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Apr 30, 2018

Letter to Prisoner Class Supporters

Todd Ashker (A Prisoner Class Representative)

keywords: ashker

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.

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

LETTER: Doing Prison Time in a County Jail

Fabio Soto, El Dorado County Jail

keywords: prisoner letter, realignment, AB109

Good afternoon. I'm doing an 11 year AB109 sentence in the county jail of El Dorado. Due to my classification I'm segregated in there. Max-pod, where I'm not allowed to work or participate in any educational programs, depriving me of my equal protections of the federal and state constitutions; of my conduct credits, milestones, my rehabilitation, work, unlimited visitations, all things that keep an inmate focused on his or her rehabilitation. Without these things it cruel and unusual punishment and mental abuse.

Some of the many issues are noted below:

1.Downgrading of mental health diagnosis after meeting for only minutes with no records.
2. Discontinuation of medication by a doctor who does not know the prisoner's diagnosis, and has not obtained their medical records but only read a summary.
3. Seeing the mental health doctor through a computer screen instead of in person.
4. Not allowing northern Hispanics to work but all other races can.

Overcrowding. Facility is too small for AB109 cases. This is just the start of many violations.

Thank you! Just trying to be heard.

Apr 30, 2018

The Cost to Connect

Marisa Endicott

keywords: CDCR, phonecalls

A grandfather accompanying his grandson to a doctor’s appointment is not so unusual unless that man is along via a video stream from his prison cell.

Thanks to a contraband cell phone, this California inmate sees and talks to his family on a near daily basis. Despite the high costs of procurement and the risks of being caught, this incarcerated man and many others continue to smuggle in or purchase contraband phones in order to communicate not only through calls and texts, but also images, videos and livestreams.

Along with the continuing demand for contraband phones come persistent efforts to crack down on them. And the cell phones aren’t the only tools that have become more technologically sophisticated.

In 2016, CDCR started rolling out a new program in California state prisons to intercept cell phones. This originally included close to 1,000 advanced metal detectors, scanners and security cameras at a projected cost of $17 million a year, according to the Associated Press. In December 2017, the company funding the whole contraband cell crackdown effort won an award for its phone detection technology. That company is Global TelLink (GTL), a major nationwide prison telephone service provider.

Private prison telephone service providers like GTL are notorious for the expensive rates they charge to prisoners and their loved ones to communicate.

High fees per minute are accompanied by additional charges. For example, GTL has required users to set up prepaid accounts while also charging them to open or close them. In 2016, attorneys sued several California counties over excessive fees for calls to and from jails. Since the counties contract with private companies, the latter can charge whatever price they want and pay the county handsomely for the contract, according to the lawsuit. Revenue from phone systems are supposed to be dedicated to a fund for prisoner education and rehabilitation services under state law, but the suit argued that a large portion of collected funds was going to jail maintenance instead. The counties in at least three of the cases contract with GTL. Moreover, in March 2017, GTL agreed to pay almost $9 million to settle a federal lawsuit that accused the company of violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Here is where the contraband phones come into play. One of the many motivations to seek out an illegal device in prison is to avoid paying the exorbitant costs associated with sanctioned channels of communication, costs that many incarcerated individuals cannot afford to pay. GTL has a clear incentive to help prisons crackdown on illegal phones, especially if inmates and their networks use them to avoid paying the company’s steep fees. “What's problematic is GTL has fought for the longest time the efforts that have been made nationally to reduce the rates that are charged both out of state and in state,” said Corene Kendrick, an attorney at Prison Law Office. “There's a long campaign with the Federal Communications Commission to try to get a cap on the fees.” In 2015, GTL and another mega prison phone company, Securus Technologies, sued the FCC for attempting to cap their fees, and a court ruling in June 2017 barred the FCC from limiting costs.

Having access to consistent communication has psychological and practical impacts on prisoners, their friends and families. “It allows the prisoner to reconnect with one’s family (children, parents, spouses, etc….),” one prisoner wrote in a letter to California Prison Focus. “This core pertinent social development when cultivated by family, prisoner, CDCR, supports a positive productive mentality and behavior that further extends to the community and beyond.”

In-person visits may not always be an option. Visitors often cannot consistently or frequently make the trips out to remote facilities or take time off from work or other responsibilities, especially if the prisoner has been transferred out-of-state because of overcrowding in California prisons. For this and other reasons, phone communication is an essential part of the picture.

Consequences for having a contraband phone or accessories are no joke. Inmates can face 90 days loss of good time credit, time added to sentences and other punishments. Those caught smuggling cell phones to inmates can be fined $5,000 and face up to six months in jail, according to CDCR. One prisoner told California Prison Focus in a letter that GTL has supported and encouraged other damaging punitive measures as well like suspending family visits.

Moreover, being caught with a cell phone can negatively affect or even destroy one’s chances at being paroled. At the same time, parole will often only be granted to those who have a support system waiting for them on the outside - a setup that requires consistent communication during one’s sentence.

Out of desperation, inmates may be willing to risk the ramifications. “If you've talked to people who are currently incarcerated or formerly incarcerated,” Kendrick said, “they're kind of like, ‘well that's the trade off - the risk of getting caught versus being able to talk to my family.’”

As an attorney for prisoners, Kendrick has frank discussions with inmates. While CDCR says a major concern with contraband phones is gangs using them to organize, that isn’t what she generally encounters. The more common response is “it's the only way they can stay in touch with their family, because they can't afford the exorbitant rates that the phone companies get away with charging them,” she said.

The fostering and maintenance of relationships between inmates and their outside networks can not only be important for personal growth and healing but for successful reentry into society upon release.

“The isolation that prisoners feel is so real,” Kendrick said. “There's been studies that have shown that one of the factors that plays into whether a person's going to succeed upon reentry into the community is whether they've been able to maintain those community ties and they have a community to go back to.”

Making sure inmates have reliable and affordable access to calling could be one way to cut back on at least some contraband phone use and have larger benefits for the individual, CDCR and the community at large.

Mar 18, 2018

LETTER: Declaration of Nick Denham

Nick Denham

keywords: sleep deprivation, prisoner letter

I have been in C.T.F. Ad Seg for a year and a month. Since arriving, I have been subjected to maliciously excessive noise during night time hours (First Watch), a direct result of “Guard One System.” The wand/pipe used to scan barcodes is metal and is hit against a metal wall-mounted reader. The reader is placed on the wall between the open front cells that consist of metal bars covered with mesh which provides no barrier from the noise. This noise is excessively loud, keys bouncing off the c/o’s leg as he/she walks heavily footed, hitting the wand on every reader while intentionally directing their high-powered LED flashlights at our heads and in our faces goes beyond the mere inconvenience. Because of this torture, I get 4 ½, maybe 5 hours sleep every night. I go to sleep at 8-8:30 pm only to be woken at 10:14 pm, then again at 10:45 pm and again at 12:20 am, to finally give up on sleep at 2 am and begin my long day. I am completely deprived of my sleep and am left fatigued all day with little to no motivation, making me angry and anxious. I’ve had an increase in weight, and I don’t even go to canteen. My anger and anxiety have made me become unsociable with everyone around me and I still have about 10 ½ months of this shit. When I confront the c/os, I am met with stupid responses such as, “I’m not your reg,” “It’s metal on metal, what do you expect me to do? I’m just doing my job,” and, “It’s prison, get over it… remember where you’re at.”

This behavior of ignorance and discrimination is a common-place excuse for this ongoing behavior among c/os in CDCR. It is not only unethical, but extremely harmful. I previously was in PBSP SHU for 10 months in 2016 and 8-9 months in Tehachapi; SHU on 4B prior to that. In PBSP, the Guard One system was in place. I experienced the same behavior from the c/os, the pod door slamming open and closed, running up and down the stairs with keys bouncing off the side of the c/os leg, the wand hitting the reader and the damn high-powered LED flashlights being shined as bright as day in my face. When I was released from the SHU, I was angry and not very sociable with anyone. I found that loud noises not only put me on edge, but triggered me, which caused issues with my celly. I was only out of the SHU for 2 months. PBSP SHU angered me. C.T.F. Ad Seg is exhausting mentally and physically with walks going from every 30 to 15 minutes. It is a well-established fact that sleep deprivation is an effective tool of torture. Respectfully Submitted.

Mar 07, 2018

PTSD SC: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Solitary Confinement

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Baridi J Williamson

keywords: PTSD, trauma, SHU, solitary confinement, prisoner author

(Published in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper:

California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) had been locking classes of prisoners up in solitary confinement since the ‘60s as part of CDCr’s para-military low-intensity warfare, to break the minds and spirits of its subjects, California’s prisoner class. CDCr’s solitary confinement has two operating components: 1) punishing you and 2) physically and mentally destroying you.

In the 1970s, CDCr’s report to then Gov. Ronald Reagan on revolutionary organizations and gangs resulted in Reagan ordering the CDCr director to lock up all radicals, militants, revolutionaries and jailhouse lawyers who were considered “trouble-makers.”[i] And a 1986 report by the CDCr task force stated that during the ‘60s and ‘70s, California’s prisoners became “politicized” through the influence of outside “radical, social movements.”
And conscious prisoners began to “demand” their human, constitutional and civil rights,[ii] as exemplified by those politicized prisoners of war (PPOW) like W.L. Nolen.[iii] In the late ‘60s, Nolen and other PPOWs filed a civil rights class action case challenging the inhumane, degrading conditions and institutional racism that was prevalent at Soledad Prison’s solitary confinement O-wing,[iv] as well as throughout CDCr’s prison system to date.

The 1986 CDCr task force report recommended that CDCr build “supermax” prisons for this politicized class of prisoners, which was echoed by the California prison guards’ union (known today as CCPOA) in continuing their low-intensity warfare upon California prisoners up into and through the ‘80s.
Shortly thereafter, California government through its apparatus CDCr, built its solitary confinement torture sites, such as Security Housing Units (SHUs) and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Segs) at Tehachapi in December 1986, New Folsom in December 1987, Corcoran in December 1988 and at Pelican Bay State Prison in December of 1989. All were designed with the malicious intent to destroy human lives through their diabolical low-intensity warfare scheme of mass validation – group punishment – indeterminate SHU classification and enhanced “debriefing” interrogation, known as “snitch, parole or die!”

Each of California’s governors and CDCr cabinet secretaries from 1977 to 2015 knowingly enhanced their system to become more repressive upon the prisoners held in solitary confinement in the SHUs. We prisoners have known for the past decades that California citizens have not condoned the torture of California prisoners. Nevertheless, since the ‘60s, each state governor and legislature knowingly sanctioned solitary confinement torture.

California’s CDCr – with the winks and nods of lawmakers and judges – has held countless prisoners in solitary confinement, whether it is called Ad-Seg, Management Control Unit, Adjustment Center, SHU or Administrative SHU, longer than any prison system within the United States, ranging up to 45 years of torture and acts of racial discrimination from Soledad Prison’s O-wing to PBSP’s new form of solitary confinement torture.

The case of Madrid v. Gomez was the first acknowledgement on the part of California authorities and judiciary recognizing the harm that CDCr had been causing – mental torture – to those held in solitary confinement across the state’s prison system.[v]

We prisoners have known for the past decades that California citizens have not condoned the torture of California prisoners. Nevertheless, since the ‘60s, each state governor and legislature knowingly sanctioned solitary confinement torture.

The Madrid case touched on the harsh conditions and treatment toward the solitary confinement prisoners at PBSP. It is a clear fact that during the years 1989 to 1994, PBSP had one of the most notorious Violence Control Units (VCUs) in the U.S. CDCr-PBSP officials utilized the VCU for to violate prisoners’ human, constitutional and civil rights by beating us and destroying the minds and spirits of so many of us for years.
An example of how some prisoners would find themselves forced into PBSP’s VCU is when the CDCr bus would arrive at PBSP and park outside the entrance doorway to solitary confinement – Facilities C and D. A squad of goons dressed in paramilitary gear with black gloves, shields and riot helmets would be there waiting. They called themselves the “Welcoming Committee.”

These guards, describing themselves as the Green Wall guard gang, using “G/W” and “7/23” as symbols for “Green Wall,” would roam through the SHU corridors assaulting, beating, and scalding prisoners. See Madrid v. Gomez.

The Welcoming Committee would select one or more prisoners and pull them off the bus – usually choosing those the transportation guards accused of “talking loud.” They would take each one to the side and jump on him, then drag him off through the brightly lighted doorway.

These guards, describing themselves as the Green Wall guard gang, using “G/W” and “7/23” as symbols for “Green Wall,” would roam through the SHU corridors assaulting, beating, and scalding prisoners.

When the rest of the prisoners were escorted off the bus into the corridor to be warehoused in the general SHU cells, they would see those beaten prisoners dragged off the bus “hog-tied”[vi] and lying on their stomachs or crouched in a fetal position, sometimes in a pool of blood.[vii] Later, they were dragged off to the VCU, where they were targeted with intense mind-breaking operations.

When these prisoners were eventually taken out of VCU and housed in the general SHU cells, they mostly displayed insanity – smearing feces all over their bodies, screaming, yelling, banging cups, throwing urine.[viii] And it was only when prisoners began to go public about the VCU at PBSP that CDCr ceased those practices.[ix]

The effects of solitary confinement at PBSP compelled CDCr to establish Psychiatric Service Units (PSUs) in response to the Madrid ruling for remedying the conditions that were destroying the minds of all prisoners who were held captive from the time of the Madrid ruling in 1995 through 2014, but they were poor and ineffective. Those released to the PSU from SHU fared no better than others held in solitary confinement at PBSP.
Prisoners in SHU continued to suffer mental, emotional and physical harm with no remedy made available by CDCr until we were released out to General Population units by the Departmental Review Board (DRB) between 2012 and 2014 and the Ashker v. Brown class action settlement in 2015.

These released prisoners were coming from a torture chamber, where by necessity they created coping skills like self-medicating. Typically, when coming out of solitary confinement, women and men prisoners show signs of depressive disorder and symptoms characteristic of self-mutilation, mood deterioration and depression, traumatic stress disorder, hopelessness, panic disorder, anger, obsessive-compulsive disorder, irritability, anhedonia, fatigue, feelings of guilt, loss of appetite, nervousness, insomnia, worry, increased heart rate and respiration, sweating, hyperarousal, serious problems with socialization, paranoia, loss of appetite, as well as cognitive issues, nightmares, muscle tension, intrusive thoughts, fear of losing control, and difficulty concentrating.[x]

Prisoners in SHU continued to suffer mental, emotional and physical harm with no remedy made available by CDCr until we were released out to General Population units by the Departmental Review Board (DRB) between 2012 and 2014 and the Ashker v. Brown class action settlement in 2015.

The California prison system realized that these prisoners held initially at PBSP and subsequently at Tehachapi and throughout the system had their constitutional rights violated under the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th Amendment guarantee of due process of the law, for decades.[xi]
Jules Lobel of the Center for Constitutional Rights and lead counsel in Ashkerstated:

“The torture of solitary confinement doesn’t end when the cell doors open. California’s continued violation of the Constitution and new evidence of the persistent impact of prolonged solitary confinement requires CDCR to make essential changes in their conduct and rehabilitative programs, and, more broadly, demonstrates the urgent need to end solitary confinement across the country.”[xii]

The Ashker v. Brown class action, settled in 2015, is a historic lawsuit exposing those violations and the harms they cause. We, as California prisoners and citizens of this state, deserve to be treated for the intentional cruelty caused by state-sanctioned torture. This is especially so for the hundreds of solitary confinement prisoners who have spent more than 27 months in any form of solitary confinement, which constitutes torture, according to the Ninth Circuit.[xiii]

CDCr has continued to shun its governmental responsibilities and has not effectively remedied the pain and suffering of thousands of solitary confinement prisoners who have been released to General Population through the DRB and Ashker. All of them are suffering from various aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Solitary Confinement (PTSDSC).

We, as California prisoners and citizens of this state, deserve to be treated for the intentional cruelty caused by state-sanctioned torture.

If you are reading this, join us in writing, emailing and calling Gov. Brown (916-445-2841 or, Secretary of CDCr Scott Kernan (916-324-7308) and Sen. Holly Mitchell (916-324-7308 or, who chairs the Public Safety Committee overseeing CDCr, and demand the following government actions be taken to remedy the decades of damage done to us:

That CDCr provide statewide men’s and women’s PTSDSC support groups modeled after the “Men’s’ Group” program we created at Salinas Valley State Prison Facility C, which has been approved by the administration – wardens, community resources managers (CRMs) – for our PTSDSC class and is only awaiting locating a sponsor to get started;
That CDCr allow all PTSDSC prisoners to go through this six-month relief program at their respective GP locations;
That CDCr provide effective in-service training of staff in fairly and respectfully dealing with PTSDSC class members, including in appeals, disciplinary and medical matters;
That CDCr adopt all recommendations in the 2017 report of the Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Lab at Stanford University, detailing the ongoing negative health consequences that Ashker class members have suffered following their release from long-term solitary confinement into GP:
Provide peer-facilitated support groups for all PTSDSC class members; and
Provide independent psychiatric care for all PTSDSC class members to receive PTSDSC mental and emotional health and psychological services in this form.
That Gov. Brown and the California legislature order the Board of Parole Hearings to stop denying our PTSDSC class members who are serving life sentences a fair opportunity to be released home, thereby doubly punishing and torturing us because we were unlawfully kept in solitary confinement without due process and exercised our constitutionally protected right to peacefully protest with hunger strikes to be released, refusing to debrief and become their snitches.

In struggle!

Prisoner Human Rights Movement
©Dec. 1, 2017, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Baridi J. Williamson. Send our brothers some love and light: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (R.N. Dewberry), C-35671, and Baridi J. Williamson, D-34288, P.O. Box 1050, Soledad CA 92960.

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