Here, you can search for articles that have been published in our newsletter. Our newsletter is primarily written by and for prisoners, their friends, and families. You can receive a paper copy at your home (or send one to your relative or friend in prison). We request a donation of $20 or more for four issues to help cover editing, printing, and mailing costs.
Please visit our archive if you would like to download pdf versions of our past issues.
Apr 30, 2018
keywords: prisoner letter
Hello, my name is Carlos. I am a prisoner at Salinas Valley State Prison. I've been incarcerated since the age of 15. I'm about to turn 35 in April. Through the years I've seen and been through all that the California prison system has to offer. Good and bad. I spent close to 10 years in the SHU... However, I am writing you awesome and inspiring Organization for a different reason. I have an approaching release date in June 20/20 So, I am both grateful and blessed... I am also a bit nervous to return to society after being away for so long. I know it will take some time to adjust to the Free World. But I am ready for the challenge. And I aspire to make a positive impact in any way that I can. Just as you all do it Prison Focus.. So I have been working on my patience, work ethic, social skills, trade skills, communication and overall self to position myself for the future.
Nevertheless, since my arrival to Salinas Valley, it has been difficult to maintain my goals. The program here is so inconsistent, that it leaves you feeling unbalanced. There's always some reason to place the facility on modified. From bogus threats on staff, the shortage of staff to some inmate deciding he wants to roll up and go SNY. I've been here since January, and I've only witnessed a couple of fist fights, yet we've been without program multiple times. Every aspect of this facility seems to be run in a manner that promotes discouragement. Canteen is routinely closed and/or missed due to some complication. Some men have missed their opportunity to go to the store 4 or 5 months straight making it difficult to maintain hygiene and food. Moreover, and if not more important, the suspect” modified program” that frequently happens, is making rehabilitation hard. It’s difficult to get into a consistent routine of attending, comprehending and applying the reentry skills taught in a rehabilitative program here due to the inconsistent program. These things (rehabilitation) should be at the forefront of any prison program. But it's not the case here. And that's sad on so many levels…
Prison has changed so much over these last 10 years. There's more opportunities to build yourself up and grow as a person along with the chance to go home for thousands, where it wasn't before. The public has contributed greatly as well, which is all super positive and uplifting... Yet, even with all the changes, propositions included, there is still a problem with the applications of these things both, programs and preparing inmates for their freedom… The rehabilitation must be at the forefront of these institutions to really work. Because of emotional stress, mental stress etc. that is a part of being incarcerated, it's vital to make rehabilitation a priority, especially for the people who will be released back into society. If that's not the case, then the Free World has been done a disservice, as well as the individual returning to society. Knowing this I ask this question; is the business aspect more important than the humane one? I would hope not. Yet, I not only see the true answer, I've been living it for the past 18 years. The change needs to continue one day at a time because the application of these new laws and prison reforms are productive in theory, but fail to accomplish any real lasting change, mostly because the core of the problem is being overlooked. So, although changes happening, it's not getting things corrected... Never the less, I hope it gets better. Hope you do too. Thank you for your time. I appreciate the platform to use my voice, and hopefully be a part of the change…
Striving Towards Success,
Apr 30, 2018
In our collective October 2017 “Statement of Prisoner Representatives on Second Anniversary of Ashker v. Brown Settlement,” we stressed the importance that "prisoners and our families will have to re-energize the human rights movement, to fight against the continuing violations of our rights"… reminding all involved, “we must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to.”
As many are aware, our current collective movement began in the bowels of Pelican Bay State Prison – SHU – Short Corridor, wherein prisoners of all races and various geographical areas, became openly conscious of what we had in common, rather than what was different (divisive), we recognized we’d all been subjected to the same adversary’s boots on our necks; all members of a prisoner class, subjected to decades of solitary confinement torture.
We became aware of the fact that those of us serving “term-to-life” sentences, were all akin to the living dead, our existence being that of a mind numbing, spirit destroying, endless nightmare. I believe coming together in the “short corridor” wherein we witnessed the toll of our slow decay, together with the prisoncrats progressively punitive, oppressive provocations, was one cause of our awakening, leading to us coming together as “The PBSP – SHU- Short Corridor Collective.”
Our struggle was focused on ending long-term solitary confinement, and improvements to conditions therein. We stood up together and collectively we educated our loved ones, and general public, about what had been in society’s shadow for far too long. We publicly “drew the line” and said, “No More!”
As a committed collective of fellow human beings, a large majority hailing from working class, poor communities, we lead our struggle -- from behind the walls – putting our lives in the balance, at that point, our lives being all we had, we demanded an end to our torture, based on our “inherent right as human beings, to humane treatment, inclusive of dignity and respect for our loved ones, and the unfortunate generations to follow.
Notably, our collective membership had been the subject of the states’ decades long “war against the working-class poor, tough-on-crime” (focused and applied mainly upon the poor), politicized, vilified and branded as “the worst of the worst” in order to justify our subjection to endless torture (lasting more than 30 years)!
In this climate, we came together and utilized non-violent, peaceful protest actions, mass hunger strikes and work stoppages, which, together with the support of our awakened loved ones, and countless other people of conscience outside the walls (while all along, suffering with us), exposed our plight to the world community.
In 2012, we introduced our collective “Agreement to End Race-based Hostilities,” making clear our united intent to no longer be the source of our mutual adversary’s manipulation tactics, centered on keeping us divided and violent towards one another, which was thereby used to justify our adversaries agenda – supermax, indefinite warehousing, and thereby demonstrating our humanity in the face of the provocations of our oppressive torturers. We pointed out the fact that, in the absence of race-based violence, our mutual adversary/s would be forced to end their policy of warehousing us in the small cells indefinitely, and open the prison up for meaningful programming and privileges, beneficial to the prisoner class.
I mention the above points as important reminders of the fact that THE MAIN BASIS FOR THE SUCCESS WE’VE ACHIEVED TO DATE HAS BEEN OUR COLLECTIVE UNITY INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE PRISON WALLS, MAKING STRATEGIC USE OF COMBINED LITIGATION, AND PEACEFUL ACTIVISM, ACTION TOOLS, WHICH TOGETHER WITH OUR RELATED COLLECTIVE BELIEVE IN AND COMMITMENT TO OUR CAUSE, IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF “THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE”.
OUR ADVERSARIES ARE CONSTANTLY RESISTNING ANY CHANGE BENEFICIAL TO THE PRISONER CLASS! HISTORY DEMONSTRATES THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR NEED TO STAND TOGETHER COLLECTIVELY, AND REFUSE TO ALLOW THOSE IN POWER (AT THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE) TO HALT OUR PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENTS’ DEMANDS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND REAL JUSTICE, BECAUSE, HISTORICALLY, EVERY CLASS ACTION, CIVIL-SUIT “VICTORY” FOR THE PRISONER CLASS IN CALIFORNIA HAS BEEN MANIPULATED BY PRISONCRATS TO THE ULTIMATE DETRIMENT OF THOSE THAT SUCH “VICTORY” WAS INTENDED TO BENEFIT. IT’S A NON-STOP BATTLE!
Reflecting on the above, as well as our historic, collective group mass hunger strike protests across the California system, of 2011-2013, brings to mind an often quoted phrase (as a sort of benchmark of what’s wrong with society) that of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, reflecting on his own incarceration, famously said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Our collective coming together in the context of having been demonized – tortured over 3 decades – composed of working class poor – facing extreme adversity for a powerful, well-funded adversary toppled (to an extent, losing their supermax jewel – PBSP – SHU) by our peaceful protests, and related global condemnation (and litigation), epitomizes a great side of our society! I hope it’s an example of a growing social revolutionary process.
From Zinn’s Reader “The Optimism of Uncertainty” (1993 book, “Failure to Quit”, page 642) “The struggle for ‘justice’ should never be abandoned because of the apparent over-whelming power of those who have the guns and money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold onto it. That apparent power, has, again and again, proven vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs, dollars, moral fervor, determination, unity organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience – whether by Blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.”
I greatly appreciate your time, attention, courage and dedicated, supportive commitment to our collective struggle. Our strength and power come from our unity! And I am certain we can and will continue to make positive impacts upon the system; forcing real changes; beneficial to all.
I hope we all continue to move forward, confident our fight is a worthy and just cause; working together in imaginative, strategic ways. It would be great if people will share, promote and build on the subject. Examples are in my “Open Letter…” possibly adding a supporting petition, signed by as many as possible, even if such is presented, after publicly presenting the “Open Letter” to the named parties.
There are more innovative, imaginative ideas that I’m working on, and will share for your consideration soon. In the meanwhile, stay strong and have a Happy Holiday Season and New Year. In Solidarity and Respect, Todd ●
Todd Ashker, C58191
KVSP – ASU- 2/194, Box 5106 Delano CA 93216
Apr 30, 2018
keywords: prisoner letter, administrative segregation, ASU, womens' prisons, conditions, misconduct, abuse, guard assault
I am writing to inform you of the conditions of CCF Administrative-Segregation and the mental stress it has on inmates that are placed there...For starters, I have a court order for 100% cotton blankets due to my medical condition asthma and skin irritation... nothing was done... I was made to sleep with two thin sheets with all my clothes while the air-conditioners were on during record temperatures (freezing)... we are to get two hot meals a day meeting the 2200 cal diet. We have not received two hot meals, the portions are made smaller than the regular portions and they are on dirty trays and we have no choice or voice in the matter... African Americans are made to use butter for their hair to prevent breakage. We are allowed $55 shopping a month, but no grease, stating “someone could slip the cuffs off or make the officers slip;" Natural mayo, butter and any other (permitted items) can also, yet we black people leave hairless and embarrassed as if we were in slavery; saddest ever!
Lastly, of many more - over half of Ad-Seg are here for enemy concerns and/or the Investigation Security Unit uses informants to provide them information that’s not true, when in reality the institution as a whole has changed over to a programming place based on prop 57. Yet, accommodate their informants to prompt cases drugs/PREA and it sticks - when today, you might get in a cat fight here and there, they release people to the yard to get hurt and to fulfill their verbal contracts made with their informants and literally write up the inmates who they feel don’t have enemies or safety concerns. Sadly inmates come back battered, hurt and still placed back into population. Within the last four months because of poor slavery conditions there have been two girls that passed. One girl’s body set uncovered for nine hours until the inmates repeatedly asked to cover her since she was just in the middle of the floor dead. They did but she laid there until the next morning came. The second girl had a mental problem. The night before the C/Os pepper sprayed her and never gave her a shower, but you could tell she was not all there mentally. So they moved her to another room but again she was pepper sprayed. They put her on suicide watch with one mental person watching her and the psych-tech was so engaged with her coworkers, C/Os act that the lady died from the pepper spray giving her complications to breathe. She had been dead so long that the CPR was too late – they were going to leave that body on the floor until we complained (not again). They put her body outside in the cold until the coroner came. Again she was being watched by a one on one and the staff walk around and do a check every 15 minutes.
We are allowed to shower and smelly dirty showers three times a week never clean. We are given two rolls of tissue and for pads every 2 1/2 days. If you run out and if you need more pads for your womanly, it is not granted. I suffer from fibroids and bleed almost daily. They take the extra pads sometimes leaving me with none.
Apr 30, 2018
keywords: prisoner letter, realignment, AB109
The manner in which society has dealt with mass incarceration in California can be compared to how someone deals with cleaning a dirty room. When someone is expecting company and doesn’t want their guests to view them critically, they abruptly stuff all their mess of disorganization and neglect into a closet. This is always just a quick fix. The problem doesn’t go away, it’s just temporarily out of view. By doing this, society creates an illusion that we are dealing with issues pertaining to mass incarceration. The truth, however, is that all we’re doing is putting the problem out of view. We’re beating around the bush instead of addressing it head on. Rather than dealing with the social issues that have brought us to this ever flowing cup of misery, we exacerbate the problem.
Through the realignment program, California sends non-violent offenders to serve their time at local jails instead of state prisons. Places like the L.A. county jail have become a type of closet where society is attempting to hide from view its giant mess of social injustice. Here, we’ve attempted to deal with the overpopulation of California’s massive prison system by merely shifting the burden from state to local law agencies. By doing this we shoot ourselves in the foot.
When we implement policy like that of the realignment policy, it brings to light the effects of a program where non-violent offenders do state time in local jails. We deny not only the person who is incarcerated, but society as a whole, the opportunity to heal and progress.
When we acknowledge that we’ve taken a wrong step, we’ve taken our first step in the right direction. The illegitimacy of the realignment policy brings to light the broader problem of a greater lack of access to things that would work to rehabilitate a person in the LA County jail system. We must acknowledge that the majority of people who find themselves in the county jail system are there for grasping for something that was out of their reach. Whether they’re reaching for stability or comfort, almost all of the people who pass through these doors are in a desperate need of help.
In a place like the LA County jail system, with so many people trapped in a perpetual merry-go-round through its doors, Los Angeles has a huge opportunity to heal and to grow. Instead of embracing fear politics and our knee-jerk reaction to punish, let’s exercise compassion and work toward certain understanding on a social problem that affects us all. At the local level we can take the initiative to provide rehabilitation to those who most need it. If we’re taking on the burdens of the state, we might as well make the best of it. Instead of waiting for the state to take action, the community of Los Angeles must take the initiative to reform. This issue is interrelated to many other pressing social issues, like homelessness. Let us not simply stuff all these issues in a closet. If we do, we’ll regret it once we smell the stench of our indifference.
Apr 30, 2018
keywords: prisoner letter, parole, proposition 57
For more than three decades, the California Board of Parole Hearings, formerly the Adult Authority Board of Prison Terms, acting as the arm of governors past and present, have continuously operated in practice, policy and procedures to circumvent the law and [so] deny parole to indeterminately sentenced persons in the State of California.
Now, under the newly enacted Proposition 57, all prisoners/persons committed to the charge of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must face some form of Board recommendation and approval for early release. Under this law, the fox has been given charge of the whole damn chicken coop.
Due to the recent deluge of litigation against the Board through federal civil rights suits as well as individual federal and state habeas corpus petitions, there now exists a mountain of evidence that can finally be used to bring the Board’s practices out of the dark and into the light of public scrutiny. Through a 42 USC § 1983 suit, I propose to seek injunctive relief to:
CONDUCT all hearings and en blanc reviews through audio/visual recordings.
CONDUCT all comprehensive risk assessments through audio/visual recordings.
MANDATE that all Board personnel adhere to the law and not arbitrarily interpret any law or attorney general opinions of California penal statutes.
MANDATE that the appointment of commissioners and deputy commissioners follow State law and reflect California’s racial, cultural, religious, and professional population demographics.
MANDATE that any commissioner or deputy commissioner whose hearing decision, direct action or conduct that has been determined by any judicial decision to violate a prisoner’s Constitutional right(s) in two separate hearings shall be permanently prohibited from conducting or participating in parole consideration or related hearings.
MANDATE that the Board’s Chief Counsel and his/her staff review all parole suitability hearing recordings for compliance with due process and relevant law and provide written summaries of the Board’s conduct of the hearing, including whether the Board complied with all relevant law, and forward such summaries to all concerned parties.
MANDATE that any forensic psychologist who prepares or causes to be produced three separate comprehensive risk assessments containing inaccurate factual statements, misrepresentations, misleading criteria, prognosis, or diagnosis be prohibited from conducting any future comprehensive risk assessments for Board use.
MANDATE that any attorney appointed to represent a prisoner before the Board to do so in a zealous manner so as to equalize the adversarial process.
MANDATE that any attorney who represents prisoners before the Board who has not achieved a normal grant of parole success rate as defined by the statistical definition of “normal” within one calendar year shall be prohibited by the Board from any further prisoner representations and from holding office as a commissioner or deputy commissioner of the Board.
MANDATE that all attorneys appointed to represent prisoners in parole consideration hearings shall inform the prisoners represented of the total number of parole consideration hearings he or she has participated in and his/her rate of grants of parole at their initial client meeting.
My goal is to bring about positive change to the Board through a 42 USC § 1983 suit by utilizing all State and Federal judicial orders and decisions as exhibits for injunctive relief. While unpublished rulings can’t be cited as authority, they certainly can be used as evidence in exhibits showing a systemic pattern of practice by the Board to deny eligible prisoners parole. To this end, I’m seeking all decisions, orders, opinions, and rulings where the Board’s decisions were vacated for failure to follow regulations and/or pertinent law.
I am also intending to allege collusion between the Board, Attorney General’s Office and California Governor’s Office from the 1979 Morrisey 8 memorandum to present. I hope to create a conflict of interest between the State’s chief law enforcement officers (whose duty it is to uphold the law and protect citizens from arbitrary treatment by the government) and the Board. Help me make a change.