Oct 01, 2014
keywords: California Correctional Facility, Step Down Program.
From Prison Focus Issue 44
California Prison Focus plans to visit Tehachapi (CCI) as soon as we have the resources to do so. In the meantime, we are tracking conditions there via letters from inside. This report is based on correspondence from two dozen prisoners in Tehachapi SHU.
As in our standard practice, because we do not have everyone’s permission to publish their names, we maintain our sources’ anonymity. Arbitrary letters designate individuals.
WELCOME TO TEHACHAPI
The conditions for some new arrivals in the SHU were horrific. In June we heard from one man (“B”) who was housed in a disciplinary management cell. These have no furniture and no electrical outlets. Their occupants get no access to the law library or to CDCR-22 forms (the beginning of the request or complaint process). “B” had been in that cell over five weeks when he wrote to CPF. For the first day and a half he had a mattress that reeked of urine and the cell smelled of excrement and urine. He was given no cleaning supplies. He stood up for the entire day and a half. He did not receive his religious diet for the first week.
Reportedly, others new to the unit were housed in these management cells for three to four days without even a mattress, sheets, blankets, soap, or toilet paper. This means men are sleeping on the bare concrete floor and have no ability to clean themselves properly.
After prisoner “E” arrived, he received no envelopes or pen for nine days. He could not even fill out a health care form. His cell was covered in “soot” and he lacked scrub pads and cleanser to clean it, getting only liquid disinfectant. It took 13 days to receive clean underwear, and then what he got was very worn and not the right size. His mattress was short—“shoulder length” —and he got no pillow. His first exchange of linens was after 19 days. Overall, he found the move from PBSP to CCI to be “a huge step backwards.”
STEP DOWN PROGRAM
Tehachapi SHU is home to steps 3 and 4 of the Step Down Program—or what passes for steps 3 and 4, as this report will describe. The SDP is allegedly designed to transition prisoners out of gang activity (if any) and prepare them for general population. Yet men have been moved to Tehachapi for months and nominally placed into these steps, only to find that it is SHU as usual--or worse. As they progress in the SDP, they should be allowed to walk to showers unescorted, participate in educational programs or groups, spend yard time with others, eat outside their cells with others, and spend time in a dayroom. The reality is that the prison was sorely unprepared for them and has provided none to little of this programming.
In July, prisoner “A” reported that step 3 and 4 participants were spending virtually no time out of cell, and no programming was in place. They were getting yard time in cages and only one day a week, for one 5-hour block. After being at Tehachapi for six months, “we still find ourselves working to get what comes with these programs.” He is “thankful that change is coming, but it ain’t nothing nice having to be one of the first participants to programs that are still working out the many kinks.” He noted that the promised phone calls and extra package had been granted.
Almost twenty other prisoners echoed his assessment that there was little sign of the steps operating. They detailed what was missing. There was no uncuffed movement, no dayroom time allowed, yard was limited to once a week at most, and no meaningful educational programs were in place. In sum, “we are going along with what is required of us…and…we are receiving no beneficial treatment. It is like we are being punished for participating.”
Letter writer “C” described the conditions for SDP prisoners at Tehachapi as “completely dysfunctional”--in short, “a mess.” He found the conditions there harsher than those in PBSP SHU, from where he was transferred. Given that prisoners are allowed no social interaction or freedom to show that they are not engaging in gang activity, he believes steps 3 and 4 have nothing to do with discontinuing gang activity, but are simply a matter of punishment and control.
Slowly, minimally, changes occurred. In late July, SDP participants were permitted to walk to showers unescorted. In early August, group yard started—but for only four men, three “northern Mexicans” and later, one “southern Mexican.”
One SDP participant (“D”) wrote with a somewhat different story. He reported that “so far we are getting all the privileges in accordance with the SDP memo, such as phone calls (4), packages (2) plus the annual [package]. There are hitches but mostly from the vendors.” As of early September, though, he said that there were still only four men getting group yard. There were men unable to get into groups like NA or AA for lack of space or facilitators, and the dayroom was still just an unrealized promise.
“D” had a positive view of the widely detested journals. He found them to fit the general purpose and “not invasive” as others have reported. He related that some men are graduating from step 4 and being transferred, though the transfer process has taken months. Despite the delays, this progress is very good news. It is the first verification that California Prison Focus has received that SDP participants are progressing through step 4 and being released from the SHU to general population.
However, “D” echoes a suspicion others have voiced--namely, “we still need unbiased oversight ‘cause I feel in time—more specifically after the courts are done, CDCR won’t be so gracious.” And “E” suspects that CDCR is using the SDP policies only to remove those men from PBSP SHU covered by the class action lawsuit.
Despite the slight progress made in the SDP during the summer at Tehachapi, in early October correspondent “C” still reported only four prisoners going to group yard. There were two new developments: first, some group meals were occurring—but only “one cell at a time,” which must mean that cellies were eating together, not exactly something new. Second, those in the SDP were being allowed to walk to showers unescorted, but only once a week. All in all, said “C”, “nothing that resembles a step down program is functioning here, nor can it be for quite some time, because…Tehachapi SHU will have to go through a major overhaul and retro-fitting to be able to secure both prisoners and guards.”
“C” and “G” assert that the SHUs at Pelican Bay and Corcoran “are making big strides in lining themselves up with the Title 15 matrix, standardized SHU and SDP policies,” but not Tehachapi. In agreement, “E” also found his move from PBSP to Tehachapi to be “a huge step backwards.”
There were many health-related concerns. Cleanliness was near the top of the list. Prisoners reported that the yard was “filthy,” covered in dust and trash, and with algae in the toilets. The showers were described as “dirty” and simply “horrendous.” Prisoner “C” explains that the guards don’t clean the showers, yet won’t let prisoners to do it either. Ironically, “F” observes that guards regularly clean the gun tower and their own office. However, “F” indicates that prisoners are allowed to clean them sometimes.
Most tiers are “dirty and dusty” at best. Resident “F” reported that numerous broken sewage pipes flood the tiers with human-waste-tainted water, making the whole block “smell like a sewer.” The puddles, which are not mopped up, attract bugs.
Many prisoners criticized the lack of health care without providing details.
“G” and “C” are concerned about the water. Staff refuse to drink the tap water, which leaves hard white deposits on sinks and cups or bowls. Of course, no other drinking water is provided to prisoners.
These same two individuals report that, though they had active medical chronos [established orders] at their previous prisons for pain medication, Dr. Tate at Tehachapi refuses to prescribe these needed medicines. Consequently, both men are unable to sleep through the night and are prevented from doing all of their usual daily activities. “C” knows of many others who have the same experience.
There does seem to be one improvement for SHU residents’ sleep. In June we heard that the wands that were touched to sensors on the wall—to register that a guard had done the half-hourly check—emitted a screeching beep, whose volume prisoner “F” compared to pushing the test button on a smoke detector. He wrote that the results were widespread sleep interruption, and foul moods among prisoners and staff. Since then, we have not received further reports of these noisy disruptions, so it appears that the prison has remedied the situation.
Several letters alleged pervasive use of excessive force by guards. “B” believes staff at CCI punish prisoners for claiming their legal rights and reporting CDCR abuse and corruption. “F” alleges that even verbal disrespect triggers the pepper spraying of a cell, and that assaults are common in all the blocks of the SHU. He suggests that the brutality started after an officer was killed in 2008.
“F” states that Ad Seg is filled with prisoners who were assaulted by staff and then charged with assaulting staff. “Most victims of these assaults are initially held incommunicado in pods where staff intentionally dog them and isolate them as much as possible. Prisoners with injuries are hidden and denied medical attention.”
Beyond this, many of these prisoners are denied food for days at a time. “F” writes, “Staff go to their cell and say, ‘You refuse your tray? Okay.’ The prisoner usually says, ‘No, I want my tray!’ and [the officer replies], ‘Okay, you refuse your tray!’” This man says he has personally witnessed this scenario three times and heard of it dozens of times.
The serious rules violations (115s) for alleged assaults are nearly identical, according to “F”. “The prisoner is always cuffed and under escort. The guards claim he attempted to kick them. They then deploy their batons and pepper spray,” yelling “stop resisting! stop resisting!” as the prisoner lies balled up defensively and cuffed behind his back. The officer then reports that force was deployed “for my safety.” Other guards’ reports corroborate the first guard’s claim, alleging the prisoner was “combative” or “non-compliant.” The prisoner’s injuries are either ignored or explained as accidental. If the prisoner complains, he is charged with assaulting an officer. Usually the guard even explicitly threatens, “If you snitch, we’ll charge you.”
[As “F” noted, and California Prison Focus is well aware, this whole scenario is practiced far beyond Tehachapi, at other CDCR facilities and also in some county jails.]
An attitude of lawlessness pervades the ranks of Tehachapi’s staff according to our interviewees. When prisoners first arrive at the prison, guards express this attitude, “letting us know they don’t give a damn about Sacramento, 602s or the courts.” According to “F,” staff stop the vast majority of complaints from being successfully filed. Most of the prison’s administrators ignore complaints and back the officers completely.
MAIL, CLOTHING, LINEN, AND VISITING PROBLEMS
Many prisoners complained of mail, both incoming and outgoing, being delayed, and sometimes “lost.” Eleven weeks after arrival at Tehachapi, “C” was still waiting for his personal mail--even though it arrived on the same bus as he did.
Nearly all of our sources said that allotments of clothing and linens are deficient. One letter spelled out the problem, comparing what rules and regulations require the men to be issued versus what they actually receive. The discrepancy was blatant.
Laundry exchange happens irregularly and, like the original allotment, delivers clothing of random sizes that is often ragged and dirty-looking. “C” described how he was issued a T-shirt and boxers that were four sizes too small upon arrival at Tehachapi.
Re-packaging of products in prisoners’ packages or from the canteen elicited complaints from multiple prisoners. In one account, the food arrives smelling and tasting like soap or deodorant. Similarly, the canteen food items are re-packaged, and “E” writes that this causes loss of some of the toothpaste or cheese squeeze, etc.
Another area of concern is visits. To book a visit, the visitor must wait two to three hours on the phone. When finally able to speak with the booking person, the visitor may be told there are no vacancies. The visits are officially 60 minutes long. But according to “F,” either visitors or prisoners are often brought to the visiting booth late so they do not get the full hour.
A couple of correspondents lamented the limited selection of TV channels and said that the signal was so weak that reception was frequently lost.
California Prison Focus calls on Warden Kim Holland to immediate start conforming her institution’s practices to Title 15 and CDCR rules and policies. Warden Holland must provide Tehachapi residents with the property and privileges they are due and must get staff under control. In particular, we condemn and call for an immediate end to the excessive force by staff and the writing of fraudulent incident and serious rules violation reports (115s).
Oct 01, 2014
keywords: Wellness Checks, Sleep Deprivation, COMPAS Surveys, Special Needs Yard
From Prison Focus Issue 44
This report is based on dozens of letters from the men in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at California State Prison at Corcoran (CSP-COR), and interviews with nine men in SHU in October 2014. This report reveals the fact that the conditions remain appalling, substandard medical care persists, and the retaliation and abuse by the guards has been amplified. Half hourly wellness checks and sleep deprivation are becoming increasingly problematic and unbearable. In addition, a slew of previously reported problems, most of which have worsened since the 2013 hunger strike, have not been resolved—especially related to retaliation and mistreatment. The extent of the post-hunger strike retaliation still exceeds the degree of retaliation that the men faced before the hunger strike. Even minimal gains and privileges resulting from the hunger strike are being denied and some apparently phased out. The neglect and abuse illustrate the uninterrupted pattern of human rights violations. CDCR practices stand in opposition to multiple sections of California State Law (Title 15), and they violate the United Nations Convention against Torture—an international treaty that aims to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment around the world.
The identities of the incarcerated individuals are withheld to protect the men against retaliatory consequences. Instead, a random letter (eg, Mr. C) is assigned each person cited in the report. For information specifically on the Step Down Program, please see a separate report on that topic in this issue (page 8).
The inadequacy of the physical and mental care at Corcoran remains dire. Last month, three individuals engaged in a hunger strike to demand humane health care treatment. Ultimately they received some of their demands, though again, they were only able to get some of their medical needs met by starving themselves. The lack of medical care runs the full gamut from life threatening illnesses to eye and dental care. In addition, prisoner reports indicate that decisions regarding medications are often arbitrary, retaliatory and/or based on financial concerns rather than need. Guards reportedly use the threat of withholding or reduction of medications as a tool to control the men. The strategy is effective. Some men hesitate to file medical 602s due to fears of retaliation.
Mr. F has two lumps that he has discovered on his body approximately eight months ago. He has been trying to see a doctor, but the wait is long and often men will go to the medical area but never actually see a doctor. He had to file 602s (complaint forms) in order to finally see a doctor. He has since seen a doctor four times but has had no diagnostics or testing. On one follow-up visit, the doctor did not thoroughly examine him and did not find either of the lumps. However, he explained, since discovery, the lumps have gotten approximately three times bigger. One doctor told him to come back if they get bigger, but they have already done so. The doctors are essentially downplaying and ignoring the problem and risks. Mr. F is very concerned about his health.
Mr. A was involuntarily taken off his old pain medication and put on others that are ineffective. On the 1st of October he was pulled out of his cell and made to wait from 9:30 until 12:30 for his appointment. His request for different medication was denied. He returned on a different day hoping to get treated by a different person, and again, had to wait for several hours. He thinks the excessive waiting is a strategy to discourage the men from going to appointments. Men can then be penalized for refusing treatment. If treatment is refused, the men’s medications can be curtailed or stopped. Mr. A stated that the only reason he had been able to receive an MRI in the past is because his niece on the outside advocated for him.
Mr. L has kidney problems which he believes are getting worse. He continually files sick calls. Sometimes he is taken to the medical area and is then made to wait all day. The line is always at least 15+ people. Eventually he is returned to his cell without having seen a doctor. He still is charged the five dollar co-pay for each sick call, however. He finally saw a doctor after about four sick calls. When the doctor found out he had been charged a co-pay multiple times yet never seen, he did not charge him for the last visit.
WELLNESS CHECKS AND SLEEP DEPRIVATION
Wellness Checks continue to be a serious and growing concern. For the last several months they have been conducted every half hour, 24 hours a day. We are receiving more and more complaints about the unremitting disturbance to sleep and peace of mind. In addition, as a result of the cell checks, guards are conducting more informal cell searches.
Though the men are told the checks are for suicide prevention, the guards usually just walk by and rarely look into the cells, unless to conduct a cell search. The checks involve the use of wand-like beepers which are about five or six inches long and have magnets at the end. The guards touch the wands to another magnet attached to the cell door, which sets off a loud beeper and makes a clamor as metal strikes metal. The men can hear the beeps and bangs on each of the 20 doors on their tier. Mr. F explained that the noise made by the metal on metal is unnecessary. The guards do not have to touch the door, but only need to move the wand close enough that the connections registers. As would be expected, the noise is especially disruptive at night. Guards are not supposed to use the wands that beep at night, but they do. And even when they do not, they still bang the wand on the doors and wake the men up. Some guards do make an effort to avoid the needless racket.
Despite the claim that wellness checks are a suicide directive,there is an unquestionable consensus among the men that they are contributing considerably to sleep deprivation and exacerbating mental health symptoms. Interviewees made statements such as, “Everyone on the hall is seriously sleep deprived”, “The wellness checks and sleep deprivation are definitely creating agitation on the tier,” and “The anxiety level is very high right now, more than I ever remember.” Mr. G knows at least one person on his tier who is experiencing severe mental health effects from solitary confinement. His condition, Mr. G explained, has become noticeably worse since the Wellness Checks began. “He yells and bangs in his cell all the time.”Another interviewee reported that there are at least two individuals on his tier who are exhibiting symptoms of mental illness which have been exacerbated since the wellness checks went into place. “One of the men never talks to anyone. He is completely un-engaged. He does go out to yard but does not move around while there, instead he just stands and stares off into space. Other people have tried to talk to him but he does not engage. He does not have a cellie. He has a TV but doesn’t use it. Everyone is very concerned about him.” In addition, conversations between the men are dampened because people are constantly trying to get sleep whenever they can. This adds to the men’s sense of isolation.
The guards dislike this new cell check policy as well, because they do not want to do the rounds all throughout their shifts. The men surmise that the guards are conducting the checks aggressively with little if any disregard to sleep disturbance in order to make inmates file 602s on the issue, so that this practice can be terminated. The guards verbally encourage the men to file 602s. The harm of the wellness checks have proven to be great and the benefits appear to be minimal. As they are now conducted, these checks should cease or be curtailed immediately.
Another factor interfering with sleep are the florescent lights which are on 24 hours a day. There are light switches in the cells but they are disabled.
SPECIAL NEEDS YARD (SNY SHU)
The conditions in the SNY SHU are even more horrendous than in other SHU sections. The men note that the guards are more violent and physically abusive to them, including an increase in the use of pepper spray. Mr. L disclosed that tear gas is used on the SNY tier daily. “It happens without warning,” he stated, “and spreads throughout the entire tier through the vents.” The burning sensation in the eyes and nose, and the coughing last anywhere from a half hour up to an entire day at times. Consequently, the men led a non-violent protest action in August against the use of tear gas. All of them refused to come out of their cells. In response, the guards used so much tear gas that it reportedly overflowed into the guard areas and upset them as well.
Transfer to the SNY SHU is being used as a method of retaliation. Mr. T no longer submits 602s because he was transferred to the SNY SHU as retaliation for doing so. Mr. B believes he was moved to the SNY SHU as a retaliation measure for participating in the hunger strike. He was moved there immediately after the strike ended. He explained that the SNY SHU is meant for individuals who have debriefed or are on determinate SHU terms, waiting to be moved back to mainline. Mr. T had not debriefed however, and reportedly does not fit the other criteria for placement in the SNY SHU.
PROPERTY RIGHTS AND DENIALS.
The men in the SHU only get one special purchase a year. Items are ordered from a prison issued catalog. Sometimes men order and pay for packages, only later to have CDCR stop the order, claiming ineligibility. These men do not receive their packages, yet their money is not returned.
THE PROPERTY MATRIX
One of the concessions made by the Corcoran administration after the 2013 hunger strike was new property regulations that expanded property limits. For example, a person can now have 45 pictures instead of the previous limit of 15. However, the new DOM released on January 1, 2014 does not include these higher limits. Thus, the men are still only allowed 15 pictures, no beanies or gloves, and no small connectors for the TV video cables that keep the cables from kinking and breaking. They are not permitted extension cords even though the cells were designed to accommodate them. Simply put, none of the new regulations resulting from the hunger strike are being honored at Corcoran. Moreover, some items went up in price following the hunger strike, and never came back down.
Corcoran neglects their responsibility to provide adequate property to meet the basic needs of those in its custody, yet regularly deny modest property requests made by the men who are simply trying to take care of themselves. Administration reportedly provides only one towel and no pillows or pillowcases. Other material needs that are not met include appropriate clothing, cleaning supplies and hygiene items. Items previously approved by the warden, like shampoo, may be taken and never returned. In addition, when men are transferred between institutions, property takes at least four to six weeks to arrive, and what arrives is not complete.
Mr. M has bad hearing. His hearing aid went out during the interview and he had to use the phone without a working aid in his right ear. Because of his hearing aids, Mr. M cannot use the earbuds that are provided to indigent people and cannot hear his tv properly. A different kind of headphones would easily solve the problem, so he requested a treatment order from his audiologist, for more suitable headphones. His audiologist said they do not do this and told him to request this from the medical department. Medical staff reported that he would need a cell mate to be accommodated with new headphones.
CELL RAIDS/PROPERTY CONFISCATION
The men continue to report that guards use cell raids as a retaliation measure. Prisoners explain that these raids are punitive and not related to guard or prisoner safety. Immediately following the 2013 hunger strike, cell raids began occurring once a month. They are less often now but still occur regularly, often with no warning or apparent cause. Mr. E reported that if a complaint is submitted, about the food for example, a raid will be forthcoming as retaliation. He reported that the guards come in 20 to 30 deep. “They make us come out in boxers and shower shoes and stand out there.” Another explained, “Everyone on a tier is dragged to the yard. The guards then tear up everyone’s cells.” The men’s already limited personal belongings are usually damaged or confiscated. Mr. A stated that the guards “throw your stuff around and stomp on your photos.” Legitimately purchased commissary food is taken. TVs are often broken, or those that are already damaged may be confiscated because guards claim that they were altered. (They want everyone to order new TVs with only the headphone option. But since they can only order once a year, the men usually have a long time to wait, without a TV at all).
602s are only sometimes successful in recovering property. Mr. G described a search in 2013 by which he lost all of the property he had accumulated over the past 20 years. He filed a 602 to recover his property. The administration responded by offering him a TV, which was only one of many pieces of property seized. His additional appeals have been denied because “compensation was offered,” although the amount does not come close to the value of all the property he lost.
602s (FORMAL COMPLAINTS)
CDCR’s officially sanctioned method to resolve prison related issues begins with the submission of a 602 form. The men emphasize that the appeals process is largely ineffective and poses the risk of retaliation. Some prisoners do not file 602s anymore because it is simply a waste of time, while others are discouraged to do so because of potential retaliation. Mr. C for example, used to file 602s regularly. He suffered so much retaliation, (eg, TV destroyed, property requests denied, and a transfer to the SNY SHU) that he no longer does. Men often receive no response to their 602s. The forms are allegedly lost and the appeals “uniformly denied”. The issues routinely go unresolved.
Mr. F filed a 602 last month with the laundry department. He had only been issued one towel, and since there had been no laundry exchange in about four months, it had not been laundered. In response to his 602, he was informed that he needed to submit a 22 form (Inmate/Parolee Request for Interview, Item or Service), which he did. He received no response. He then submitted another appeal which was rejected. All he wanted was a clean towel. Among other things, this example illustrates how 602s can be a unnecessary waste of resources, primarily time and energy, when prisoners are forced to use 602s just to get there basic needs met.
Access to the law library is inadequate. Inmates only have access if they have pending litigation. Since there is no library staff member however, access is dependent on the staffing, which is inconsistent. Even when men do get to go to the library, they rarely get the full allotted four hours. Even those with priority litigation access, those with an upcoming court deadline within 30 days, are not provided the required access once per week.
Also, there is no opportunity for cell study at Corcoran, as there is at Pelican Bay. Law Books are not permitted in the cells. An additional obstacle is the difficulty of getting copies made, especially within a reasonable amount of time. This barrier is problematic as legal proceedings consist of many strict deadlines. Men complain of lost and missing legal mail, an obvious obstruction of their legal rights. Regular mail, both incoming and outgoing, is impeded as well by unexplained delays. Mr. R received his mail from early August in early October.
The miniscule amount of time the men are permitted to spend outside of their cells causes great physical, mental and emotional harm to the individuals in SHU at Corcoran and elsewhere. Despite the brutality of the existing policy of holding men in their cells for 23 hours a day, prison staff still regularly find reasons to cancel yard time. Their excuses range from too many people having visits and a shortage of staff to staff meetings and events. Yard is denied weekly, “sometimes for 1 day, sometimes for 3 days.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) states in their Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health: “Lack of physical activity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (6%). It is estimated to be the main cause for approximately 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of ischemic heart disease.” They assert that physical inactivity levels has “major implications for the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and the general health of the population worldwide”(http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/pa/en/). CDCR claims they strive to rehabilitate the men and women in their custody, but their actions—forcing men to remain in 7x12-foot SHU cells for more than 23 hours a day—invalidates this claim. The lack of physical activity is just one more example of how CDCR policies contradict their proclaimed mission.
CLEANLINESS AND GENERAL CONDITIONS
Guards are supposed to sweep the tiers every 2 weeks, but they often do not do so unless the men lodge complaints. Air circulation and cell temperature continue to cause a great deal of discomfort. There is a lack of air flow through the vents, particularly in the summer because the swamp coolers stop moving air when the water in them gets too hot. This problem is easily resolved by simply changing out the water in the swamp coolers, but the guards do not do not bother doing this, except perhaps in the staff areas. This is a grave concern not only because the summer heat can be suffocating, but also because of the high levels of Valley Fever in the air in the Corcoran area.
The quality of food at Corcoran continues to be substandard. The men are fed on paper trays which are so small that they cannot get their full issue of food. The food never returned to pre-hunger strike sized servings. The portions remain very small and entirely insufficient for meeting the nutritional needs of grown men. We are told that the men have not received hot dinners since before the hunger strike. Occasionally they receive lukewarm meals in the morning. Access to fruit is inconsistent. Sometimes the men go for weeks at a time with no fruit, and the only fruit they receive, when they do, are apples. They used to get oranges or grapefruits on occasion, but no longer. One interviewee who had participated in the strike reported that he has not returned to his pre-hunger strike weight. He weighed 176 lbs before hunger strike and has since plateaued at 152 lbs.
Compass surveys were originally designed as assessment tools used for placement of incoming inmates. They are reportedly distributed to individuals who have a parole date in the next three years, along with a pamphlet that states the surveys are to determine program eligibility. The survey contains invasive questions not only about an individual’s behavior, but also about the people they know on the outside, within their communities. Questions include whether people in their communities use drugs, possess firearms, are gang members and so on. If an individual does not fill out the questionnaire, his is threatened with a series rules violation (115). Such violations have been issued in some cases. Despite the consequences, many men have refused to fill them out. A group 602 was filed in response to the COMPASS surveys, but as of the time of the interview there had been no response. (For more about COMPASS surveys see CPF Newspaper issue 43).
Jul 24, 2014
keywords: Step Down Program, Departmental Review Board
From Prison Focus Issue 43
"If you do not go in the direction of your heart, you won't make it."-Justin Grant
This report is based primarily on the interviews of ten people in Corcoran's SHU, conducted by CPF investigators in June 2014, and on several letters that CPF has received from prisoners at Corcoran since the hunger strikes of 2013. This report demonstrates that CDCR is not following it own regulations in many instances, and that the men inside are either uninformed or misinformed about the new procedures. As in past reports, the identity of individuals has been kept confidential due to fear of reprisals.
THE STEP-DOWN PROGRAM (SDP)
Probably the greatest concern on the minds of the men we interviewed was how the new step down program is going to be implemented. The new policy requires that all men in Security Housing Units due to alleged gang affiliation receive a review by a Departmental Review Board (DRB). At the DRB hearing, the individual will be placed in one of the five steps of the SDP. Some men are also placed into the Step Down Program automatically at Step 1 or during their regular six-year inactive review. Step 5 is general population with special monitoring for 12 months.
The men indicated that those people in the SHU the longest, or who were validated earliest, are being reviewed first. Yet, there seems to be contradictory evidence on this account. Interviewee G said that people are being told that everyone is supposed to be in the SDP by January. Given the slow pace of the DRB reviews, the men are wondering how everybody is going to be placed in the SDP by January. A minority of reviews has been complete, he observed. [Note: According to statistics provided by the CDC on 5/28/14, 826 DRB reviews had been completed and, at that time, 1187 still remained.]
Interviewee I described a conversation with one officer who conceded to him that it may be five years before he has a DRB review. He then asked, "Are you saying that it could be five years before I go to the DRB, then it could be another four years [to go through Stepdown]?" The officer replied, "Yes."
One person reported that people are being placed in the SDP based on what is said during Committee (it is unclear if this means the Institutional Classification Committee, aka ICC, or some other committee). If a person disagrees with something that has been alleged during Committee, yet does not expressly state that he disagrees with it, his failure to disagree is taken as consent. The administration is using this alleged "consent” to place a lot of people in the SDP.
Interviewee A reported that, during the review process, the DRB is not taking into consideration the fact that a person may have no [recent] 115s in his file—except those, perhaps, that were issued during the hunger strikes. He said that the DRB is using Confidential Information Disclosure Forms (1030s) and is only going back four years rather than the entire six. Interviewee C also reported that the DRB is only looking at the more recent records, and indicated that this protocol is equally true with respect to 1030s. DRB reviews continue to use weak evidence towards maintaining men in SHU.
Interviewees A and C complained about the invasive nature of the “self-directed 'journals" which are a requirement for all participants in the SDP. Interviewee C reported that six workbooks must be completed for both Steps 1 and 2 and that Steps 3 and 4 each require twelve completed workbooks. He explained that the workbooks become increasingly intrusive. Interviewee C was concerned that honest responses may be misconstrued by CDCR and unjustly used against him (and others). Nothing in the new STG regulations or in Title 15 specifically prescribes how responses can and cannot be used in the future, or prevents CDCR from rendering a person a "confidential informant" against himself. A facilitator told Correspondent L that nothing he writes in a workbook would be used against him (unless, e.g., it consists of a threat to kill somebody or attack a cop), and no workbooks would be confiscated. Interviewee A explained, however, that no safeguards exist regardless of any such assurances. "The cards or stacked against us," he said. Interviewee C was of a similar mind, and said that the information the men are sharing is not protected, despite what is said in SDP policy.
Numerous individuals explained that SDP participants are expected to answer the questions posed in the workbooks in a way that tries to solidify a social identity for them as criminals instead of promoting rehabilitation. Interviewee F stated the widely shared sentiment that CDCR is attempting to push the men on how and what to think. While CDCR has told the Mediation Team that there is no intent to grade the journals/workbooks, Correspondent L reported that his facilitator told him expressly that the journals would be graded monthly at his door. In addition, both Interviewees A and C, and others through correspondence, reported that despite being told that there are no right or wrong answers in completing the workbooks, answers are corrected when they are not what the administration wants to see. One exercise in the notebook, for example, asked for a description of a picture of a man walking with a chicken. One man reportedly responded, “A man who is about to eat a chicken,” but was told that his answer was incorrect. The correct answer was, “A man stealing a chicken”. Again, this kind of negative reinforcement and brainwash does not foster rehabilitation, but rather opposes it. One must question the troubling fact that men’s responses to journal questions of this nature, or refusal to participate, contributes to the drastic measure of keeping a man in solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time.
Some individuals who refuse to complete the workbooks have been the target of retaliatory acts. Interviewee A cited a specific individual, M, who was moved from Step 4 to Step 3 after refusing to fill out his workbooks. The individual in question received no additional hearing and the change was made without his knowledge. Interviewee C also was moved back one step after declining to do the workbooks. He and Interviewee A both said that those who do not do the workbooks are supposed to be "frozen" in the step they are in at the time, rather than moved back to an earlier step. (Title 15 is not clear on this issue.) Interviewee C additionally reported that he and others received 115s for refusing to "participate in the program." He filed a 602 in response. His complaint led to the issuance of a chrono (Chronological History of significant events) falsely claiming that he had told officials that if he were not returned to Step 2, he would tell others not to participate. Interviewee C emphasized that he is supportive of those who choose to complete the workbooks; he just wants them to understand how it is.
Interviewee C observed that the administration was concerned about the low rate of participation in the SDP and he stated that failure of the program will make CDCR look bad. Interviewee A predicted that CDCR would blame problems with the SDP on the refusal of men to fill out the workbooks. A couple of interviewees indicated that the administration is using inducements, in addition to retaliation, to get people to participate in the SDP. For example, those in Step 2 reportedly get certain privileges. They are allowed some additional items in their packages and can spend up to $65, whereas those in Step 1 can only to spend $55 per package. Interviewee I reported that people were told that they could get two packages annually if they participated in the SDP. Later, however, he was told that the "rules" changed and this promise was rescinded. Interviewee C believes that “incentives” are offered selectively as a form of extortion.
One interviewee reported that guards had beaten him. They struck his head, slammed it against a wall, and bruised up his neck. Since the beating, he stated, "it's not been the same." He was not able to work out for about a month. When he did start to work out, his breathing was strained and his heartbeat was irregular. He has been having headaches ever since the beating. At the time of the interview there were still visible marks and discoloration on his neck where the officers had grabbed him. He filed a complaint (602) which was denied, but he is appealing the denial. He had yet to be provided with the relevant medical records, which he had requested.
DENIAL OF MEDICAL TREATMENT
We continue to hear about less than adequate medical care and attention for people housed in SHU. Disturbing reports about both doctors and nurses were offered in our interviews, though at least one of the doctors at Corcoran has been described as a “decent guy.” Interviewee E reported that the doctors were not using hygienic practices. For example, they do not always wash their hands between patients, and sometimes use the same tools on patients multiple times. We have received reports that prescriptions are either not filled at all, or that refills are delayed up to several months. Prescribed pain medications are often replaced with cheaper and less effective Tylenol. We have also received reports that the abnormal blood pressure of some inmates is downplayed and/or disregarded altogether. Some men with leg, foot, knee and/or back problems have been denied wheelchairs or crutches.
Basic medical treatments are denied. Interviewee C’s cellmate reportedly broke his thumb. Nurses reported that the x-rays of his hand were never examined by a doctor and there was no follow up. Interviewee F is diabetic and has some serious health issues as a result. He should receive three insulin shots a day, but reported one incident during the 2013 hunger strike when the nurse failed to give him his insulin and he went “man-down” (medical emergency situation in which cellmate or others nearby call for medical help). He also explained that at Corcoran there is no diabetic meal plan. Instead he was offered a healthy heart meal plan, which has been described by others as not much different from the regular meals. Interviewee F was denied his request to be transferred to a facility which would better meet his health care needs because he has been classified as medium-risk rather than high-risk. He has appealed this decision. Another time this same person was informed that he had been denied treatment because he had not shown up for his appointment; however, he reported that he had not received appointment notification.
Another typical example of the kind of medical abuse found in SHU includes a man who has two degenerated spinal discs. Though he had long ago been removed from wheelchair status, he was given a wheelchair for the visit, probably for the staffs’ convenience in transporting him. About four months after the disc-degeneration was confirmed by an outside medical specialist, his pain medication was rescinded. He said that he could not get up from bed for about two weeks, or even eat. Later he fell and hit his back. He was then taken to an in-house doctor who said he could not provide any additional treatment for him. The doctor's medical notes indicated that he was okay, but the inmate fell again. He has been experiencing a stabbing pain when standing. A nurse suggested to him that he “go suicidal” (that is, fake a suicide attempt), telling him that this was the only way he would get any help. Another time a medic remarked to him, without being mean or dismissive, "Man, you're only gonna get help if you die!" An MRI is necessary, the inmate said, but stated that he will not be able to get one because it had not been that long since his last one. A staff member told him that he could get another MRI when he is 40 years old—adding, "You'll know what pain really feels like when you're forty."
DEALING WITH SUICIDE PREVENTION.
Suicide is a very serious issue for people housed in solitary confinement with one study reporting that 50 percent of all attempts at suicide in prison take place among the 6 to 7 percent of people in solitary. Yet guards do not take suicide seriously. Interviewee E reported that for the guards, the suicide death of Billy Sell in July of 2013 was a joke. He reported that guards laughed at the fate of Mr. Sell and made comments such as “He should have never have starved himself.” Interviewee B reported that when men are having mental breakdowns, they are simply given pills to make them sleep. He also reported that prisoners who are put on suicide watch are put in special cells and required to take off their clothes for at least three days.
Based on several reports, cell searches increased significantly after the 2013 hunger strikes. As we were preparing this report, we heard from men through correspondence that another round of raids had just started—the third round in about six months. The men characterize these searches as a systematic tactic of retaliation. Several individuals spoke of two specific searches that were reportedly discretionary, as dictated by the administration. People reported that outside search teams were brought in to conduct these searches. K-9 units were involved in some searches. Our understanding is that one of the searches was conducted by Fresno law enforcement and one by another agency. Interviewee C explained that law enforcement officers from other states are sometimes brought in to see how things are being run in California prisons.
These searches were conducted with unnecessary hardship on the men. Interviewee A reported that the first search was for metal contraband. We received accounts from two different men from two different yards, reporting that they were stripped down to nothing but boxers and shower slippers and were forced to march in that condition a lengthy distance from their cells to a metal detector. While the cell search was taking place, the men reported that they were forced to stand, waiting in cages for several hours. The second search, as reported by Interviewee A, was conducted after a cell phone had been found in one person’s cell. Interviewee A reported that this search produced seven cell phones in one block while another prisoner reported that 15 cell phones had been found and confiscated. The men surmise that CDCR has kept this as quiet as possible, as the only manner to sneak phones into the prison is by the guards. To our knowledge, no investigation has been conducted, despite the fact that there is no other conceivable way that the men could have acquired cell phones.
One man whose cell was recently raided and searched stated that "they just destroyed everything." Others sent letters describing how it took several days to get their cell back in order. One man thought they would take his TV because it had a speaker, and he had heard that the men could no longer have a TV or radio with speakers. At the time of the interview, his radio and TV had not been taken. They did, however, take some cables, a photograph of himself and others, and other items. In addition, they “trashed” his cell. Interviewee D was concerned that a photograph taken by the guards would be construed falsely as "evidence" against him for breaking some sort of prison rule and remain in his C-file for that purpose. Another man reported that his whole building had been raided. The guards did not take anything, but his cell was “trashed” and his books damaged. The plastic casing on his mattress was torn off, but he hoped to find a way to sew it back together. Yet another person reported that his medical books and magazines were taken. His letters were removed from their envelopes and left in a heap on his bed with his legal work. Some fellows were told that certain confiscated items would be returned, but they were not. One individual said that his TV was taken. The guards said it had been altered because there was a small hole on the bottom. He stated that he knew they would not give it back, so he did not bother asking. Another man reported that he had been transferred to a new cell and he felt “lucky” because his property was properly packed and sent to his new cell with him, as protocol dictates.
URINE DRUG TESTING
Interviewee A reported that Corcoran had been conducting mandatory, random drug testing. Though CDCR was saying that the testing is random, it was reported that the testing is not random at all, but rather targeting certain people as a form of retaliation and simply another form of harassment. Many men are refusing out of principle. Refusing to be tested is counted as failing, which results in the loss of certain privileges, including yard for 10 days, radios, TVs and visits for 90 days. Another person reported that there has been retaliation in response to urine test refusals: property is taken, 115s are issued, food portions are smaller, and mail is lost or held for months.
Interviewee D reported that men have been moved all over the place since the hunger strike. “They are flipping up the prison regularly,” he said. He reported that men from Pelican Bay were being moved to Corcoran and vice-versa. He explained that those with allegedly more influence are being relocated where they are more isolated from other inmates. Another person reported that those who file too many complaints (602s) are being sent to Pelican Bay. In addition, people are being shuffled around for block cleaning, painting and maintenance. (See “Structural Conditions” section below).
RETALIATION AND STAFF CONDUCT
Title 15 states that “Inmates and parolees have the right to be treated respectfully, impartially, and fairly by all employees” (at § 3004). However, the men inside continue to expose blatant tactics of retaliation. Interviewee A explained that retaliation has been non-stop since the 2013 hunger strikes. “It is one thing after another,” stated another man. Interviewee E reported that guards harass and curse at the men regularly, are often disrespectful, and drag their feet passing out canteen and mail. Interviewee C reported that the actions of guards are under greater scrutiny--that is, when higher administration officials from Sacramento and/or CPF and coalition legal delegations visit, retaliation diminishes. However, in the last few months since they had stopped coming around so often, retaliation has resumed.
INCREASE IN SERIOUS RULES VIOLATION REPORTS (115s)
The number of 115s has grown since the 2013 hunger strikes. One man reported that sometimes the same men are being issued 115s over and over. Interviewee G reported that he received two 115s: one for inciting/leading a hunger strike, and another for participation in a hunger strike. When he questioned a guard about his confiscated typewriter, he received yet another 115 for delaying an officer. Another person reported an incident when, prior to a medical appointment, his cellmate’s clothesline fell down and he was helping to put it back up. The guard said he was taking "too long to get ready" and called this a "refusal [to obey an officer's orders]." It is not clear whether or not he received a 115 for this, but these are the sort of trivial matters for which the men are receiving write-ups for “serious rule violations.”
DIFFICULTY FILING COMPLAINTS (ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS OR 602s).
CPF continues to receive reports that 602 appeals are frequently lost or hindered by prison staff. Interviewee F reported that 602s have led to retaliatory cell searches in which property is confiscated. Sometimes staff do not respond to 602s within the requisite thirty-day time period and essentially run out the clock on the appeal making it impossible for the filer to follow up on it. Interviewee G reported that he had filed a 602 after getting beat up by an officer. Though he has documentation that his grievance was substantiated, he has received no relief through the administrative appeals process. Interviewee I and his neighbors filed a group 602 regarding the ongoing problems with food. Their objective is to get the kitchen staff retrained on proper procedures. Interviewee B reported that a group 602 has been submitted, protesting the canteen price gouging.
Based on letters and investigative interviews, food rations and palatability have been grossly reduced since the 2013 hunger strikes, which people attribute to retaliation. We have received numerous reports since the hunger strike that the food has gotten worse. The use of paper trays continues to be an issue. One man reported that the use of the paper trays had started about 100 days prior to our visit. Some men were told a dishwasher had broken down and washing all the hard trays would be too much work. However, that incident was “ages ago,” he added. Paper trays were uncommon before the most recent hunger strike. Currently they are being used more often than not. In addition to spillage and water-logged food, another person explained that the food ends up getting “smashed together” as it is pushed through the slot. But even more critical is the fact that the paper trays hold far less food than the hard trays. Portions are significantly reduced, often by as much as half. Interviewee H stated that some portions can be eaten in "one spoonful." Likewise, another fellow stated that portions may be “scarcely more than a mouthful.” Prisoners are reporting that the 2000 calories per day requirement is not being fulfilled. In addition, meals often arrive cold because they don't start delivering it until every last try is on the cart, instead of delivering smaller numbers of trays in succession. Lunch has been coming lately without any condiments and without cookies. Food is often taken when property is confiscated.
Interviewee H reports that new metal button devices were recently installed on peoples' cell doors. He explained that guards use a “wand” that looks like a flashlight, but beep when the guard touches the corresponding cell button. He stated that the men are not aware of what the buttons are for, but presume they are to track check-ins. The guards are saying that they are going to "beef up" the button-pressing up to every half hour. Interviewee H speculated that the installation of these devices was in response to the death of Billy Sells, and the fact that people were not being sufficiently checked in on during the last hunger strike. Director Adult Institutions Michael Stainer told the Mediation Team that the new "wellness check" system only cause a beep during the day, but emits a small LED light at night. Correspondent K recently wrote that the beeping goes on 24/7, night or day.
The men received a survey about the availability of items through the canteen as apparently CDCR was considering changing vendors. As a result, the men were told that new items would be available in July of this year. One person reported that this was a result of the hunger strike and simply a tactic to pacify people. He assumes that the prices will be raised as they have always been gouged. He said access to the canteen is consistent and is not included in lost privileges, though others reported having canteen rescinded for participating in the hunger strike. Interviewee E reported that people have to be in Step 1 to purchase shoes, though some men do get them. “It depends on the guard,” he explained. Another man reported that men were ordering items but not receiving them. He also reported that if a person could not pay for shipping, his package was taken away. In addition, when items are missing from a package, the men are still required to pay for shipping for those items.
Interviewee E reported that only three channels are available to all of the prisoners. If an individual has enough money, he can buy an antenna and receive additional channels. He also explained that the prisoners are required to listen to their TVs and radios by headphones. Headphone wires are limited to four feet long, however, making it impossible to listen to TV or music while lying down.
Men report that guards deny showers and yard regularly denied. For example, Interviewee B reported that guards told them that yard had been cancelled because the cages were not functional and needed to be fixed. He explained indoor cages could have been used, but instead the men are spending extended periods of time without leaving their cells. The result is that men are spending 24 hours a day in their cell, day after day. He stated that showers are frequently cancelled, too. Interviewee A reported that the law library has been pretty consistent lately, and that officers have been coming around regularly asking the men if they need copies. Legal books are not permitted out of the library and non-legal books in the library are limited. There are no mobile book carts for the men. One person reported that there is a crate of books in his section where one can sometimes grab a book on the way to or from yard. A man from a different section reported that they have no such crate. The majority of the non-legal books floating around are sent to the individual prisoners and then passed from one guy to another.
Interviewee A believes that Corcoran is going through an accreditation process and that they are therefore fixing up the sections. Entire blocks are being switched around for block cleaning, painting, and maintenance. Air conditioners are being repaired. Water was turned off for repair due to bad plumbing. Since outside officials had been coming around, the administration was trying to make things look better. Nevertheless, people report that they are not receiving their cleaning supplies, and that the floor officers refuse to clean the tiers.
Shortened Visits. Interviewee E explained that people had been informed that visits were for two hours but were only getting thirty-minute visits. If the visitors are late, time is taken off the visit. He also reported that getting an appointment for a visit is difficult in the first place. The men are being told that all of the booths are full.
LACK OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
Every day in solitary is hard and solitary confinement can break down one’s revolutionary spirit, stated Interviewee F. “One can unravel.” He acknowledged that his family and supporters need him to stay strong. In order to do so he spends a great deal of his time reading, writing, and focusing on the struggle. For these reasons he is committed to his education and personal growth. Interviewee F is currently trying to get his GED. He explained that he has put in four or five requests to get a GED book, but that the assigned staff member for his block has not responded. Interviewee F referred to this individual as “the teacher.” As eager as he is to get his GED, he has thus far been unable to move forward in doing so. He explained that there are supposed to be classes aired on the prison TV channel, but he “had not seen any in a while.” Normally, he explained, the student would watch the classes on TV, complete the GED book, and then send the completed book to the assigned block teacher correspondent to be scored. Finally a test would be taken and scored by their educational correspondent.
Mar 01, 2014
From Prison Focus Issue 42
Prisoners reported through written letters and confi rmed
through direct visits that a whole series of legal, medical and
physical abuses occurred during and after the hunger strike
in order both to crush it and to retaliate against those who
participated. These egregious acts of violence, provocation,
and medical neglect must be investigated, and every guard
or medical staff member found responsible for these abuses
must be reprimanded to the fullest extent.
HEALTH AND MEDICAL
Strikers reportedly received less medical attention and
lower quality care than during the hunger strikes of 2011,
and compared to the already substandard level of care that
they normally receive. Inmates explained that the medical
staff was taking the strike “very lightly.” There were reportedly
24 cells total in the medical unit with eight being reserved
for hunger strikers. According to prisoners, there was
not enough space in the emergency room, contributing to the
denial of requested medical care. Prisoner G explained that
in order to be taken to the emergency room, an inmate had
to sign a CDCR liability release form. The form is not clear,
however, and does not specify from which treatments the inmate
is releasing liability. For this and other reasons, some
inmates declined visits to the emergency room.
Prisoner A reported that while he was in the medical clinic
he was told by one of the nurses that medical staff was being
ordered by the chief medical offi cer to give no special
attention or care to the strikers. Other inmates heard similar
statements from the guards. Prisoner L stayed away from the
ACH (Acute Care Hospital) medical clinic “at all costs” due
to what he described as “incompetence.”
Health checks occurred throughout the strike, though inconsistently
and often conducted without any actual concern
for the health of the inmates. Prisoner B reported that a
psych staff member walked down the hall of his pod asking
individuals, “Are you on strike? Are you alright?” and then
left without waiting for a response. Prisoner C reported that
nurses were conducting check-ins every three days. They
would look into his cell and then walk by with no verbal
exchange. Another reported that he was getting checked by
nurses every day, but that checks were made at his cell door.
The contact was only oral and no diagnostics or assessments
were conducted. Baseline weights were reportedly manipulated.
One striker stated that his baseline weight was taken a
week into the strike after he had already lost 13 lbs. Another
said his baseline weight was taken nine days into the strike
after he had already lost 17 lbs. Prisoner D reported on July
26th that he had been weighed once since July 8th. Prisoner
E had his vitals taken twice in a period of 24 days.
Hunger strikers reported a variety of food deprivation -
related symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness, trouble holding
thoughts and insomnia. One inmate reported that he was
urinating blood while another reported that he was throwing
up blood. Several inmates reported themselves or neighbors
going “man down.” They reported that many of these incidents
were preventable and occurred as a result of delays
and unanswered calls for help. Prisoner E reported that he
called for help for 24 hours before going “man down.” Another
prisoner reported an incident he witnessed, in which
a fellow inmate requested medical attention and went four
or five days with no response. When he finally went man
down, the guards “used force in his cell and beat him up.”
More immediate responses would have prevented multiple
prisoner visits to the medical clinic and hospital. As a result
of injuries and illnesses that were not addressed or treated, or
only after great delays, prisoners suffered from exasperated
symptoms and pain. Prisoner F reported that he was hospitalized
for a week, had an EKG, and was told that he would
need a follow up in a couple of days. There was no follow up.
Prisoners reported that they were deprived of their prescribed
pain medications, and other medications that “were
to be taken with food.” Prisoner C for example, reported that
he had not received the pain medication prescribed for his
knee in several days, but rather was given the less effective
and cheaper Tylenol. Prisoners reported that their antidepressants
and other psych medications were discontinued. Prisoners
reported that when they were relocated they did not
receive their medications for several days. One reported that
after he arrived at Corcoran from Pelican Bay, his medications
were mixed up on a daily basis. At times he was denied
his pain medications because it was claimed that he had refused
them, which he denies. It was reported in early August
that, as opposed to the 2011 hunger strike, the men were not
Transfers, Communication and Special Needs Yard (SNY)
Strikers were transferred both within the prison and to
other prisons. “The overall mood inside was hectic; lots of
tension and agitation and people being moved around” wrote
one prisoner. Strikers were moved around in a consolidated
manner. For example, it was reported by one prisoner that all
of the strikers were put on the left side of the SHU in each
building. This aided staff in their efforts to cut off the fl ow of
communication among protesters. In addition, guards sometimes
“reported” erroneous information that the strike had
ended. Some strikers who had ended their strike prematurely
would not have done so if they had known other prisoners
were still striking. This occurred during the 2011 hunger
strike as well. Guards also sought to eliminate the ability of
non-hunger strikers to pass food to the men on strike. In addition,
the warden had reportedly instructed force to be used
in transfers. Guards threatened strikers with use of force in
cell extractions if inmates refused to comply. The threats and
moves caused some prisoners who had stopped striking to
rejoin the strike in further protest.
On July 26th Prisoner D reported that seven identifi ed
representatives, including himself, were taken to the SNY
where the guards made sure that representatives of groups
participating in the protest remained isolated from other participants.
Prisoner E believes that strikers were relocated to
the SNY specifi cally to be housed with hostile informants,
with the intention of providing de-briefers with information
to make them seem more credible. Others stated that the
guards were aiming to incite violence among the prisoners.
One striker who was transferred to the SNY reported that the
sergeant told him, “Don’t expect these guys to holler for you.
They are probably going to throw feces and urine at you,
but my guys are here. Don’t worry.” Not surprisingly, we received
multiple reports of such incidents occurring. Strikers
reported physical harassment such as being spit at, hit and
kicked, as well as receiving insults and other verbal harassment
from SNY inmates. The safety of the sensitive needs
inmates was compromised as well.
Property confiscation was used as a blatant form of retaliation
towards both hunger strikers and those who participated
in the single cell action. We received numerous reports regarding
cell searches, property confiscation and the subsequent
mishandling and disposal of prisoners’ belongings.
Cell searches occurred while men were in the yard or taking
showers. Prisoner D reported that guards were using this
method of intimidation as a response to single celling. One
inmate reported he did not seek medical care because he did
not want to leave his cell, concerned that while he was gone
his cell would be searched and his belongings confiscated.
When an inmate and his belongings are transferred, regulations
state that inventories are to be taken. This protocol
was blatantly disregarded. And though some prisoners did
eventually get some of their property back, others reported
that their belongings were never returned and/or damaged
when they were. Confiscated items included everything from
reading glasses, hearing aids and hygiene products to original
artwork, letters, photographs, address books and legal
One prisoner reported that his building received the memo
about canteen privileges, stating the additional items inmates
would be allowed to purchase. The men then placed orders,
but were subsequently told that the privileges had been rescinded.
At the time of the interview, the men had not gotten
their money back. In addition, canteen staff was instructed
not to sell food items to the strikers.
115s AND OTHER FORMS OF RETALIATION
Violation write-ups were a primary form of retaliation and
intimidation. As at other participating prisons, the majority
of hunger strike and single cell participants received 115s
with allegations of gang-related activities and accusations
of causing a prison disturbance (akin to a riot). Prisoner P
explained that the 115 he received for hunger strike participation
which included language about “organizing, communicating,
participating and passing ‘kites’.” Prisoner F explained
that his violation write-up stated inaccurately that he
“had no questions, needed no representation or staff investigation.”
Prisoner R reported that he was not given notice
of his 115 hearing, was consequently not present and found
guilty. Prisoner G claimed that he did not bother challenging
his violation hearing because “it’s a kangaroo court.”
Prisoners reported that men who did not attend their hearing
or challenge their 115 received either eight to ten days of
CTQ (confi nement to quarters) or 30 days of lost “privileges.”
Those who challenged their 115s and lost were denied
privileges for 90 days. One inmate reported that his 90 day
loss of privileges started on the day of the hearing rather than
the date of the violation, resulting in more than 90 days loss
of privileges. Prisoner Q reported that strikers received 115s
after nine days of refusing trays and were told that after nine
more missed meals they would receive a second 115 and lose
some privileges permanently such as TVs and radios. As a
result of these disciplinary threats and consequences and the
fear of losing their most valued possessions, some protesters
ended their strike.
Other forms of retaliation were reflected in the attitude of
the guards. One prisoner stated that the guards were “more
indifferent this time; that they do not care if people do or
do not eat, or if they die.” Others reported that the guards
were more aggressive since the strike had begun, especially
when extra work on their part was necessary. Prisoner U
reported that the guards responded with aggression when
prisoners requested simple things, like toilet paper. Prisoner
J reported that the guards had been harassing him verbally,
calling him derogatory names. Others reported incidents of
being grabbed by guards and experiencing other such forms
SHU prisoners had reduced access to showers and yard
throughout the strike. Prisoner B reported on July 28th that
he had been on lock-down since July 11th. Likewise, there
were prisoners who reported that they had not had yard in 20
days. Sometimes upper cells would have yard time and not
lower, or vice versa. Access to the law library was restricted
as well, even for those who had active cases. One prisoner
stated that the officers would find any pretext they could to
deny access to the law library and other privileges. Prisoner
P did not have an active case, and had been waiting to go
to the law library for seven months. In addition, mail was
delayed and visits were denied. Prisoner Q reported that his
outgoing legal mail had been held and opened.
Generally horrible conditions reportedly worsened during
the strike. Temperatures were reported as both too hot and
too cold in different sections of the prison, contributing to
the discomfort and health risks of the strikers. One prisoner
stated that his latest shower had hot water, implying that
this was (is) not always the case. It was reported that entire
sections were not being cleaned due to the work stoppage.
The cells into which men were moved were often filthy and
placed additional stress on the health of the inmates. The denial
of personal hygiene items also increased the health risks
of strikers. Prisoner R reported that refused food trays were
being refrozen and served again a week later.
We received numerous reports that prison officials were
deliberately and falsely reporting to the media lower numbers
than the real number of strike participants. Various tactics
were used to lower the reported number of protest participants.
For example, it was reported by CDCR that Muslims
who were striking were not participating in the strike, but
rather observing Ramadan. Those who drank tea or coffee,
or sometimes even Gatorade, were disqualified from the list
even if they were eating no solid food. In addition, strikers
adamantly dispute CDCR’s claim that the strike was gang
driven and/or that they were pressured to participate by other
prisoners. Every inmate who communicated with us stated
emphatically that they were not coerced in any way to participate.
Prisoners generally noted that the Agreement to End Hostility
contributed to the positive morale and solidarity among
the prisoners. Many inmates expressed appreciation of supporters
on the outside. One prisoner eloquently stated his
gratitude to the coalition and other activists on the outside:
“All of these years, our voices would never have been heard
without your support. Never think for a minute that our bravery
is any more significant on the inside than the bravery it
takes to stand up on the outside.”
Mar 01, 2014
From Prison Focus Issue 42
This report focuses on the information we gathered
about the 2013 hunger strike. We note that specific
detailed accounts of many instances of retaliatory behavior
of guards and other prison personnel are still fl owing
in. We are still gathering these data and assembling them in
a report to be issued later this year specifically on retaliation.
The conclusions and evidence in this report stem from dozens
of letters received from men at Pelican Bay and through
visits to verify the abuses of legal, medical, and other human
Despite conflicting ideas about strategies, demands and
whether or not to even have the strike, we perceived a strong
sense of solidarity among the prisoners. Contrary to reports
of intimidation, dozens of prisoners wrote us explaining why
they were willingly participating in the strike. One prisoner
who expressed tactical differences and reservations stated
that he was going to support the strike either way in order
to achieve solidarity. Moreover, a wide-spread and accomplished
commitment to non-violence was evident. Though
prisoners reported that guards were trying to instigate violence
among prisoners before and during the strike, the men
reported that they stood by The Agreement to End Hostilities
and their commitment to non-violence. They were determined
to succeed “on behalf of the youth coming behind”
as one man stated. With the drive to make a difference, in
the weeks and months before the hunger strike began, participants
prepared themselves for the strike both physically,
mentally and spiritually.
Before the strike had begun, men expressed concern that
CDCR would not meet their medical obligations as stated in
the CDC Mass Organized Hunger Strike Policy 4.22.2. They
questioned whether CDCR was ready to handle the possible
flood of “man downs” and other emergency situations that
could come with this action. Clearly the staff added to a tense
and harsh atmosphere designed to discourage potential strikers
by telling them that CDCR “is not going to do anything”
for them and that “men will die.” Even before some guards
made these kinds of statements, the prisoners already expressed
their view that medical neglect and death were very
real possibilities. Indeed, some of these concerns were realized.
In addition, while some prisoners reported that they
had received “Do Not Resuscitate” forms, others reported
that the forms were being withheld. Release of Information
forms that allowed CPF or loved ones to check on prisoners’
well-being during and after the strike were also “lost” or disappeared.
We received disparate reports regarding the required health
checks of strikers by prison staff. Prisoner G reported that
he went once a week to medical, at which time his weight,
blood pressure, pulse and organs were checked. Others reported
irregular, infrequent and insufficient checks. It was
reported for example, that guards and/or medical technicians
(nurses) would merely walk by and ask how they were doing
or peek into the cells without any verbal communication
at all. Prisoners recounted how certain numbers were
skewed to support CDCR propaganda that the men were eating
throughout the strike. One man, for example, reported
that his base weight was taken after two weeks of fasting,
minimizing his documented weight loss.
While some men reported they received medical treatment
as usual and that they had received sufficient care throughout
the strike, the majority reported delays, neglect and abuses.
By the end of July we were hearing reports that some strikers
had fallen out but that there were not enough medical staff to
properly tend to them. When Prisoner J visited the medical
clinic, he was informed by the doctor that there was only one
doctor working when there normally were six. Prisoner M
described an incident where staff was banging on the door
of a fellow inmate, yelling “get the fuck up or we’ll extract
you.” When the staff finally opened the cell door the man
was found unresponsive and taken to medical.
Blood pressure medications were stopped due to high
risks associated with lack of food intake. Prescribed medications
were often stopped as well, sometimes as a form
of retaliation. Prescription pain medications were replaced
with Tylenol or even baby aspirin. Psychiatric medications
were withheld. One man with diabetes was refused glucose
supplement for emergency drops in blood sugar. Prisoners
who were relocated from one prison to another were often
denied their previously approved medications or had to wait
several days after their transfer to receive their medications.
When the strike ended, medications were not automatically
reinstated, but rather men had to put in a medical slip to get
their medications back, causing unnecessary hassle, delays,
cost, and additional suffering.
Strikers related many of the symptoms from which they
suffered. For example, strikers became fatigued, distracted,
and unable to focus. They experienced nausea and severe,
persistent headaches. Prisoner X reported that he was unable
to partake in his normal routine of exercise due to fatigue.
Prisoner I explained that by the middle of the 3rd week he
had become very pale and was experiencing a sharp pain under
his ribs. He was reluctant to seek medical care. Prisoner
K’s legs became wobbly and would shake uncontrollably. He
could barely walk to the visit. Prisoner L described an inability
to concentrate, an on-going headache, dizziness when
standing and shaky legs. Prisoners also reported problems
regulating temperature, exasperated by the fact that the cells
were kept either too cold or too hot. He reported that the supplements
made him throw up. Prisoner M reported problems
with his digestive track and bowels, and that he was having
sharp pains in his heart area. At least one prisoner reported
developing kidney problems.
Even before the hunger strike began, prisoners were reporting
they were being cut off from access to information
regarding the strike, and complained of being left “in
the dark.” These reports were substantiated by the fact that
the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) coalition and
Prison Focus newsletter had been stopped pending an investigation.
Prisoner visits by several lawyers and members
of the coalition were suspended from prisoner visits based
on various alleged infractions. All of these allegations were
eventually dismissed and retained issues of our newsletter
delivered. Some prisoners were denied legal visits by either
being sent to the infirmary unnecessarily or by the withholding
of notification of a scheduled visit.
The prison staff continued to obstruct and falsify information
about the strike throughout the protest. Prisoner A, for
example, reported in late July that some of the guards were
telling prisoners that the men in Administrative Segregation
had started eating again. Because of their isolation and the
lack of communication among prisoners, the men had no
way to verify the information. Prisoner A and his cell mate
went off strike believing that the strike had ended. When
they found out that it was not true they resumed their strike.
In addition, prisoners on strike were transferred to other units
and other prisons, separating those who were on strike from
those who were not participating and those who had come
off the strike. Alleged protest organizers were separated from
the general SHU population. These actions were presumably
part of the prison’s and CDCR’s efforts to impede the fl ow of
Prisoners reported that the guards used the threat of being
placed in Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg) as a deterrent
to participate in the strike. These strategic threats were
backed up by the very real conditions of some Ad Seg Units
where TVs and radios, a critical source of mental stimulation,
are prohibited. Strikers who were transferred to Ad Seg
and elsewhere were usually returned to the SHU after they
began accepting meals, while some only returned to their
regular cells long after the strike was over.
Relocations resulted in property confiscations. Some men
had their belongings returned, while others lost most or all
of their belongings, including legal paperwork, family photos
and so on. One protester reported that a piece of artwork
he had made for donation to a coalition fundraiser had been
deemed “gang related” and confiscated. Some strikers reported
that when their possessions were returned to them,
they had been “trashed”.
Refeeding. The following describes the steps of re-feeding
as reported by one striker, though it may have varied
throughout the prison and/or throughout the strike:
Days 1 and 2: One medicine sized cup of Ensure four
times a day.
Day 3: Half a can of Ensure in the morning and half a can
in the evening.
Day 4: Two full cans of Ensure; One in the morning and
one in the evening.
Days 5 and 6: A peanut butter sandwich and a two-sliced
Days 7 and 8: Regular breakfast and dinner with instructions
to only eat half.
On day nine the men resumed regular meals. Nevertheless,
some men went directly to standard trays immediately, by
their own choice.
The men could reportedly drink Gatorade and vitamins
and minerals throughout the strike and the re-feeding process,
though prisoners reported that they did not start receiving
Gatorade or supplements until the end of July (three
weeks into the strike). Prisoner G reported on July 25th that
he started receiving 2 dry packets of Gatorade a day that he
should mix with water. He said that the packets were opened
but taped, and not always full. Some prisoners reported that
guards told they would not be counted as being on strike if
they accepted the Gatorade, further skewing statistics. To our
knowledge no forced feeding took place at Pelican Bay.
We received various reports regarding re-feeding, implying
that the re-feeding process throughout the prison were
not consistent, and actually somewhat arbitrary. We received
reports from multiple prisoners who were denied the re-feeding
diet or received less than adequate proportions. Prisoner
N reported that a fellow inmate was refused a special diet
when he ended his strike and as a result he got sick and ended
up in the infirmary where he received an IV. Others had to
limit even their Ensure as they came off strike because their
digestive system was so compromised. Numerous men reported
that when they began eating again, portion sizes were
and continue to be smaller, and that the quality of the food
has dropped significantly, despite how deplete of nutritional
value and desirability it already was previous to the strike.
One prisoner who was unable to strike because of medical
issues reported that he had given his special diet trays to the
men who had come off strike so they had more nutrition.
Prisoners endured various acts of retaliation and intimidation
by prison staff. Prisoners reported that creating uncomfortable
conditions by way of temperature control was one
such form of retaliation. The men explained that keeping the
cells cold was a ploy to get strikers to eat again, as regulating
body temperature becomes increasingly challenging with the
loss of body mass. Prisoner O reported that in his pod the
air vents were not functioning correctly creating extremely
high levels of heat and humidity. The cells that were previously
cold became stuffy and hot. Prisoner M reported that
the guards had blocked the door with a mattress of a fellow
inmate who was not on strike, presumably to keep him
from passing food to those around him. The lack of ventilation
was particularly problematic for that inmate because he
suffers from asthma. In addition, prisoners reported that the
guards played mind games with the men. Prisoner P stated,
“where we used to get beat up, now there’s more psychological
abuse.” Prisoner G reported that the guards offered him a
tray with coffee and water to get him to unwittingly end his
strike. Other such mind games took place on a regular basis.
Many privileges were revoked, suspended or limited during
the strike. Typewriters, which had been issued a few days
before the strike, were rescinded and to our knowledge are
still not available. Other items were reportedly taken away as
well, like cups, soap dishes and candy bars. Mail, including
legal mail, was reportedly withheld and delayed throughout
the strike. Law library access was limited. Prisoner F reported
that he did not have access to books for three months. In
addition, and perhaps most disturbing though not unexpected,
prisoners were regularly denied yard and showers during
the strike. The guards blamed the loss of yard on the work
stoppage, and having to clean the pods. Another prisoner was
told by guards that the denial of yard time was a result of not
enough staff available to respond to emergencies. The men
are used to frequent loss of yard time or “down days” as they
refer to them, but according to Prisoner D, during the strike
“every day was a down day.”
In addition, cleaning of the pods was neglected. Because
of the work stoppage there were no tier tenders and it became
the responsibility of the guards to clean the pods. However,
on July 30th Prisoner H reported that his pod had just been
cleaned for the first time since the strike began.
Both before and during the strike, prisoners reported that
retaliation and intimidation by prison staff intensified. This
was reflected in the number of reports we received regarding
the increase in 115 violation write ups that the men received.
Prisoners reported that the sergeants pressured the guards to
issue more 115s--for anything. So regulations were tightened
and rules changed, usually without prior notification, leading
to more 115s, as planned. Prisoner D stated that the guards
became “increasingly creative with their write ups.” Prisoner
J reported, for example, was told that he “can have a stamp
and an envelope, but a stamped envelope now counts as contraband.”
He explained that this is in accordance to an old,
outdated rule, previously unenforced. Prisoner G reported
that he received a 115 for “disobeying orders”, for talking.
There is no rule against talking, he explained, though there
was a sign posted. Cell raids also increased dramatically.
Prisoner E reported that both he and his neighbor received
115s for sending stamps as payment for their subscription to
The Rock newsletter. Guards claimed that sending stamps
was like donating money and having money is against the
rules. He reported that his stamps were confiscated.
The majority of strikers received 115s simply for participating
in the strike. Prisoner H stated that whether or not
strikers received 115 for participating in the hunger strike
depended on the correctional officer. Prisoners felt like the
inconsistency of who did and did not receive a 115 was
used as a method to break solidarity and create bad feelings
amongst inmates. Prisoner J reported that everyone in his
NUMBER 42 7
section received 115s. He explained that when they received
the 115s they were told by the guards that if they plead guilty
they would only get 90 day credit loss but if they plead not
guilty they would receive the same credit loss and have their
TVs taken, which is a big deal when one has almost no other
sources of mental stimulation. Consequently, most of the
men reportedly pleaded guilty. The guys who pleaded not
guilty did in fact have their TVs confiscated for 30 days. After
summarily being found guilty, they reportedly lost their
TV privilege for an additional 30 days. Prisoner V stated that
the 115s showed inaccurate dates, downplaying the amount
of time they were on strike. Prisoner L reported that he was
transcribing legal papers for his neighbor. His neighbor was
written up for “passing an unknown item” which the guards
claimed was food, with no investigation.
OUTSIDE SUPPORT FOR THE HUNGER STRIKERS.
The hunger strikers received support from many individuals
and groups; not only from those of us on the outside of
prison walls and those of us from California, but from fellow
Pelican Bay prisoners, those incarcerated at other institutions,
as well as individuals and groups nationwide. At Pelican
Bay, there were individuals who were not participating
in the strike, even entire pods, who boycotted the canteen as
a way to show their support. Support from other incarcerated
individuals emanated from across the country. CPF received
letters of support from prisoners in Illinois, Louisiana and
other states. In the state of Washington, prisoners, including
juveniles, showed their support to California Prison hunger
strikers, as well as those of Guantanamo Bay, by going on
work strike on July 8, 2013. Prisoners in the Green Hill Juvenile
prison in Chehalis, Washington joined the strike and
released their own demands. There were also rallies held
in support of the strikers in Seattle, Olympia and Chehalis,
Washington, as well as in Portland, Oregon and in other cities
as well. A Portland/Northwest regional coalition and network
of individuals, organizations and affinity groups was
formed to support the hunger strikers’ five demands.
Following is an excerpt from a statement made during the
hunger strike, published in The Fire Inside: Newsletter of the
Coalition for Women Prisoners (Issue number 49, Fall 2013/
Winter 2014), titled Central California Women’s Facility
Supports Hunger Strike: “We. The women of CCWF, many
of us who have friends and family members in the SHU, are
helping support the men on Hunger Strike. We are fasting
once a week on Fridays and doing a prayer walk every Friday
at 7pm. We walk and pray at the same time for the men
who are suffering from unfair treatment… This issue affects
all of us.”
SUSPENDING THE STRIKE
The strike was officially ended by the prison reps on September
5 after sympathetic politicians, California Senator
Loni Hancock and Assembly member Tom Ammiano agreed
to conduct hearings with the purpose of proposing new legislation
on solitary confinement. The first round of such legislation
is currently being considered in AB 1652 and SB 892
(see President’s Message below)