of the Agreement to End Hostilities.
Pimentel, of course, was one of the four officers found guilty in Jesse Perez’s retaliation/First Amendment case, which we reported on in Issue #48. Escalating our concern, we have reason to believe that Pimentel was promoted at some point between the Perez trial in November and March 2016. (At of the time of the Perez verdict, he was the only officer among those found guilty who had not already received a promotion following the retaliatory trashing of Perez’s cell in 2012.)
In 2012, Pimentel and his co-defendants were all employed as Assistant Internal Gang Investigators IGIs). Meanwhile, as we prepare to publish, the State Legislature is in the process of deciding whether or not to approve the CDCR’s request to hire forty-eight new gang investigators, to the tune of $5.8 million. This outrageous request flies in the face of the Ashker settlement, its mandates, and its discrediting of the notion that “gang” affiliation (real or alleged), in and of itself, is indicative of actual misconduct, or predictive of any future conduct at all.
Medical complaints continue to be serious and rampant across all areas of the prison. Dr. Dorman (a male) and RN Raisin Hoover (a female), were specifically implicated in regard to issues that people have been experiencing.
These issues, unfortunately reflective of the CDCR’s overall standard of “care,” include: medical assistive devices and medications taken away, medications inappropriately/negligently prescribed, necessary refills not timely provided, and potentially life-threatening conditions such as Hep C going untreated.
In regard to Hep C, multiple individuals informed us that they’d been refused treatment because they weren’t at Stage 3 yet, weren’t dying yet, and so forth. We unfortunately have no good news here. A November 2015 memo issued by the Prison Law Offices advises: “Prison medical officials are only required to provide treatment if it is ‘medically necessary.’ Under the current Care Guide, treatment is considered medically necessary only for some HCV patients.”
The torturous situation with thirty-minute “welfare” checks in the SHUs has not changed in any notable way. Moreover, despite a court-approved stipulation requiring that checks be conducted hourly, rather than each half-hour, during first watch (while people are sleeping), this is not happening in all pods.
Mr. Q was not aware of the stipulation, which issued in late December 2015, and was extended in early May, 2016. This further suggests that any requirements that the CDCR may have to notify its wards of the stipulation may be violated.
LACK OF ACCESS TO A1-A STATUS
People who are working and/or participating in educational programming for a certain number of hours per week should qualify for what’s colloquially referred to as A1-A status. The relevant regulations are set forth in Title 15, section 3044 and its innumerable and nearly incomprehensible subparts.
The practical effect of being assigned A1-A status is considerable. If you belong to this “privilege” group, you are allowed one phone call per week (as opposed to one phone call per month), full canteen draw, increased access to yard and group activities, maximum monthly canteen draw, and four annual packages. A1-A assignment may furthermore prove indispensible in terms of getting a sentencing reduction, or getting paroled.
However, we’ve heard countless grievances, both from the Bay as well as from other prisons, about the paucity/lack of both jobs and educational programming available inside. These present a seemingly uncrossable barrier to qualifying for A1-A status.
Mr. F further informs us that Pelican Bay, unlike any other prison he’s been at, outright denies A1-A status where the basis for qualification is participation in educational programming.
ICC REVIEWS, ASHKER REVIEWS, AND ALL THINGS REVIEW-RELATED
For those still in Pelican Bay’s SHU whose sentences are indeterminate (there currently remain 500-odd), a primary concern is obviously, when will they be let out? Ongoing frustrations expressed to us in March included the slow pace of the Ashker-related ICC reviews, the deferral of annual reviews, the meaninglessness of 180-day reviews, and the order of Ashker-related ICC reviews—which in many cases doesn’t adhere to the protocol, under the settlement, that those in the SHU the longest be prioritized.
For more on these topics, we encourage you to continue on and read the Ashker Bulletin published in this issue of our newsletter.
THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
According to everybody we talked to in March, and according to more recent accounts, the Agreement is holding! There are minor incidents here and there. But, despite doors mysteriously opening now and again, guards trying to falsely alarm people during recreation time, and so forth, morale is high. We particularly enjoyed hearing about the inter-group intramural sports that have folks have initiated, apparently on multiple yards.
Mar 16, 2016
keywords: Prison Conditions
From Prison Focus Issue 49
This report is based on information received through written correspondence and interviews conducted in March 2015 with incarcerated men at Corcoran State Prison (“Corcoran”). In this period, we conducted visits with individuals in the SHU and in general population yards. All quotes come directly from the men’s written reports or interviews. As in the past, we report all information anonymously to prevent retaliation from prison guards by replacing individuals’ names with random letters. The repetition of a letter does not mean that the information is from the same individual.
COMPLIANCE WITH ASHKER AND STG REGULATIONS
Before the Ashker settlement, validated Security Threat Group (“STG”) members were entitled to a six year “inactive” review, as well as 180 day Institutional Classification Committee (“ICC”) reviews. Now, the institution is required to conduct so-called “Ashker” reviews, evaluating people with indeterminate terms in the SHU, starting with those whomever has been in the unit the longest.
The staff at Corcoran appear to be overwhelmed by their obligations to fulfill the terms of the Ashker settlement and process people out of the SHU. The Ashker legal team is unable to explain Corcoran’s difficulties in complying with the settlement. Multiple people reported that classification reviews are extremely behind, if they are happening at all. Mr. S cited incidents such as house counselors sending case files to the wrong person inside because their case loads are so immense and disorganized.
In addition to delay, the classification committee continues to pressure individuals to debrief, even when they must process that person out under Ashker. Mr. N experienced this at his ICC review, and expressed concerned about retaliation for his refusal to debrief.
Several reported that staff regularly tell them that if they cause trouble at Corcoran they will be moved to Pelican Bay’s SHU. In general, people would prefer to stay at Corcoran than go to PB. There is still pressure from Correctional Officers (“COs”) to debrief, move you to the Bay, or the new Restricted Custody General Population (“RCGP” unit), where there are less privileges than general population yards (“GP” or the “mainline”).
One area of concern regarding SHU placement are those who return to prison after previously serving time and are immediately placed back in the SHU. Mr. M reported that he had been validated as a gang member while serving a sentence over 10 years ago. He paroled, and last year was sent back to prison on an unrelated conviction. After reception, he was sent directly to Pelican Bay SHU, and now to Corcoran SHU, even though he has had no disciplinaries since his return. Placing someone in the SHU without a finding that the person committed a SHU-able offense is prohibited under Ashker.
MOVEMENT IN AND OUT OF THE SHU
There has been a lot of movement recently for people in and out of the SHU. The Corcoran SHU continues to hold more people than any other SHU, with 986 prisoners in a Corcoran SHU unit as of March 2016. There is currently a 5-6 month wait list to be moved to the mainline once you have been approved for release.
Mr. J has been awaiting transfer to a Corcoran S.A.T.F. mainline (another prison located across the road from Corcoran State Prison) for over five months. He had heard there were people with indeterminate SHU sentences who had been working on the Step Down Program getting moved from the Corcoran SHU to Pelican Bay’s SHU. They are told the Step Down Program is no longer.
On the day of CPF’s visit, about 48-50 long termers in the SHU (approximately 10 years or more) were all moved to the mainline.
Mr. W reported that there continues to be a large influx of people transferred into 4A from Tehachapi’s SHU, because that SHU is closing down [closure of the Tehachapi SHU has not been confirmed by CDCr officials].
Mr. O reports that the 4A and 4B SHU units are about to be under construction. He was told that 4B will shut down first because the whole building is being made into general population [This is also unconfirmed by CDCr officials].
CPF investigators did speak to some individuals who had already been transferred from the SHU to a GP yard at Corcoran. The majority of adjustment for people is psychological. Mr. A noted that he struggles with the feeling that he is being watched constantly by people now that he has gotten out of the SHU. Representative of many people who correspond with CPF, Mr. U reported that he has had difficulty adjusting to physical touch and contact with others. He had a contact visit with his mother and family members, which was profound for him. “I got to hug my Mom.” He noted that there were so many more sounds to hear, so much more sensory input. It was “shocking” especially when there were more than 2-3 people—“rooms come alive.” He said he knew he had to take his time and adjust to it because ultimately it was all positive and he had to take his time dealing with other people. “It’s bittersweet,” because after 8 years in the SHU, he has lost contact with a lot of people in his immediate family and circle of friends because letters don’t work well for some people.
“Welfare checks” at Corcoran SHU continue every 30 minutes around the clock. The consensus from reporters are that the disruption of the checks depend entirely on the CO who is conducting them – some pound the walls hard and keep the beeping sound on all night long; others try harder to be quiet. The COs also use a flashlight irregularly as they start the night rounds and as the morning rounds begin, to wake people. The COs “can still see in, there’s no need for that!” Lights in the cell are already on 24 hours per day. Many people are woken up every half hour and are unable to sleep through it. The lack of sleep especially affects those with mental health issues. They are too exhausted to keep to their routines and start to act out.
Although people in Pelican Bay are provided earplugs, COs here will not provide them. It appears that the COs are annoyed at being forced to conduct the checks, but if anyone complains about the noise or the flashlights getting shined in their face, the COs will take the person out of their cell in cuffs and tear the cell apart.
Medical care at Corcoran continues to fall below appropriate standards of care. One key complaint for those who have recently arrived at Corcoran is the lack of consistent treatment standards across prisons. Upon arrival to Corcoran, medications are taken away and appointments take months to get, leaving people without continuity of needed treatments. Many reporters told us that they have to file 602HC forms before they will ever be seen by medical.
Mr. U reported that one physician only sets appointments on days when he also has a classification or other committee hearing, so he is never able to go. Meetings like that happen so rarely that it is hard to see this continual conflict as a coincidence.
Many reported that they rarely see a certified physician in person. Appointments are either with nurses or doctors via tele-medicine, which is not ideal, especially for those with serious medical conditions that require daily or weekly treatment.
Access to mental health care is especially slow. The Coleman case dictates standards of care, including the frequency of access to psychiatric care providers. Several people reported that they have gone months without seeing a psychiatrist, and that there are no group treatments, which are offered elsewhere throughout the prison system.
Dental care is nothing less than atrocious. Mr. P had a few teeth pulled several months ago, which led to an infection in his jaw. He was provided anti-biotics but not pain medication. He was in so much pain he was unable to eat, but was denied emergency care. The nurses put him on a medical psychiatric hold rather than respond to his needs for pain medication. Mr. T also reported that the dental care is “aggressive—they cut men’s mouths up all the time.” Mr. V said he had been waiting over three months for a filling, and was called out for the procedure on the very day of our visit. Mr. L stated that he intends to wait as long as he can for dental care, in hopes that his transfer will go through soon.
There are also concerns with getting access to needed medical devices. For example, Mr. B was assigned a wheelchair, and was provided one with no legs. After going through the appeal process, the facility granted him a new wheelchair, contingent on his ability to pay for it himself. Once his wheelchair finally arrived, he was not allowed to keep it inside his cell, but told he must park it outside of his cell. COs then took the wheelchair and used it to transport other prisoners, never returning it to the cell. Mr. B was forced to purchase another wheelchair out of his own money, which again, coincidentally arrived on the very day of our visit.
There are continuing issues at Corcoran with access to hot water. Mr. T reported that in 4A, one half of the building claimed the water was too hot and burning them, so the COs turned off the hot water completely. Last summer, Corcoran prisoners reported going without hot water for 6 months. Mr. J reported that at some point in February, there was hot water for one week, but then it was turned off again.
In general, the facilities are very dirty. In the year that Mr. R has been in Corcoran, he has only seen the facility swept 3 times, because many of the 4A inmates complained. The floors were only mopped once. “Cleanliness is an issue.”
There are also issues with the lights. Two prisoners reported that the lights would occasionally go off for days at a time.
COs do not respect mail and many prisoners reported significant delays in receiving mail. Sometimes the delays are many weeks, other times they are up to two months. This has been a consistent issue at Corcoran and something that we have reported multiple times.
Mr. Y reported that on February 22, 2016 about 60 people received notices from CO M. Magana that their annual packages were being thrown away. The COs claimed that people were working the system by adding items for cellmates to annual packages. Instead of returning to sender, the boxes were thrown away and their annual packages wasted.
The food at Corcoran is notoriously cold, bland, and served in small portions. Reports from men this spring were no exception. Many people reported that a main source of “protein” in meals consists of artificial meat that is reconstituted with water and lacks nutritional value. Mr. C reports that while the kitchen in Corcoran has a heater to keep food warm before it is delivered to the men, it is not used, so that by the time the trays are delivered to cells, the food is very cold. Those who are able augment their food through access to the Canteen, although there are not many nutritious options there either, and many do not have the resources.
EDUCATION AND PROGRAMMING
While educational programming is theoretically available in both the SHU and in GP, reports of access are varied. One individual told us that his access to his books and proctored exams are satisfactory. He asked and received information on the educational options he had. Two others reported that COs do not volunteer information about educational opportunities. Mr. K stated that he studies through correspondence courses that he found through his own initiative.
Educational tablets, music and books are supposed to be available for purchase but reporters are told they are not allowed in the SHU. On the mainline, there are more educational opportunities, but they cost money, which is prohibitive for many.
Several reported that they would like to begin or continue educational programming, but are in a holding pattern until their long-awaited transfers go through. It is frustrating, Mr. P stated, that he is unable to educate himself or work toward rehabilitation certificates because he would lose any progress upon transfer, which could happen at any time.
GRIEVANCE AND APPEALS PROCESS
As previously reported, Corcoran is well known for obstructing the 602 appeals process. Mr. D reported witnessing COs throw away completed 602 appeals forms right in front of him. Others reported that submitted 602 forms are never returned—“They simply disappear.” Mr. I reported that every 602 he has ever filed has been denied.
Many people struggle with the catch-22 of needing paperwork to substantiate their grievance, but are unable to access the information prior to filing a 602 form. For example, Mr. H believes he was wrongfully validated as an STG member based on an incident where he was not present and is unaware of who was involved. He filed a 602 form but it was rejected because he did not have the evidence used against him. When he filed another 602 requesting the evidence, it was rejected because the validation was based on confidential information.
Unbelievable to some new arrivals at Corcoran, staff attitudes are even worse at Corcoran than at Pelican Bay. Mr. V explained how at Pelican Bay, COs inform you of changes to policy and schedule; here they provide no information. Mr. W described his efforts to keep his relationships friendly with COs (in order to avoid excessive searches and aggression), but said that at best COs are “chill and unfriendly” with him. Cell searches are common, especially while individuals are at yard or showering. Mr. Q reported that it is common for COs to go through and toss out legal materials during searches.
Mr. F believes that the current political climate (with Trump running for President) has led to more overt racism from COs recently. He hears COs talking about how “all Mexicans are criminals,” which creates tensions on the unit.
Mr. H stated that the COs befriend certain individuals who they believe will be informants for them, providing them with extra food packages and TVs appropriated from other prisoners.
There is general consensus that the law library is not sufficient for individuals to complete research in time for court deadlines. Mr. E reported that he has put in multiple requests for the law library but never received a response. He has heard from others that if he does not have an active court case, he is not eligible for the law library, but questions how he would be able to write a viable complaint without first conducting research.
The law library offers copying services, but only once your case is active. This presents another catch-22, because one needs copies of their 602 or other paperwork in order to initiate a lawsuit.
Loss of property is a common issue throughout all of CDCr, but it has become especially problematic in light of all the recent transfers. Several reporters told us that they have had to wait months for their property upon arrival to Corcoran. Mr. Z reported that he waited 6 months; Mr. W waited 2 months; Mr. P waited 4 months, and when his property finally arrived, many of his possessions were missing.
After months of waiting, Mr. Q filed a 602 form requesting his property. It was rejected because he had no proof that the property had gone missing, as opposed to still in transit. After 6 months of persistent advocacy, the Unit Sargent told him that his property had been located at a different prison entirely.
Mr. B explained that there are inconsistencies in the property matrix across prisons; things that are allowed one place are prohibited at Corcoran. New arrivals to the GP yards reported confusion around the fact that things which were allowed in the SHU are not allowed on the mainline. Mr. A reported that in the SHU, he was allowed pens, but in GP they are prohibited and they are not sold in the Canteen. As a result, he is unable to work on his drawing, which is an important creative outlet for him.
The men are told that they are allowed yard three times a week, but this rarely occurs in practice. Mr. X, a recent arrival from Tehachapi, expressed appreciation that they occasionally do get yard three times a week, because at Tehachapi they never got yard more than once per week.
Sometimes, COs will leave men at the yard for hours at a time. They say they are making up for days where they were not allowed yard, but it can be disruptive to miss educational programming, access to the law library, or needed medical appointments while left in the yard for an entire day. As it turns into summer, people worry about being left in the sun for too long.
Mr. U reported that his tier operates on a “split tier” schedule, where each month the upper tier will get yard and the lower tier will get shower and phone access, and the next month it will switch. Neither tier gets both.
THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
Awareness of the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH) is mixed, especially on the GP yards. Mr. R told us, “Everybody thinks it’s a good thing.” Mr. Q confirmed that in general, people respect the AEH, although not everyone is aware of it.
In the GP yard, COs work to keep the races separated, and there is less awareness of the AEH. Mr. T reported that race-based violence still occurs regularly on the mainline and that tensions have been heightened since the murder of Hugo Pinell last August at New Folsom prison. Mr. C observed that attacks against individuals coming out of the SHU are common, and he believes they are considered easy targets, vulnerable due to the psychological effects of the SHU. The violence is usually a stabbing or an assault where at least one person is punched.
Several individuals who have left the SHU and are now in GP promote the AEH with others and try to live the values of the Agreement by refusing to play by the race game. “I have no hang ups about that stuff.”
Mar 10, 2016
keywords: Department Review Board, Welfare Checks, 115 Rule Violation Reports, 602 Administrative Appeals, Ashker v. Brown Settlement, Agreement to End Hostilities
From Prison Focus Issue 48
In mid-November, 2015, CPF conducted legal visits with 16 men who are in Pelican Bay State Prison. In the wake of the Ashker v. Governor settlement (Ashker, or, “the settlement”) on September 1, 2015, and with the torturous “security/welfare checks” that started on August 2, 2015 in Pelican Bay SHU, these interviews provide us important insight into the lives and conditions for those in the SHU. In order to preserve confidentiality, names of the men have been anonymized and replaced with random initials. The repetition of a letter does not indicate that the reporter of the facts is the same.
Many talked about their recent and current experiences with Departmental Review Board (DRB), and, now after the settlement, the Institutional Classifications Committee (ICC). Due to the settlement, people are getting moved around; some of our interviewees had recently arrived to Pelican Bay from other SHUs. Of those who are long-termers at Pelican Bay, only some have had a transfer hearing; many are still waiting. The ICC claims that they are “backlogged” because they are now required to review so many people for transfer out of the SHU. M. G’s counselor said there are 110 people in line ahead of him and she could not give him a timeline. Mr. X was told he would be transferred to Pleasant Valley, but as of the date of our interview, he was still waiting to be transferred. Mr. J reported that a friend of his had been waiting seven months to be transferred, and he finally left to Salinas the day before our interview, along with 25 other people. Mr. P was told that he would be moved to another SHU. Mr. U was placed in the Step Down Program (SDP). Mr. K was re-validated at his ICC review, and was told that he would remain at Pelican Bay SHU. Mr. G reported that he saw the ICC and they “elevated” his case to the DRB.
Reports indicate that case-by-case reviews are also delayed due to the settlement. Mr. R is waiting for his case-by-case case review; he was told it would happen before the end of the year, but now with the settlement he has no idea.
Everyone knows at least one person who has been released to a general population yard (GP, or “mainline”). It was reported that there were at least four men who had been released from the Pelican Bay SHU to the Pelican Bay mainline, but all were soon put into Ad-Seg “based on confidential information.” Many people expressed concern about getting put back in the SHU as soon as they are released to mainline, with the same lack of due process afforded to them as their earlier placement. “They call you ‘asleep’ once you have been let out into GP and then if you get any 115’s, then you are ‘activated’ and sent right back in the hole.”
Medical issues are a major concern at Pelican Bay. Five people reported that upon transfer from another facility to Pelican Bay, the doctor was instructing guards to take away eyeglasses. Mr. V reported that when he was transferred to Pelican Bay SHU, everyone on the bus with him had their medication taken away. Those who had eyeglasses taken away reported that they were told their eyes need to be worse to meet PSBP standards. Mr. W was told he no longer qualified for Hep C medication. Mr. J has had cancer medication withheld. He reported symptoms including pain, exhaustion, and dizziness, but was told that he would only be entitled to medication once the cancer reached stage four. Mr. C developed eczema while in SHU and is getting nothing for relief. Mr. D is ADA-classified but the doctor has refused to prescribe both his pain and nerve medication. Despite clear diagnoses to the contrary, he is now told his only condition is arthritis. Mr. F reported that he has serious medical problems and has applied for ADA-classification but it has been denied. Many reported that the doctor will not give new medications or make referrals. Mr. T reported that he filed a medical 602 appeals form for a needed medical appliance, but it was denied and as a consequence, he is in constant pain.
The “security/welfare” checks are also causing serious medical problems. Supposedly a mental health directive, the “security/welfare” checks consist of 30-minute rounds conducted by guards where a metal wand must connect with a magnet placed near cell doors. Due to all the metal and concrete in the design at Pelican Bay, as well as the malicious intent of certain guards required to conduct the checks, the checks are extremely loud and disruptive, where banging and clanging can be heard from many cells away and continue as guards march up and down stairs to get to the upper pod. Because the checks are conducted every half hour, including throughout the night, men have been unable to sleep through the night since August 2, 2015, and the sleep deprivation is taking its toll. Many people reported medical problems attributed to sleep deprivation, including shortness of breath, hyperventilation, trouble breathing, chest pains, irregular heartbeat, and exhaustion. Earplugs have been passed out, but they are not sufficient to block the noise from the guards. The men reported that the amount of noise depends on which guards are on duty, but reported that even those guards who are respectful and trying to be quiet can't avoid waking people up, especially due the noise associated with opening and closing of the electric steel doors. Mr. L reported that some people are beginning to adjust to the noise and are able to sleep through it for some of the rounds, but even so, everyone continues to be sleep deprived.
People outside the walls are organizing against the checks. One man reported seeing one such protest on the local news, which gave him hope for change.
The 30-minute checks are not only impacting sleep for the men, but also affecting programming. Mr. H reported that the men are not getting full yard time because of delay related to the “welfare” checks. Also, it can take up to 30 minutes to be moved to the yard, so time is often cut short once you get there. There have also been changes to access to yard since the Ashker settlement. Before, men were allowed to take water to yard and come back to their cell to use the restroom. Now they are not allowed to have water or use the restroom in their cell during yard time. These new limitations are retaliation in response to the settlement. Mr. U stated, “Once they start taking 'small stuff,' when you are used to your program, it really starts affecting you.” Mr. V reported that some C/Os are now counting shower time as exercise time.
Limited educational programming is available. There is pre-GED education, GED education, and some college courses, although you have to pay for college. Since the settlement, there is also some creative programming, such as guitar lessons (without an actual guitar). Mostly, educational opportunities consist of anger management, victim awareness, and other self-help courses. College education includes courses from Coastline Community College and the “College Guild.” Individuals must purchase their own textbooks, which are expensive. Mr. K reported that the C/Os create delay by not responding to applications to begin educational courses, pass out materials days and sometimes weeks late, and do not play the correct videos during the scheduled times. There is no access to any vocational training opportunities.
PROPERTY, CELL SEARCHES, AND MORE
Individuals who have recently been moved into Pelican Bay expressed complaints about the loss of personal property during their transfer. In addition to the loss of prescribed medications and eyeglasses, people reported that legal materials, a typewriter, a TV, clothes, and other personal property do not arrive with the person to Pelican Bay. Mr. X reported that he had consulted the property matrix for Pelican Bay and only brought allowable items, but upon arrival, was simply told those items were not allowed. Mr. B reported that it took over 2 and a half months for him to receive his property after a transfer from Tehachapi; Mr. I reported that it took over six months for him to receive all of his property back after he arrived at the Bay.
Several men reported that cell searches are common at Pelican Bay. Mr. M reported that it is rare for the C/Os to do large sweeps, but small searches. Other concerns include the fact that men who had tried to get a cellmate have been denied. One was told he was “incompatible.” No one had been successful have been getting a double cell. There were 6 open in November 2015 and the guards want a couple people on the higher floor to move into them so they don't have to walk so far.
Mail has been erratic. Some men reported that their mail has been late because of the IGI interference, anywhere from 10 days to a month late. With the “security/welfare” checks, guards are telling the men that they no longer have time to process mail; each shift is leaving the mail for the next shift. Mail used to be delivered earlier in the day, but now sometimes does not get delivered until 8 or 9pm, which is too late to respond until the next day. Mr. U reported that the timestamp of his mail is ripped off by the time he receives it; he believes this is to cover up the fact that the mail had arrived at the facility days before, but was delayed in getting to him. Mr. E reported that mail he had sent out marked LEGAL mail was returned to him opened. Mr. W reported that a book was sent to him, but was retruned to sender because it wasn’t from a bookstore. Individuals CPF interviewed who had moved from the SHU to general population reported that mail service was not delayed in that part of the prison but is processed timely.
FOOD AND NUTRITION
The food at Pelican Bay is notoriously bland, cold, and innutritious. Recent reports confirm that nothing has changed. The food “sucks,” has no flavor, arrives cold, and with small portions. Some say it is the worst food in the CA prison system, but others say they've had worse at Tehachapi. Many have reported that since their participation in the hunger strike, they have been unable to regain the lost weight. Individuals with special diets particularly suffer. Mr. E is diabetic and, while he gets sugar-free pudding, he also gets very unhealthy food for diabetics including pasta, bread, and ice cream. He said that a diabetic specialist was the one deciding his diet. Mr. O is on the Kosher diet and reports the portion sizes are tiny and his food is very repetitive. Mr. T reported that due to the 30-minute checks, meals are not delivered on time, but will be left to sit out for up to an hour at times while C/Os do checks.
Individuals who had been moved from the SHU into the GP yard at Pelican Bay report that meal service is far superior than what is served in the SHU. Hot meals are actually warm, the meat is better quality, and portions are more reasonable.
RULES VIOLATIONS, ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS AND ACCESS TO THE COURTS
Men reported that overall, the use of 115s (rule violation reports) has increased since the announcement of the settlement. Several individuals reported that they had received 115s for petty offenses, things that previously had not led to a violation, and for incidents that had nothing to do with the individual. Mr. T reported that there has been an increase in 115s with an “STG-nexus,” because under the settlement, behavior must be linked to an STG in order to be a “SHU-able offense.” Mr. Z reported that he received a 115 for a “conspiracy” case that he believes had nothing to do with him. He was told the evidence for his 115 was based on “confidential information,” so he had no opportunity to defend himself. Mr. U has heard of multiple reports where individuals are receiving 115s for “acting in a leadership role,” with an STG-nexus, which are nearly always based on “confidential information.” Mr. D was issued a 115 for receiving a letter that was written in a “gang font.” Mr. C was issued a 115 after a cell raid where an extra water bottle was found in his cell. Mr. V, a documented vegetarian, was issued a 115 after he refused a tray that had meat on it.
Individuals who had filed 602s reported that it continues to be rare to see a 602 granted. Multiple people have filed 602s regarding property that was never returned after a move. Mr. M’s 602 was “partially granted” in that some, but not all, of the property was returned to him; Mr. E’s 602 on this was still pending at the time of the interview. Mr. G reported that he knew of one individual who won a 602 because his legal mail was not opened in his presence. Mr. Q filed a 602 regarding money sent by his family; neither he, nor his family, have had the money returned. Mr. O filed a 602 to protest C/Os refusal to honor a scheduled visit with an attorney. He was told the C/Os were backed up due to the 30 minute checks and they would not have time to transfer him to the visiting room.
Access to the law library continues to be difficult. According to Mr. L, use of the law library is “like pulling teeth. The guards insist that they do not have enough staff to escort people around the prison. Two individuals reported that it was so difficult and frustrating to get into the law library that they have ceased to pursue their legal claims over rights violations. Mr. Y reported that for his neighbor, it regularly takes about a month to get in after putting in a request. Mr. A reported that he has only had access to the law library a total of ten hours in the past 90 days. Mr. T, who has spent time at both Corcoran SHU and Pelican Bay SHU, noted that the library in Corcoran was much better stocked, with access to highlighters, whiteout, a hole-punch, and other basic office supplies. None of these items are available at Pelican Bay.
Mr. K reported that if someone is in the law library, they are not allowed to leave and re-enter for any purpose, including to use the bathroom. This means that if someone is at the library for 2-4 hours, they cannot go to the bathroom during that time. This is a barrier as well for some people in trying to access the library.
AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
The Agreement to End Hostilities, penned by men in the short corridor at Pelican Bay in October 2012, continues to play an important role in race and group relations at Pelican Bay. Mr. Y stated that he thinks the Agreement is working out well, but that some people try to sabotage it, namely the C/Os, who continue to try to stir animosity among groups. Mr. B reported that there is now more dialogue among all racial groups, especially in Corcoran and Pelican Bay. Two men reported that on the 23rd of each month in general population (GP), people of all races play basketball, horseshoes, handball, touch football. Individuals who had formerly been in the SHU and were transferred to general population through the DRB were the first to initiate these games, then others in GP came on board. Also, on the 23rd of each month, people in GP walk around the yard with someone from a different race to talk.
Mr. Q said that he believes the solidarity of the hunger strike made the gang investigation team think they are losing power. He feels there is more respect for one other now. The men inside understand that system is out to get them and the way to beat it is through organizing, writing, and protest; violence doesn't work anymore because it can be used against them.
Mar 10, 2016
keywords: Medical Neglect, Sleep Deprivation, Welfare Checks, 602 Administrative Appeals
From Prison Focus Issue 48
This report is based on information received through written correspondence and interviews conducted in December 2015 with incarcerated men at Corcoran State Prison (COR). All quotes come directly from the men’s written reports or interviews. As in the past, we report all information anonymously to prevent retaliation from correctional officers by replacing individual’s names with random initials. The repetition of a certain initial does not indicate that the reporter of information is the same person.
Medical care at Corcoran is grossly insufficient. Reports about medical deprivation and inadequate care are ongoing. Multiple people who are AD-classified report that they are currently denied necessary accommodations. It is widely believed that this is a form of retaliation by custody. Even those who have medical approval for medical devices or equipment are denied access by custody staff. For instance, Mr. B is an ADA-classified prisoner who has chronic back pain. The sleeping conditions at Corcoran, consisting of a single inch-thick mattress on a concrete slab, which causes Mr. B increased pain. He received medical approval by a physician for a second (inch-thick) mattress, but C/Os continue to withhold the needed equipment. Mr. B filed and won a 602 regarding this issue, but the ADA coordinator, Overley, still denies Mr. B the second mattress on the grounds that in the “civilian world” people do not need double mattresses. Title 15’s “Durable Medical Equipment Policy Procedure” states that approved medical devices should be allowed in cells, but it is not followed at Corcoran.
Additionally, doctors at Corcoran continually ignore and misdiagnose health complaints. Representative of several people we interviewed, Mr. D reported that he has been continually denied medical treatment for pain in his leg, to the point where he has now lost the use of his leg completely. A physician in Sacramento conducted a video “exam” of his leg and instructed that he get a biopsy. The medical staff affirmed that they would submit the request for him, but as of our interview, he had yet to be scheduled for one. He continues to be denied proper care.
Mr. R notes that his blood pressure condition has become exacerbated as a result of living in the SHU. He is now prescribed double the medication he was on previously, and is unable to adjust his diet or exercise.
Mr. V reported that he has had a terrible time gaining access to dental care. He had put in a request for an appointment months ago but still has not gotten an appointment.
Mr. F is a diabetic and should be on a special diet, but the food provided is high in simple sugars and is detrimental for his health. When he started refusing the food he was served in order not to be tempted, he was then forced to sign a non-compliance form so that the state cannot be held liable. This lack of adequate diet puts Mr. F and all diabetics at risk of medical distress and complications, which can have permanent effects on health outcomes.
CDCR’s “welfare checks,” 30 minute rounds conducted around the clock, continue to defy their purpose and cause more harm than good. [See article on welfare checks at p. ]. The checks cause a great deal of noise, leading to sleep deprivation and consequently both mental and physical harm. They are described as a constant irritation and viewed as a deliberate disturbance used to prevent prisoners from sleeping, an obvious assault on their well-being. Mr. C reports that some of the officers linger and bang batons against the door to ensure that they wake everyone up and disrupt their sleep. Others reported that most of the officers do try to be more quiet at night, although it is difficult.
Mr. O reported that the “welfare” checks can be heard from down the hall, and can be helpful during the day, because they provide consistency to when the guards do rounds, so they don’t show up at one’s cell unexpectedly.
Deplorable cell conditions were a recurring theme this visit and are affecting the mental and physical health of all inmates. Reports indicate that at random intervals, there will be no hot water for showers. Additionally, multiple people reported that the heat has been off for months, causing frigid temperatures, which make it difficult to maintain any quality of life. Others report that cold air is being blasted into their cells. The current temperatures are so cold that Mr. P reported wearing four layers of clothing at all times. He stated that in the past, heaters have worked. This reversal of appropriate air temperature in the vents is consistent with reports from the summer, where we heard that hot air was regularly blasted into the cells. The use of swamp heaters as temperature regulators must be properly maintained, or these results will occur.
This lack of attention to basic living conditions is another form of retaliation, and felt to be a deliberate attempt to weaken the men.
Outside supporters made phone calls to the Corcoran Warden, Ombudsman, and others, demanding an inspection of real temperature. After the calls and emailing, the prison reportedly took action. As of the time this paper went to print, we have not heard conclusively that these problems have been solved.
In addition to the cold water and cold air, one of the old buildings at Corcoran SHU, which includes a visitation area, has a leaking roof. The building is reportedly “drenched”, including dripping into individual cells, causing damage to personal belongings.
The small size of the cells is another factor adding to the discomfort of life in the SHU. This problem is more pronounced for individuals who have cellmates. Mr. I reported that having a cellmate in SHU presents a huge problem because the cells are too small for two human beings to coexist 24/7. Mr. I shared that the cells at Corcoran have no desk. He has constructed a desk using his bed and a pile of books, so that he can work throughout the day. However, when his cellmate returns from exercising, he takes a sponge bath, and the cell floor gets soaked. In order to protect his belongings, Mr. I disassembles his desk and moves all of his things off of the floor. He waits until his cellmate has finished bathing and the floor has dried before he once again rigs up his improvised desk, cutting into the productive hours of the day. Mr. I and his cellmate have worked out a “careful choreography” so that neither encroaches threateningly on the other’s space.
CELL SEARCHES AND PROPERTY LOSS
Reports indicate that cell raids and property confiscation of property occurs daily. Mr. U described the ongoing harassment he receives from correctional officers in the form of constant searches and the taking of property that he is allowed to have under Title 15. Officers have taken legal documents for ongoing litigation, photographs, and his small TV. “All I have that I hold dear.”
Several men expressed concerns that they would lose property in an upcoming transfer. For instance, Mr. Y currently has nearly 200 books, but was told he could only take 40 books with him. Unless he has enough funds to mail the books home, staff will discard them. Since books can only be sent to incarcerated individuals directly from the publisher, his family will be unable to return his books once he arrives at his new location.
Another regular frustration is that since the announced of the settlement in the Ashker v. Brown class action case challenging long term isolation (“Ashker,” or “the settlement”), the prison has increased the use of prison-wide lockdowns at Corcoran, without warning nor explanation. When the prison is on lockdown, individuals in the SHU’s already limited time out of their cell is curtailed, increasing the psychological effects of isolation.
FOOD AND NUTRITION
The food at Corcoran continues to be unsatisfactory; most men have come to expect this. Mr. D reports that his meals are often delivered on dirty trays with dried up, stale food from days earlier. There has reportedly been a shift from meat to mostly tofu, and limited ingredients in general. When chicken is served, it arrives cold or lukewarm, and always deboned, allegedly due to the risk of weapons being constructed out of the bones.
Mr. D reports that one officer has been messing with his food and serving him on dirty trays. He had heard that this officer was previously moved from another section in response to a group 602 about his tampering with food there.
Reports from individuals who had been transferred from the SHU to a general population yard (GP, or the “mainline”) at Corcoran were that the food in the SHU was immeasurably worse than what is served at the same facility to those on the mainline. Men recently released from the SHU are enjoying the upgrade in food quality and diversity. Mr. H shared the joy of eating a fried egg for the first time in years, while Mr. O spoke of thoroughly enjoying his first cup of hot coffee in over a decade. Another SHU survivor describes his elation at getting to eat a hot piece of chicken, still on the bone.
Mail is consistently delayed and frequently returned to sender without explanation. It is described as “sporadic” and “driving the men nuts.” Mr. W reported that his mail is regularly delayed up to six weeks with no explanation. Others described similar lengthy delays. One man stated that he believes much of his incoming mail is being returned due to the political nature of his letters. California Prison Focus received a written report stating that the Prison Focus Newsletter, Issue 47, which outlined the terms of the Ashker v. Brown settlement, was never distributed in his building. CPF did not receive any written report that the publication was restricted, as required by Title 15 when publications are banned.
One officer messes with both in- and outgoing mail so frequently that Mr. D only tries to send mail out when he knows that particular officer is off duty. Others stated that staff are not delivering all of the books that arrive in the mail. Several books that were sent to Mr. R by a CPF volunteer were never received. An officer informed this volunteer that the books may have come from a prohibited vendor, and would consequently be returned to the vendor. The vendor, however, never received the books back.
Mr. K reported that mail is often delivered around 9pm, after most men have gone to sleep. This does not allow time for the men to respond to letters right away, as they must go to sleep, but it also creates an environment where if somebody receives bad news, he explains, they are left to sit up all night thinking about it.
RULES VIOLATIONS, ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS, AND ACCESS TO THE COURTS
Recently, men have reported an increase in retaliation, especially around frivolous written violations (115s), obstruction of the 602 appeals process, and arbitrarily making life more difficult.
One issue we have received reports about from multiple institutions is the increase in attributing a security threat group, or “STG” nexus, to petty rules violations. For instance, Mr. W reported that simple fist fights, which were once a passing offense of little importance, are now being documented as gang activity. The settlement restricts the use of solitary confinement for STG affiliation, so this move to attach an “STG nexus” to disciplinary infractions is viewed as a tactic to ensure that people remain in the SHU for longer.
FORM 602 ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS
Multiple men reported that administrative appeals are nearly impossible to win. Even once granted on paper, it can be a further battle to convince the line staff to respect them. Reports indicate that at the first level of appeal, form 602s are regularly ignored, delayed until after the time limit to file, or “lost” by correctional officers. One must file a Request for Interview/Form 22 prior to reaching the appeals stage, but these forms are typically unavailable, or delivered too late. Staff delays to return denied 602s also cause problems, because individuals have a tight timeline to file a second level appeal. At any level, if an appeal is not filed timely, it is automatically denied. Mr. L uses a typewriter and occasionally goes over the form’s margins. In one case, an officer returned his appeals form and told him to rewrite it properly. After doing so, he was told that the deadline to submit his appeal had passed.
One written report explained the catch-22 that many individuals have with regard to 602 appeals: “I was sent to the SHU on some bogus charges [along with two co-defendants]…. I took all proper appeal steps to make sure my 602 got to them. They responded saying yes, but that a building had burned down, to bear with them and that I would hear back from them. 18 months went by so I appealed their delay because they have 90 days to answer a 602. Well, I got a letter advising me that I can’t appeal this but to send in a request for interview/22 Form to check the status on my appeal. So I did that and still no answer. It’s going on 21 months now. I don’t know what to do.” His co-defendants made a similar appeal and their case was dropped. “They are back on the mainline and I’m still here waiting.”
Many individuals stated that if the appeals process were handled independently and not by officers internal to the department, they believe they would see more fair results.
Those in active litigation reported that access to the law library is arbitrarily denied, and when individuals are provided access, they are not given enough time to get research completed before their court deadlines.
Mr. Q reported that it has been very difficult for family to obtain visiting appointments, discouraging family members and loved ones from coming to visit.
If individuals at Corcoran have more information about any of these issues, or others, you are invited to write to us and provide us with an updated report.
Mar 10, 2016
keywords: Welfare Checks, Sleep Deprivation, 115 Rules Violations
From Prison Focus Issue 48
This report is from letters and interviews of men at California Correctional Institution, aka Tehachapi. As in the past, we report all information anonymously to prevent retaliation from correctional officers by replacing individual’s names with random initials. The repetition of a certain initial does not indicate that the reporter of information is the same person.
There is a general consensus among the men who are currently or have previously been housed in Tehachapi that it is one of the worst CDCR prisons.
Many individuals reported that the medical care at Tehachapi is basically nonexistent. “Animals are treated better.” “The doctors don’t care.” One doctor at Tehachapi is colloquially referred to as “Dr. Death” because he does not give anyone the attention they need. Mr. J stated that the care he and others experienced could easily be malpractice; for instance, he has witnessed staff give people the wrong medication, with serious consequences. Because people fear that their condition will be made worse by the medical staff, Mr. J explained, maybe people forego medical treatment entirely.
Similar to reports at Pelican Bay, individuals told us that medications and medical devices that had been previously approved are taken or denied upon arrival to Tehachapi. Prescribed pain medications are replaced with Tylenol or Ibuprofen, without evaluation of an individual’s specific needs. Those with Hep C are thus at heightened risk of liver damage, due to the negative side effects that these drugs are known to have.
Mr. O reported that, after arriving at Tehachapi and having his pain medication taken away, replaced only with Tylenol, his daily pain is so bad that it is a challenge for him to make his bed or wash his face.
Delays in medical treatment are common and problematic. Mr. C reported that it took 3-4 months for him to get ringworm medicine. Mr. Y reported that he had a urinary tract infection for two weeks before he was able to see a doctor. When he finally got an appointment, the doctor told him that he could not be treated until he saw a specialist, and prescribed him Tylenol in the interim. As of the date of our interview, Mr. Y had still not seen a specialist. He stated his pain was excruciating and he was concerned he may have permanent damage. Mr. L reported that it took six months for him to see an optometrist.
Mr. E reported that there is no doctor/patient confidentiality at medical visits. Correctional officers are always present, and often make comments or laugh while someone is discussing a sensitive topic. Men do not feel safe speaking frankly about their medical conditions. Mr. M was concerned that doctors defer to custody staff and will not insist that an individual gets a particular medical device or another form of treatment that the person needs.
Many individuals reported that they have lingering conditions from their time as hunger strikers, and are not receiving appropriate care. For instance, Mr. F reported that his digestive system has never been the same since the last hunger strike, but the medical staff do not take his concerns seriously.
Cell conditions at Tehachapi are a consistent complaint from individuals there. Weekly supplies, such as bars of soap and other basic hygiene items, are not handed out regularly. Mr. U reported that he must request cleaning supplies several times before he receives them. Laundry is not picked up or provided for weeks at a time, leading some men to wash their clothes with their body soap in their tiny sink. Plumbing problems exacerbate these unsanitary conditions in the cells.
Similar to Corcoran SHU, numerous reports confirm the lack of heat and extremely cold temperatures in the SHU. “There is no such thing as a heater here, in Tehachapi SHU! As I write this letter I’m wearing, a set of thermals - top and bottom, sweats -top and bottom, two pairs of socks, and a beanie. Yet it’s still cold in my cell.” The A/C system is noisy and reportedly keeps men up at night. One man explained that he covers his vents to keep the cold air out, but then it gets really hot in his cell. Either way, he is uncomfortable.
Mr. N reported that when he first arrived at Tehachapi he had nothing in his cell by way of bedding except for a wool blanket. He was not issued a mattress or pillow for six weeks. Some men have allergic reactions to the wool blankets, but are refused requests for cotton blankets, even when they get a medical recommendation. Additionally, officers are not following the property matrix and are not handing out the allowable amount of T-shirts.
TREATMENT BY CUSTODY
We continue to receive reports of unnecessary violence by correctional officers. Mr. S reported that correctional officers will gas men in their holding cells for no apparent reason, and do not hesitate to “take down” or slam individuals against the wall during movement outside of the cell. Certain officers regularly make racist remarks, and overall there is a palpable lack of respect and dignity afforded to individuals in the SHU, which sours relations and makes it difficult to have basic interactions.
Mr. I reported that correctional officers drag their feet when any kind of request is made, causing long, unnecessary delays. Mr. R reported that officers unprofessional and bring their issues from home to work. Mr. U reported that often, administrative appeals are subject to delay in processing, leading to an automatic denial for timeliness.
Reports regarding access to yard are varied. Some report that they have been getting regular access to yard time, typically every other day. Others reported that yard cancellations are common, and the men do not receive yard credit, even when it is cancelled for weeks at a time. Mr. A reported that when there are staff trainings, there is no yard at all. Still others reported that while they might receive the mandated 7 hours of weekly yard time, they may be getting out of their cell only once or twice a week. Mr. Q reported that he is only let out for yard twice a week for 3.5 hours each time. Mr. U reported that he was only provided yard once a week, for five hours.
In the past year, reported indicated that shower time has been cut down to two showers per week, for five minutes each. “The five minutes include showering, shaving and clipping nails.” The moment the five minutes is up, the guards prop open the door and tell them to get out.
Property confiscation is an ongoing problem, and individuals believe that it is intentional and used against people as a form of retaliation. “Everyone is losing property.” According to Mr. Y, 99% of people have at least one piece of property stolen, lost or destroyed upon arrival at Tehachapi. Many people have lost TVs and family pictures in the transport from Pelican Bay (PBSP) to Tehachapi.
Due to the settlement, individuals are getting processed out of the SHU. Once they are approved for transfer, however, many report being held in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) for weeks, sometimes months, on their way to a GP yard. During this time, individuals are not able to have all of their property or access to programming.
FOOD AND NUTRITION
Reports continue to reveal that the food is cold, with small portions, and not nutritious. “The food is cold, gross and thrown sloppily onto dirty trays.” “It’s always the same.” Mr. G reported that the water has a bad taste and is “milky” coming out of the tap. Requests for clean bottled water are denied. Mr. H reported that when he first arrived at Tehachapi, he got food poisoning, probably from the dirty trays that often have dried up food on them, from past meals.
The 30-minute “welfare checks”, as at other facilities, cause problems for the individuals at Tehachapi. [See article on welfare checks, p. _]. Reports indicate that it depends on the individual officers as to how much noise and disturbance they create. Some try to be more respectful, but it is still impossible to sleep through the night. Correctional officers bang on the doors and sometimes shine a light in the cell. Multiple people have sent CPF written reports describing the effects of constant sleep deprivation.
Several men have reported that rules violation reports (Form 115s) are issued liberally for trivial matters. Rather than trying to informally resolve issues, officers will immediately turn to the form 115. For example, Mr. S reported that individuals get written up for talking to other people while out at yard, and that if the violation ever involves another person, gang activity, or an “STG nexus” is alleged on the 115. Additionally, men are written up for sharing a book or magazine, even if the item is not contraband.
Mr. G reported that personal possessions he has had in his cell for a long time were all of a sudden grounds for a rules violation. Mr. G had an article discussing political history, and had written questions on the margin. He stated that his cell had been searched many times before, and that document had never been considered contraband. Recently, however, the document was taken, and he was given an 115. He was told that as a result, he might be moved back a (SDP) step, and his time in the SHU would therefore be extended.
Mr. C received an 115 because a note was found in someone else’s cell in another prison, which allegedly had his name on it and referred to “handling his business”. Mr. C was accused of gang acting in a leadership role with an STG-nexus. He was not given any additional information, but told that all other details were confidential, not giving him an opportunity to defend himself. Nevertheless, he was found guilty and lost his privileges for 90 days. He requested a hearing with a witness, but was told that it was was inconsequential because he had already been found guilty. Often men will appeal the 115s, but according to Mr. C, only caucasian men are able to get their 115s dismissed.
Access to education is difficult because very little education is provided, and there is a lot of red tape. It takes several weeks before one gets access to the library, and sometimes longer. Attaining books by request is very slow as well. Mr. Z reported that it took multiple requests over the course of week to receive a single book. Mr. O reported that it has taken up to five months to receive a requested book. Mr. T reported that the men share educational books and magazines with with one another, but this act of solidarity runs the risk of receiving a 115 for gang activity. In the law library, the computers are hard to use and few people know how to access the information they need.
One reporter indicated that there is little basic education afforded for those with low basic skills. Mr. R had been trying to enroll in a GED program for many weeks, and at the time of our interview, had yet to be approved. There are theoretically educational programs on TV channels, but the service television service is so bad that the men are not able to learn anything. Mr. U reported that he had to drop out of his college course, because he was not able to watch the course videos on the TV. He is frustrated and bored, and is concerned that the lack of educational progress will reflect poorly on his parole application.
Mail delivery, both incoming and outgoing, is a regular issue at Tehachapi. Individuals reported that their mail disappears frequently at Tehachapi, never to be seen again. Men are concerned and upset at how much mail is intercepted. One gentleman reported receiving a stack of his mail, dated several months back. Mr. H reported that officers pilfer food items out of incoming packages sent by loved ones. Mr. Z reported that there is always something missing from his packages. Mr. E reported that he has received letters that refer to pictures, but that the pictures were missing. According to Title 15, if something is withheld from a letter or package, the person should receive a written slip or report, but officers do not follow this regulation. Even more troubling, we have received reports that legal mail is opened and tampered with upon delivery.
Individuals have expressed concern about the policy where prisoners can be penalized for the contents of incoming mail, when they have no control over what others might send them. Mr. K reported that he was issued a 115 rules violation after receiving a letter that had a picture of a family member who had recently gotten out of prison. The formerly incarcerated individual was not the one who wrote the letter, and Mr. K had not asked for the picture to be sent.
Mr. C reports that his niece is the only person that writes to him and she often calls him “tio” or “uncle”, but Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) deem these terms to be evidence of gang affiliation, and thus confiscate his niece’s letters. They took another letter away from Mr. C because of so-called third party communication; The writer had said, “I ran into so and so and they said hi.”
Mr. R reports that his artwork is often confiscated for no reason. When he tries to send drawings home to his family, they are never received. Some people have restricted mail to family, if the family member is suspected by IGI of gang affiliation, but Mr. R is unaware of any mail restriction in his case.
Visiting procedures at Tehachapi are cumbersome and arbitrary, discouraging family members from coming to visit. Individuals report arbitrary exclusion at the gate, even when an individual has been approved and is wearing appropriate clothing. Mr. U reported that his family lives over 150 miles away, making them eligible for an extra hour of visiting time, but their visits are regularly cut short. Mr. L reported that on one occasion, his visit with loved ones was cut short due to space considerations, and after his family was escorted out, he was left waiting in the visiting cell for over an hour before he was returned to his cell. It was frustrating, Mr. L reported, because he was unable to see his family often, and they could have kept visiting for at least another hour.