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Mar 10, 2016
keywords: Medical Neglect, Sleep Deprivation, Welfare Checks, 602 Administrative Appeals
From Prison Focus Issue 48
This report is based on information received through written correspondence and interviews conducted in December 2015 with incarcerated men at Corcoran State Prison (COR). All quotes come directly from the men’s written reports or interviews. As in the past, we report all information anonymously to prevent retaliation from correctional officers by replacing individual’s names with random initials. The repetition of a certain initial does not indicate that the reporter of information is the same person.
Medical care at Corcoran is grossly insufficient. Reports about medical deprivation and inadequate care are ongoing. Multiple people who are AD-classified report that they are currently denied necessary accommodations. It is widely believed that this is a form of retaliation by custody. Even those who have medical approval for medical devices or equipment are denied access by custody staff. For instance, Mr. B is an ADA-classified prisoner who has chronic back pain. The sleeping conditions at Corcoran, consisting of a single inch-thick mattress on a concrete slab, which causes Mr. B increased pain. He received medical approval by a physician for a second (inch-thick) mattress, but C/Os continue to withhold the needed equipment. Mr. B filed and won a 602 regarding this issue, but the ADA coordinator, Overley, still denies Mr. B the second mattress on the grounds that in the “civilian world” people do not need double mattresses. Title 15’s “Durable Medical Equipment Policy Procedure” states that approved medical devices should be allowed in cells, but it is not followed at Corcoran.
Additionally, doctors at Corcoran continually ignore and misdiagnose health complaints. Representative of several people we interviewed, Mr. D reported that he has been continually denied medical treatment for pain in his leg, to the point where he has now lost the use of his leg completely. A physician in Sacramento conducted a video “exam” of his leg and instructed that he get a biopsy. The medical staff affirmed that they would submit the request for him, but as of our interview, he had yet to be scheduled for one. He continues to be denied proper care.
Mr. R notes that his blood pressure condition has become exacerbated as a result of living in the SHU. He is now prescribed double the medication he was on previously, and is unable to adjust his diet or exercise.
Mr. V reported that he has had a terrible time gaining access to dental care. He had put in a request for an appointment months ago but still has not gotten an appointment.
Mr. F is a diabetic and should be on a special diet, but the food provided is high in simple sugars and is detrimental for his health. When he started refusing the food he was served in order not to be tempted, he was then forced to sign a non-compliance form so that the state cannot be held liable. This lack of adequate diet puts Mr. F and all diabetics at risk of medical distress and complications, which can have permanent effects on health outcomes.
CDCR’s “welfare checks,” 30 minute rounds conducted around the clock, continue to defy their purpose and cause more harm than good. [See article on welfare checks at p. ]. The checks cause a great deal of noise, leading to sleep deprivation and consequently both mental and physical harm. They are described as a constant irritation and viewed as a deliberate disturbance used to prevent prisoners from sleeping, an obvious assault on their well-being. Mr. C reports that some of the officers linger and bang batons against the door to ensure that they wake everyone up and disrupt their sleep. Others reported that most of the officers do try to be more quiet at night, although it is difficult.
Mr. O reported that the “welfare” checks can be heard from down the hall, and can be helpful during the day, because they provide consistency to when the guards do rounds, so they don’t show up at one’s cell unexpectedly.
Deplorable cell conditions were a recurring theme this visit and are affecting the mental and physical health of all inmates. Reports indicate that at random intervals, there will be no hot water for showers. Additionally, multiple people reported that the heat has been off for months, causing frigid temperatures, which make it difficult to maintain any quality of life. Others report that cold air is being blasted into their cells. The current temperatures are so cold that Mr. P reported wearing four layers of clothing at all times. He stated that in the past, heaters have worked. This reversal of appropriate air temperature in the vents is consistent with reports from the summer, where we heard that hot air was regularly blasted into the cells. The use of swamp heaters as temperature regulators must be properly maintained, or these results will occur.
This lack of attention to basic living conditions is another form of retaliation, and felt to be a deliberate attempt to weaken the men.
Outside supporters made phone calls to the Corcoran Warden, Ombudsman, and others, demanding an inspection of real temperature. After the calls and emailing, the prison reportedly took action. As of the time this paper went to print, we have not heard conclusively that these problems have been solved.
In addition to the cold water and cold air, one of the old buildings at Corcoran SHU, which includes a visitation area, has a leaking roof. The building is reportedly “drenched”, including dripping into individual cells, causing damage to personal belongings.
The small size of the cells is another factor adding to the discomfort of life in the SHU. This problem is more pronounced for individuals who have cellmates. Mr. I reported that having a cellmate in SHU presents a huge problem because the cells are too small for two human beings to coexist 24/7. Mr. I shared that the cells at Corcoran have no desk. He has constructed a desk using his bed and a pile of books, so that he can work throughout the day. However, when his cellmate returns from exercising, he takes a sponge bath, and the cell floor gets soaked. In order to protect his belongings, Mr. I disassembles his desk and moves all of his things off of the floor. He waits until his cellmate has finished bathing and the floor has dried before he once again rigs up his improvised desk, cutting into the productive hours of the day. Mr. I and his cellmate have worked out a “careful choreography” so that neither encroaches threateningly on the other’s space.
CELL SEARCHES AND PROPERTY LOSS
Reports indicate that cell raids and property confiscation of property occurs daily. Mr. U described the ongoing harassment he receives from correctional officers in the form of constant searches and the taking of property that he is allowed to have under Title 15. Officers have taken legal documents for ongoing litigation, photographs, and his small TV. “All I have that I hold dear.”
Several men expressed concerns that they would lose property in an upcoming transfer. For instance, Mr. Y currently has nearly 200 books, but was told he could only take 40 books with him. Unless he has enough funds to mail the books home, staff will discard them. Since books can only be sent to incarcerated individuals directly from the publisher, his family will be unable to return his books once he arrives at his new location.
Another regular frustration is that since the announced of the settlement in the Ashker v. Brown class action case challenging long term isolation (“Ashker,” or “the settlement”), the prison has increased the use of prison-wide lockdowns at Corcoran, without warning nor explanation. When the prison is on lockdown, individuals in the SHU’s already limited time out of their cell is curtailed, increasing the psychological effects of isolation.
FOOD AND NUTRITION
The food at Corcoran continues to be unsatisfactory; most men have come to expect this. Mr. D reports that his meals are often delivered on dirty trays with dried up, stale food from days earlier. There has reportedly been a shift from meat to mostly tofu, and limited ingredients in general. When chicken is served, it arrives cold or lukewarm, and always deboned, allegedly due to the risk of weapons being constructed out of the bones.
Mr. D reports that one officer has been messing with his food and serving him on dirty trays. He had heard that this officer was previously moved from another section in response to a group 602 about his tampering with food there.
Reports from individuals who had been transferred from the SHU to a general population yard (GP, or the “mainline”) at Corcoran were that the food in the SHU was immeasurably worse than what is served at the same facility to those on the mainline. Men recently released from the SHU are enjoying the upgrade in food quality and diversity. Mr. H shared the joy of eating a fried egg for the first time in years, while Mr. O spoke of thoroughly enjoying his first cup of hot coffee in over a decade. Another SHU survivor describes his elation at getting to eat a hot piece of chicken, still on the bone.
Mail is consistently delayed and frequently returned to sender without explanation. It is described as “sporadic” and “driving the men nuts.” Mr. W reported that his mail is regularly delayed up to six weeks with no explanation. Others described similar lengthy delays. One man stated that he believes much of his incoming mail is being returned due to the political nature of his letters. California Prison Focus received a written report stating that the Prison Focus Newsletter, Issue 47, which outlined the terms of the Ashker v. Brown settlement, was never distributed in his building. CPF did not receive any written report that the publication was restricted, as required by Title 15 when publications are banned.
One officer messes with both in- and outgoing mail so frequently that Mr. D only tries to send mail out when he knows that particular officer is off duty. Others stated that staff are not delivering all of the books that arrive in the mail. Several books that were sent to Mr. R by a CPF volunteer were never received. An officer informed this volunteer that the books may have come from a prohibited vendor, and would consequently be returned to the vendor. The vendor, however, never received the books back.
Mr. K reported that mail is often delivered around 9pm, after most men have gone to sleep. This does not allow time for the men to respond to letters right away, as they must go to sleep, but it also creates an environment where if somebody receives bad news, he explains, they are left to sit up all night thinking about it.
RULES VIOLATIONS, ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS, AND ACCESS TO THE COURTS
Recently, men have reported an increase in retaliation, especially around frivolous written violations (115s), obstruction of the 602 appeals process, and arbitrarily making life more difficult.
One issue we have received reports about from multiple institutions is the increase in attributing a security threat group, or “STG” nexus, to petty rules violations. For instance, Mr. W reported that simple fist fights, which were once a passing offense of little importance, are now being documented as gang activity. The settlement restricts the use of solitary confinement for STG affiliation, so this move to attach an “STG nexus” to disciplinary infractions is viewed as a tactic to ensure that people remain in the SHU for longer.
FORM 602 ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS
Multiple men reported that administrative appeals are nearly impossible to win. Even once granted on paper, it can be a further battle to convince the line staff to respect them. Reports indicate that at the first level of appeal, form 602s are regularly ignored, delayed until after the time limit to file, or “lost” by correctional officers. One must file a Request for Interview/Form 22 prior to reaching the appeals stage, but these forms are typically unavailable, or delivered too late. Staff delays to return denied 602s also cause problems, because individuals have a tight timeline to file a second level appeal. At any level, if an appeal is not filed timely, it is automatically denied. Mr. L uses a typewriter and occasionally goes over the form’s margins. In one case, an officer returned his appeals form and told him to rewrite it properly. After doing so, he was told that the deadline to submit his appeal had passed.
One written report explained the catch-22 that many individuals have with regard to 602 appeals: “I was sent to the SHU on some bogus charges [along with two co-defendants]…. I took all proper appeal steps to make sure my 602 got to them. They responded saying yes, but that a building had burned down, to bear with them and that I would hear back from them. 18 months went by so I appealed their delay because they have 90 days to answer a 602. Well, I got a letter advising me that I can’t appeal this but to send in a request for interview/22 Form to check the status on my appeal. So I did that and still no answer. It’s going on 21 months now. I don’t know what to do.” His co-defendants made a similar appeal and their case was dropped. “They are back on the mainline and I’m still here waiting.”
Many individuals stated that if the appeals process were handled independently and not by officers internal to the department, they believe they would see more fair results.
Those in active litigation reported that access to the law library is arbitrarily denied, and when individuals are provided access, they are not given enough time to get research completed before their court deadlines.
Mr. Q reported that it has been very difficult for family to obtain visiting appointments, discouraging family members and loved ones from coming to visit.
If individuals at Corcoran have more information about any of these issues, or others, you are invited to write to us and provide us with an updated report.
Mar 10, 2016
keywords: Welfare Checks, Sleep Deprivation, 115 Rules Violations
From Prison Focus Issue 48
This report is from letters and interviews of men at California Correctional Institution, aka Tehachapi. As in the past, we report all information anonymously to prevent retaliation from correctional officers by replacing individual’s names with random initials. The repetition of a certain initial does not indicate that the reporter of information is the same person.
There is a general consensus among the men who are currently or have previously been housed in Tehachapi that it is one of the worst CDCR prisons.
Many individuals reported that the medical care at Tehachapi is basically nonexistent. “Animals are treated better.” “The doctors don’t care.” One doctor at Tehachapi is colloquially referred to as “Dr. Death” because he does not give anyone the attention they need. Mr. J stated that the care he and others experienced could easily be malpractice; for instance, he has witnessed staff give people the wrong medication, with serious consequences. Because people fear that their condition will be made worse by the medical staff, Mr. J explained, maybe people forego medical treatment entirely.
Similar to reports at Pelican Bay, individuals told us that medications and medical devices that had been previously approved are taken or denied upon arrival to Tehachapi. Prescribed pain medications are replaced with Tylenol or Ibuprofen, without evaluation of an individual’s specific needs. Those with Hep C are thus at heightened risk of liver damage, due to the negative side effects that these drugs are known to have.
Mr. O reported that, after arriving at Tehachapi and having his pain medication taken away, replaced only with Tylenol, his daily pain is so bad that it is a challenge for him to make his bed or wash his face.
Delays in medical treatment are common and problematic. Mr. C reported that it took 3-4 months for him to get ringworm medicine. Mr. Y reported that he had a urinary tract infection for two weeks before he was able to see a doctor. When he finally got an appointment, the doctor told him that he could not be treated until he saw a specialist, and prescribed him Tylenol in the interim. As of the date of our interview, Mr. Y had still not seen a specialist. He stated his pain was excruciating and he was concerned he may have permanent damage. Mr. L reported that it took six months for him to see an optometrist.
Mr. E reported that there is no doctor/patient confidentiality at medical visits. Correctional officers are always present, and often make comments or laugh while someone is discussing a sensitive topic. Men do not feel safe speaking frankly about their medical conditions. Mr. M was concerned that doctors defer to custody staff and will not insist that an individual gets a particular medical device or another form of treatment that the person needs.
Many individuals reported that they have lingering conditions from their time as hunger strikers, and are not receiving appropriate care. For instance, Mr. F reported that his digestive system has never been the same since the last hunger strike, but the medical staff do not take his concerns seriously.
Cell conditions at Tehachapi are a consistent complaint from individuals there. Weekly supplies, such as bars of soap and other basic hygiene items, are not handed out regularly. Mr. U reported that he must request cleaning supplies several times before he receives them. Laundry is not picked up or provided for weeks at a time, leading some men to wash their clothes with their body soap in their tiny sink. Plumbing problems exacerbate these unsanitary conditions in the cells.
Similar to Corcoran SHU, numerous reports confirm the lack of heat and extremely cold temperatures in the SHU. “There is no such thing as a heater here, in Tehachapi SHU! As I write this letter I’m wearing, a set of thermals - top and bottom, sweats -top and bottom, two pairs of socks, and a beanie. Yet it’s still cold in my cell.” The A/C system is noisy and reportedly keeps men up at night. One man explained that he covers his vents to keep the cold air out, but then it gets really hot in his cell. Either way, he is uncomfortable.
Mr. N reported that when he first arrived at Tehachapi he had nothing in his cell by way of bedding except for a wool blanket. He was not issued a mattress or pillow for six weeks. Some men have allergic reactions to the wool blankets, but are refused requests for cotton blankets, even when they get a medical recommendation. Additionally, officers are not following the property matrix and are not handing out the allowable amount of T-shirts.
TREATMENT BY CUSTODY
We continue to receive reports of unnecessary violence by correctional officers. Mr. S reported that correctional officers will gas men in their holding cells for no apparent reason, and do not hesitate to “take down” or slam individuals against the wall during movement outside of the cell. Certain officers regularly make racist remarks, and overall there is a palpable lack of respect and dignity afforded to individuals in the SHU, which sours relations and makes it difficult to have basic interactions.
Mr. I reported that correctional officers drag their feet when any kind of request is made, causing long, unnecessary delays. Mr. R reported that officers unprofessional and bring their issues from home to work. Mr. U reported that often, administrative appeals are subject to delay in processing, leading to an automatic denial for timeliness.
Reports regarding access to yard are varied. Some report that they have been getting regular access to yard time, typically every other day. Others reported that yard cancellations are common, and the men do not receive yard credit, even when it is cancelled for weeks at a time. Mr. A reported that when there are staff trainings, there is no yard at all. Still others reported that while they might receive the mandated 7 hours of weekly yard time, they may be getting out of their cell only once or twice a week. Mr. Q reported that he is only let out for yard twice a week for 3.5 hours each time. Mr. U reported that he was only provided yard once a week, for five hours.
In the past year, reported indicated that shower time has been cut down to two showers per week, for five minutes each. “The five minutes include showering, shaving and clipping nails.” The moment the five minutes is up, the guards prop open the door and tell them to get out.
Property confiscation is an ongoing problem, and individuals believe that it is intentional and used against people as a form of retaliation. “Everyone is losing property.” According to Mr. Y, 99% of people have at least one piece of property stolen, lost or destroyed upon arrival at Tehachapi. Many people have lost TVs and family pictures in the transport from Pelican Bay (PBSP) to Tehachapi.
Due to the settlement, individuals are getting processed out of the SHU. Once they are approved for transfer, however, many report being held in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) for weeks, sometimes months, on their way to a GP yard. During this time, individuals are not able to have all of their property or access to programming.
FOOD AND NUTRITION
Reports continue to reveal that the food is cold, with small portions, and not nutritious. “The food is cold, gross and thrown sloppily onto dirty trays.” “It’s always the same.” Mr. G reported that the water has a bad taste and is “milky” coming out of the tap. Requests for clean bottled water are denied. Mr. H reported that when he first arrived at Tehachapi, he got food poisoning, probably from the dirty trays that often have dried up food on them, from past meals.
The 30-minute “welfare checks”, as at other facilities, cause problems for the individuals at Tehachapi. [See article on welfare checks, p. _]. Reports indicate that it depends on the individual officers as to how much noise and disturbance they create. Some try to be more respectful, but it is still impossible to sleep through the night. Correctional officers bang on the doors and sometimes shine a light in the cell. Multiple people have sent CPF written reports describing the effects of constant sleep deprivation.
Several men have reported that rules violation reports (Form 115s) are issued liberally for trivial matters. Rather than trying to informally resolve issues, officers will immediately turn to the form 115. For example, Mr. S reported that individuals get written up for talking to other people while out at yard, and that if the violation ever involves another person, gang activity, or an “STG nexus” is alleged on the 115. Additionally, men are written up for sharing a book or magazine, even if the item is not contraband.
Mr. G reported that personal possessions he has had in his cell for a long time were all of a sudden grounds for a rules violation. Mr. G had an article discussing political history, and had written questions on the margin. He stated that his cell had been searched many times before, and that document had never been considered contraband. Recently, however, the document was taken, and he was given an 115. He was told that as a result, he might be moved back a (SDP) step, and his time in the SHU would therefore be extended.
Mr. C received an 115 because a note was found in someone else’s cell in another prison, which allegedly had his name on it and referred to “handling his business”. Mr. C was accused of gang acting in a leadership role with an STG-nexus. He was not given any additional information, but told that all other details were confidential, not giving him an opportunity to defend himself. Nevertheless, he was found guilty and lost his privileges for 90 days. He requested a hearing with a witness, but was told that it was was inconsequential because he had already been found guilty. Often men will appeal the 115s, but according to Mr. C, only caucasian men are able to get their 115s dismissed.
Access to education is difficult because very little education is provided, and there is a lot of red tape. It takes several weeks before one gets access to the library, and sometimes longer. Attaining books by request is very slow as well. Mr. Z reported that it took multiple requests over the course of week to receive a single book. Mr. O reported that it has taken up to five months to receive a requested book. Mr. T reported that the men share educational books and magazines with with one another, but this act of solidarity runs the risk of receiving a 115 for gang activity. In the law library, the computers are hard to use and few people know how to access the information they need.
One reporter indicated that there is little basic education afforded for those with low basic skills. Mr. R had been trying to enroll in a GED program for many weeks, and at the time of our interview, had yet to be approved. There are theoretically educational programs on TV channels, but the service television service is so bad that the men are not able to learn anything. Mr. U reported that he had to drop out of his college course, because he was not able to watch the course videos on the TV. He is frustrated and bored, and is concerned that the lack of educational progress will reflect poorly on his parole application.
Mail delivery, both incoming and outgoing, is a regular issue at Tehachapi. Individuals reported that their mail disappears frequently at Tehachapi, never to be seen again. Men are concerned and upset at how much mail is intercepted. One gentleman reported receiving a stack of his mail, dated several months back. Mr. H reported that officers pilfer food items out of incoming packages sent by loved ones. Mr. Z reported that there is always something missing from his packages. Mr. E reported that he has received letters that refer to pictures, but that the pictures were missing. According to Title 15, if something is withheld from a letter or package, the person should receive a written slip or report, but officers do not follow this regulation. Even more troubling, we have received reports that legal mail is opened and tampered with upon delivery.
Individuals have expressed concern about the policy where prisoners can be penalized for the contents of incoming mail, when they have no control over what others might send them. Mr. K reported that he was issued a 115 rules violation after receiving a letter that had a picture of a family member who had recently gotten out of prison. The formerly incarcerated individual was not the one who wrote the letter, and Mr. K had not asked for the picture to be sent.
Mr. C reports that his niece is the only person that writes to him and she often calls him “tio” or “uncle”, but Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) deem these terms to be evidence of gang affiliation, and thus confiscate his niece’s letters. They took another letter away from Mr. C because of so-called third party communication; The writer had said, “I ran into so and so and they said hi.”
Mr. R reports that his artwork is often confiscated for no reason. When he tries to send drawings home to his family, they are never received. Some people have restricted mail to family, if the family member is suspected by IGI of gang affiliation, but Mr. R is unaware of any mail restriction in his case.
Visiting procedures at Tehachapi are cumbersome and arbitrary, discouraging family members from coming to visit. Individuals report arbitrary exclusion at the gate, even when an individual has been approved and is wearing appropriate clothing. Mr. U reported that his family lives over 150 miles away, making them eligible for an extra hour of visiting time, but their visits are regularly cut short. Mr. L reported that on one occasion, his visit with loved ones was cut short due to space considerations, and after his family was escorted out, he was left waiting in the visiting cell for over an hour before he was returned to his cell. It was frustrating, Mr. L reported, because he was unable to see his family often, and they could have kept visiting for at least another hour.
Mar 10, 2016
keywords: Department Review Board, Welfare Checks, 115 Rule Violation Reports, 602 Administrative Appeals, Ashker v. Brown Settlement, Agreement to End Hostilities
From Prison Focus Issue 48
In mid-November, 2015, CPF conducted legal visits with 16 men who are in Pelican Bay State Prison. In the wake of the Ashker v. Governor settlement (Ashker, or, “the settlement”) on September 1, 2015, and with the torturous “security/welfare checks” that started on August 2, 2015 in Pelican Bay SHU, these interviews provide us important insight into the lives and conditions for those in the SHU. In order to preserve confidentiality, names of the men have been anonymized and replaced with random initials. The repetition of a letter does not indicate that the reporter of the facts is the same.
Many talked about their recent and current experiences with Departmental Review Board (DRB), and, now after the settlement, the Institutional Classifications Committee (ICC). Due to the settlement, people are getting moved around; some of our interviewees had recently arrived to Pelican Bay from other SHUs. Of those who are long-termers at Pelican Bay, only some have had a transfer hearing; many are still waiting. The ICC claims that they are “backlogged” because they are now required to review so many people for transfer out of the SHU. M. G’s counselor said there are 110 people in line ahead of him and she could not give him a timeline. Mr. X was told he would be transferred to Pleasant Valley, but as of the date of our interview, he was still waiting to be transferred. Mr. J reported that a friend of his had been waiting seven months to be transferred, and he finally left to Salinas the day before our interview, along with 25 other people. Mr. P was told that he would be moved to another SHU. Mr. U was placed in the Step Down Program (SDP). Mr. K was re-validated at his ICC review, and was told that he would remain at Pelican Bay SHU. Mr. G reported that he saw the ICC and they “elevated” his case to the DRB.
Reports indicate that case-by-case reviews are also delayed due to the settlement. Mr. R is waiting for his case-by-case case review; he was told it would happen before the end of the year, but now with the settlement he has no idea.
Everyone knows at least one person who has been released to a general population yard (GP, or “mainline”). It was reported that there were at least four men who had been released from the Pelican Bay SHU to the Pelican Bay mainline, but all were soon put into Ad-Seg “based on confidential information.” Many people expressed concern about getting put back in the SHU as soon as they are released to mainline, with the same lack of due process afforded to them as their earlier placement. “They call you ‘asleep’ once you have been let out into GP and then if you get any 115’s, then you are ‘activated’ and sent right back in the hole.”
Medical issues are a major concern at Pelican Bay. Five people reported that upon transfer from another facility to Pelican Bay, the doctor was instructing guards to take away eyeglasses. Mr. V reported that when he was transferred to Pelican Bay SHU, everyone on the bus with him had their medication taken away. Those who had eyeglasses taken away reported that they were told their eyes need to be worse to meet PSBP standards. Mr. W was told he no longer qualified for Hep C medication. Mr. J has had cancer medication withheld. He reported symptoms including pain, exhaustion, and dizziness, but was told that he would only be entitled to medication once the cancer reached stage four. Mr. C developed eczema while in SHU and is getting nothing for relief. Mr. D is ADA-classified but the doctor has refused to prescribe both his pain and nerve medication. Despite clear diagnoses to the contrary, he is now told his only condition is arthritis. Mr. F reported that he has serious medical problems and has applied for ADA-classification but it has been denied. Many reported that the doctor will not give new medications or make referrals. Mr. T reported that he filed a medical 602 appeals form for a needed medical appliance, but it was denied and as a consequence, he is in constant pain.
The “security/welfare” checks are also causing serious medical problems. Supposedly a mental health directive, the “security/welfare” checks consist of 30-minute rounds conducted by guards where a metal wand must connect with a magnet placed near cell doors. Due to all the metal and concrete in the design at Pelican Bay, as well as the malicious intent of certain guards required to conduct the checks, the checks are extremely loud and disruptive, where banging and clanging can be heard from many cells away and continue as guards march up and down stairs to get to the upper pod. Because the checks are conducted every half hour, including throughout the night, men have been unable to sleep through the night since August 2, 2015, and the sleep deprivation is taking its toll. Many people reported medical problems attributed to sleep deprivation, including shortness of breath, hyperventilation, trouble breathing, chest pains, irregular heartbeat, and exhaustion. Earplugs have been passed out, but they are not sufficient to block the noise from the guards. The men reported that the amount of noise depends on which guards are on duty, but reported that even those guards who are respectful and trying to be quiet can't avoid waking people up, especially due the noise associated with opening and closing of the electric steel doors. Mr. L reported that some people are beginning to adjust to the noise and are able to sleep through it for some of the rounds, but even so, everyone continues to be sleep deprived.
People outside the walls are organizing against the checks. One man reported seeing one such protest on the local news, which gave him hope for change.
The 30-minute checks are not only impacting sleep for the men, but also affecting programming. Mr. H reported that the men are not getting full yard time because of delay related to the “welfare” checks. Also, it can take up to 30 minutes to be moved to the yard, so time is often cut short once you get there. There have also been changes to access to yard since the Ashker settlement. Before, men were allowed to take water to yard and come back to their cell to use the restroom. Now they are not allowed to have water or use the restroom in their cell during yard time. These new limitations are retaliation in response to the settlement. Mr. U stated, “Once they start taking 'small stuff,' when you are used to your program, it really starts affecting you.” Mr. V reported that some C/Os are now counting shower time as exercise time.
Limited educational programming is available. There is pre-GED education, GED education, and some college courses, although you have to pay for college. Since the settlement, there is also some creative programming, such as guitar lessons (without an actual guitar). Mostly, educational opportunities consist of anger management, victim awareness, and other self-help courses. College education includes courses from Coastline Community College and the “College Guild.” Individuals must purchase their own textbooks, which are expensive. Mr. K reported that the C/Os create delay by not responding to applications to begin educational courses, pass out materials days and sometimes weeks late, and do not play the correct videos during the scheduled times. There is no access to any vocational training opportunities.
PROPERTY, CELL SEARCHES, AND MORE
Individuals who have recently been moved into Pelican Bay expressed complaints about the loss of personal property during their transfer. In addition to the loss of prescribed medications and eyeglasses, people reported that legal materials, a typewriter, a TV, clothes, and other personal property do not arrive with the person to Pelican Bay. Mr. X reported that he had consulted the property matrix for Pelican Bay and only brought allowable items, but upon arrival, was simply told those items were not allowed. Mr. B reported that it took over 2 and a half months for him to receive his property after a transfer from Tehachapi; Mr. I reported that it took over six months for him to receive all of his property back after he arrived at the Bay.
Several men reported that cell searches are common at Pelican Bay. Mr. M reported that it is rare for the C/Os to do large sweeps, but small searches. Other concerns include the fact that men who had tried to get a cellmate have been denied. One was told he was “incompatible.” No one had been successful have been getting a double cell. There were 6 open in November 2015 and the guards want a couple people on the higher floor to move into them so they don't have to walk so far.
Mail has been erratic. Some men reported that their mail has been late because of the IGI interference, anywhere from 10 days to a month late. With the “security/welfare” checks, guards are telling the men that they no longer have time to process mail; each shift is leaving the mail for the next shift. Mail used to be delivered earlier in the day, but now sometimes does not get delivered until 8 or 9pm, which is too late to respond until the next day. Mr. U reported that the timestamp of his mail is ripped off by the time he receives it; he believes this is to cover up the fact that the mail had arrived at the facility days before, but was delayed in getting to him. Mr. E reported that mail he had sent out marked LEGAL mail was returned to him opened. Mr. W reported that a book was sent to him, but was retruned to sender because it wasn’t from a bookstore. Individuals CPF interviewed who had moved from the SHU to general population reported that mail service was not delayed in that part of the prison but is processed timely.
FOOD AND NUTRITION
The food at Pelican Bay is notoriously bland, cold, and innutritious. Recent reports confirm that nothing has changed. The food “sucks,” has no flavor, arrives cold, and with small portions. Some say it is the worst food in the CA prison system, but others say they've had worse at Tehachapi. Many have reported that since their participation in the hunger strike, they have been unable to regain the lost weight. Individuals with special diets particularly suffer. Mr. E is diabetic and, while he gets sugar-free pudding, he also gets very unhealthy food for diabetics including pasta, bread, and ice cream. He said that a diabetic specialist was the one deciding his diet. Mr. O is on the Kosher diet and reports the portion sizes are tiny and his food is very repetitive. Mr. T reported that due to the 30-minute checks, meals are not delivered on time, but will be left to sit out for up to an hour at times while C/Os do checks.
Individuals who had been moved from the SHU into the GP yard at Pelican Bay report that meal service is far superior than what is served in the SHU. Hot meals are actually warm, the meat is better quality, and portions are more reasonable.
RULES VIOLATIONS, ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS AND ACCESS TO THE COURTS
Men reported that overall, the use of 115s (rule violation reports) has increased since the announcement of the settlement. Several individuals reported that they had received 115s for petty offenses, things that previously had not led to a violation, and for incidents that had nothing to do with the individual. Mr. T reported that there has been an increase in 115s with an “STG-nexus,” because under the settlement, behavior must be linked to an STG in order to be a “SHU-able offense.” Mr. Z reported that he received a 115 for a “conspiracy” case that he believes had nothing to do with him. He was told the evidence for his 115 was based on “confidential information,” so he had no opportunity to defend himself. Mr. U has heard of multiple reports where individuals are receiving 115s for “acting in a leadership role,” with an STG-nexus, which are nearly always based on “confidential information.” Mr. D was issued a 115 for receiving a letter that was written in a “gang font.” Mr. C was issued a 115 after a cell raid where an extra water bottle was found in his cell. Mr. V, a documented vegetarian, was issued a 115 after he refused a tray that had meat on it.
Individuals who had filed 602s reported that it continues to be rare to see a 602 granted. Multiple people have filed 602s regarding property that was never returned after a move. Mr. M’s 602 was “partially granted” in that some, but not all, of the property was returned to him; Mr. E’s 602 on this was still pending at the time of the interview. Mr. G reported that he knew of one individual who won a 602 because his legal mail was not opened in his presence. Mr. Q filed a 602 regarding money sent by his family; neither he, nor his family, have had the money returned. Mr. O filed a 602 to protest C/Os refusal to honor a scheduled visit with an attorney. He was told the C/Os were backed up due to the 30 minute checks and they would not have time to transfer him to the visiting room.
Access to the law library continues to be difficult. According to Mr. L, use of the law library is “like pulling teeth. The guards insist that they do not have enough staff to escort people around the prison. Two individuals reported that it was so difficult and frustrating to get into the law library that they have ceased to pursue their legal claims over rights violations. Mr. Y reported that for his neighbor, it regularly takes about a month to get in after putting in a request. Mr. A reported that he has only had access to the law library a total of ten hours in the past 90 days. Mr. T, who has spent time at both Corcoran SHU and Pelican Bay SHU, noted that the library in Corcoran was much better stocked, with access to highlighters, whiteout, a hole-punch, and other basic office supplies. None of these items are available at Pelican Bay.
Mr. K reported that if someone is in the law library, they are not allowed to leave and re-enter for any purpose, including to use the bathroom. This means that if someone is at the library for 2-4 hours, they cannot go to the bathroom during that time. This is a barrier as well for some people in trying to access the library.
AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
The Agreement to End Hostilities, penned by men in the short corridor at Pelican Bay in October 2012, continues to play an important role in race and group relations at Pelican Bay. Mr. Y stated that he thinks the Agreement is working out well, but that some people try to sabotage it, namely the C/Os, who continue to try to stir animosity among groups. Mr. B reported that there is now more dialogue among all racial groups, especially in Corcoran and Pelican Bay. Two men reported that on the 23rd of each month in general population (GP), people of all races play basketball, horseshoes, handball, touch football. Individuals who had formerly been in the SHU and were transferred to general population through the DRB were the first to initiate these games, then others in GP came on board. Also, on the 23rd of each month, people in GP walk around the yard with someone from a different race to talk.
Mr. Q said that he believes the solidarity of the hunger strike made the gang investigation team think they are losing power. He feels there is more respect for one other now. The men inside understand that system is out to get them and the way to beat it is through organizing, writing, and protest; violence doesn't work anymore because it can be used against them.
Aug 20, 2015
keywords: Medical neglect, Mental Health, 602 Administrative Appeals, Retaliation
From Prison Focus Issue 46
“He is so obviously intelligent and so obviously an example of the human resources that our society tosses down the drain…” CPF Legal Investigator
This report is based on information received through written correspondence and interviews with incarcerated men at Corcoran State Prison (COR). The interviews were conducted with over 25 men, in June and July of this year. To prevent retaliation, we have refrained from using names, and use random initials instead. All quotes are from incarcerated men at COR.
TREATMENT OF INVESTIGATORS
Treatment of CPF Legal Investigators by COR staff reflects the challenges faced by other prisoner advocates and loved ones who seek to visit COR SHU inmates and those at other facilities as well. One must question the underlying intentions of COR and CDCR officials in creating the unnecessary but numerous hurdles that potential visitors must jump through. When CPF investigators arrived at COR on the scheduled time, arranged and approved in advance, they were given the run-around. First they were told there was no record that they were coming and that they would have to reschedule. After insisting otherwise, they were sent to another location on the prison grounds, where they were also informed that there was no record of their visit. Finally, after much cajoling, someone took the names of the men that the CPF investigators had on their visiting list, and disappeared into an office. The investigators were sent to wait in an empty room. 55 minutes later and without a word from any guards, one of the CPF workers left the room to find out what was going on, and they were finally allowed in. The interviewees had been waiting for an equally long time, shackled and without explanation for the delay. Consequently, the interviews were behind schedule even before they had begun. Between visits, guards were nowhere to be found. Investigators had to spend time looking for guards to move men into the visiting rooms. As a result of lost time, several visits had to be cut short. During one visit, staff brought the wrong person for the visit, then refused to allow visitors to talk to him, and would not bring the requested person out.
Investigators stated that the prison was filthy, had roaches everywhere and dust covered every surface. This dust blows in from off of the Valley Fever-ridden Central Valley floor and from the ubiquitous, squalid feed lots, within the vicinity of which the prison is located. The visiting rooms were described as unbearably hot, dirty and uncomfortable. One room had swastikas carved into the glass, and another one had so many markings on the window it was hard to see through. The seats for the imprisoned individuals were awkwardly placed on the opposite wall as the phone so that most of the men either stood up or knelt on the floor throughout the entire interview. Those who used the chairs were forced to look across a line down the middle of the glass in order to see the visitor, who also has to crane around this line. The phone line had horrible static and were ramped up to top volume with no controls, limiting communication and clarity.
“State medical care at Corcoran is practically non-existent.” And the substandard level of care that is provided exasperates the already compromised health of men in the COR SHU. There are significant delays and one can expect to wait for weeks or even months to receive a response after submitting a medical request. It took RG two years to receive the appropriate treatment for a torn muscle. It can take two to three years of administrative hoops to receive surgery. Quick medical attention can be received only in extremely dire situations, and even then men may suffer or die from delays. Pain and other medications are denied regularly. Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requests are blatantly denied, as with one man who was not allowed to have his wheelchair in the cell with him, and consequently spent most of 24 hours a day lying on his cold, concrete slab, unable even to write.
Both high blood pressure and diabetes are poorly managed at COR and are exasperated by the lack of fresh or nutritious food. BK, who does not have access to diabetic meals, skips eating parts of his regular meals in order to restrict his sugar intake, but consequently restricts his nutritional intake as well. His strength suffers as a consequence. QY has been unable to acquire the glasses recommended for him by an ophthalmologist, and is unable to get the recommended surgery due to cost.
Men who participated in the hunger strike are still paying the price for their commitment. Many suffer from on-going health problems. (See more below). Medications continue to be denied and withheld regularly. Medical appointments (as well as time in the library) are reportedly counted as yard, and is marked in the records as yard time provided, and yard time taken.
Over the past few decades, prisons and jails have become the largest warehousers of Californians who suffer from mental illness. Huge numbers of mentally ill men and women languish within California’s solitary confinement cells - possibly up to a third of those in the SHU - despite recognition that solitary confinement worsens psychiatric conditions and causes severe suffering.
The following statement, made by an incarcerated individual at COR regarding mental illness on the mainline of California prisons is relevant to the SHU as well: The increase of prisoners suffering from mental illness reflects the “criminalization of mental illness upon the closure of state hospitals. Mainline prisons are insane asylums; inmates desperately need psych evals and are not getting it… The cops [guards] don’t know how to deal with mentally ill inmates. They just know how to [pepper] spray them… Some get meds, but they’re zombie meds.”
Corcoran (and other California maximum security prisons) have special solitary confinement units for the mentally ill, called Psychiatric Services Units (PSU) which separate mentally ill inmates from the rest of the SHU population. These units are part of what former state prisons director Michael Stainer’s described as his intent to "offer a robust mental health program" within "alternative segregated housing." The question of whether severe isolation could ever be consistent with successful mental health treatment is irrelevant, because men with severe mental illnesses are still being housed in the ordinary SHU. The men are told that this is due to space issues, but many are adamant that this is a method of retaliation against other men in the SHU.
We received conflicting reports regarding psychiatric checks. One man stated that the psych tech does walk-by check-ins every one-two weeks; Another man reported that psychiatric checks happen every 90 days. There is reportedly little to no mental health treatment provided, at least no treatment of substance. Also, it is difficult to attain one’s mental health records which may be needed for hearings, lawsuits, etc.
Men are also suffering from nightly sleep deprivation due to the poorly-named practice of “wellness checks,” which consist of guards banging metal against cell doors every ½ hour, 24/7. At Pelican Bay, it has been reported that they are no longer conducting wellness checks. However, we received reports from COR that they are happening and continue to be disruptive to the men’s sleep.
Many men are being transferred to COR from both Tehachapi and Pelican Bay SHUs. (Exact numbers not available due to lack of state or CDCR mandates to keep records.) As a result of all the transfers, many people in the COR SHU are being moved around right now. All of the transfers combined with understaffing is thought to be the cause of increased disruptions to yard, shower, infirmary and library access.
Conditions at COR continue to be reprehensible. According to PK, “The laundry is terrible and dirty; [The] buildings and everything in them is filthy.” Poor ventilation, which has been a problem at Corcoran for years has not yet been addressed by administration. The poor ventilation along with all of the dust and filth in the air is very problematic for everyone, and especially for those with asthma and compromised immune systems.. DV, for example, explained that the stuffy heat affects his respiration, ability to exercise and to sleep. TM explained that the air circulation is hot and slow in the summer and blows strong and cold in the winter. Prisoners are uncomfortable year round. Perhaps COR administration has not found the issue to be urgent as all staff areas reportedly have functioning air conditioning and heating systems. There has been no hot water in the 4A corridor for more than two months.
CONFISCATION AND DESTRUCTION OF PERSONAL BELONGINGS
Men who have been transferred to COR SHU from other institutions systematically report that guards have lost, destroyed, or confiscated their property upon arrival. Many have been waiting to get their belongings back for 1-2 months. Some have never gotten their property returned. NB, who lost half of his belongings in his transfer from another prison, filed a 602 to get his property back, which was denied. MH has been waiting two months to have his special glasses returned to him, which were prescribed to him before arriving at COR, were expensive and paid for by his family. He also filed a 602 which had thus far accomplished nothing. PR described a cell search in which he believes coffee was intentionally spilled all over his books.
The 602s process at COR is not an effective system, and can barely be considered due process. 602s frequently receive blanket denials. Often there is no response at all after a 602 has been submitted. 602-related retaliation is a serious risk. BM voiced concerns that 602s are not treated as confidential legal mail. This creates more potential for COs to screen out 602s and to retaliate, and allows for greater delays then if 602s were to be classified as legal mail. SD has been placed in Ad. Seg. and the SHU repeatedly for purported gang-related offenses.
Write-ups are often issued over petty acts, and punishments are random and left to the whim of a given guard. Reports indicate that 115s are used as retaliation and to suppress the voices of those who speak up for their rights. JB explained that there are not too many write-ups being issued for talking, “except for certain people.” Those who are targeted are written up for the slightest missteps, such as greeting a friend in passing. If one received a 115 for participating in the hunger strike, and another one for saying “hello” in passing to somebody who is validated as a gang associate, or for sending a drawing home that allegedly has gang-related symbols in it, you are apt to spend more years in solitary confinement than if you kill a fellow prisoner. One man who was an avid participant in the hunger strikes has received three written violations since then; one for the participating in the strike, one for a strike-related drawing and one for a fictional piece of writing. All three were written up as “gang-related activity.”
LACK OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
There continues to be little access to programs and educational opportunities in COR SHU. Because of the cost for private courses and textbooks, education beyond a GED is inaccessible to many. PR, who reads at a 3rd grade level and receives no help for his educational pursuits, explained that working on his legal materials is very difficult. Others striving to educate themselves are frustrated at having their efforts at self-rehabilitation so thoroughly stifled.
Retaliation is routine and typically involves the issuance of 115s, moving men around within and between prisons and cell searches, which usually result in property loss and subsequent 115s. Withholding mail, showers and yard are among the many other methods of staff retribution towards SHU prisoners, especially those who outwardly challenge the system.
MAIL AND INMATE FUNDS
Mail service fluctuates and continues to be problem. It can bedelayed for up to two months, and then arrives all at once in a bundle. It is routinely lost or destroyed and prisoners believe mail is tampered with as a form of retaliation. Outgoing mail is often delayed or not received at all. Men from COR SHU voice their concern that some mail never leaves the facility at all. Another reported problem is that the confidentiality of legal mail is compromised and read outside of the presence of the prisoner, against regulations.
Family members now must use an online system called J-Pay to send money to their loved ones. There are no longer other options. This is a problem because it requires access to a computer and knowing how to use it. This creates increased barriers for those whose loved ones do not have these resources.
Access to the law library continues to be terrible.“You can only get library access if you make a fuss.” The waiting time can be months. One can only be sure of receiving library time if a legal deadline is approaching. However, even then one must wait before receiving their mandated time in the library. PP stated that this makes it difficult for men to prepare for cases in advance. As with medical appointments, time in the library is counted as a substitute for yard time.
Yard and showers are inconsistent, and even more so on weekends. Cancellations and disruptions occur regularly. If an incident occurs in one corridor, yard is suspended for everyone. Consequently, men are not receiving the full two hours, three times a week yard time that they are supposed to. Though sometimes staff offers make-up yard time, where one can get several hours at yard, all at one time, one is then at yard alone whereas normally the adjacent cages are full. At Corcoran SHU, this is one of the only times one is in the immediate presence of others who are not guards, though talking is still prohibited. But even make-up yard is inconsistent. We received a conflicting report that make-up yard used to be offered, but no longer is.
There has also been less access to showers lately, and some reported having no access at all. Consequently, men use their sinks to wash themselves. As reported above, there has been not hot water for showering or otherwise in 4A for weeks at a time.
Reports indicate that most of the men in COR SHU remain hungry most of the time, and that the food served at continues to be barely edible. The food is “worse than at Pelican Bay – much worse. Just garbage, in fact…and of course it’s dirty because the whole place is filthy.” Meals are delivered uncovered between facilities across the yard and arrive lukewarm and dusty. DV stated that the food is so bad that it has caused him to vomit on more than one occasion.. TR refuses to call it “food”. After the hunger strike there were reportedly more bugs and hair in the food, than usual. PR reported finding pincer bugs in his food. He also lost a filling when he bit into a rock in his food. He had been waiting over eight months to get his filling fixed, at the time of the interview.
Insufficient portions, which reportedly became smaller after the hunger strike, are especially problematic considering the lack of nutritional value of the food that is provided. Men remain hungry unless they are able to supplement their meals with canteen food, which they must purchase themselves. Those who are indigent cannot count on supplementing their food intake with canteen purchases. KJ explained that on the months when he is not able to go to the canteen he loses 1-2 pounds.
This June and July, Muslims observed the holiday of Ramadan, where they are required to fast during the daylight hours for a lunar month. This year was particularly difficult because Ramadan passed over the summer solstice, which is the longest day of every year. Individuals in the SHU observed Ramadan and were told that they would be provided with a feast on the final night, when the fast was to over. Despite that promise, they were not given any meal at all on that night. Instead, one was told that there would be a “feast” the following day. Of course there was no feast, and he received his regular hallal meal the following day, which included insufficient portions, as usual. A group 602 was submitted in regards to the withholding of a meal at the end of Ramadan.
THOUGHTS ON THE HUNGER STRIKE
Hunger strike participants (and even those who did not participate) continue to experience strike-related retaliation in one form or another. EA, who lost his visiting privileges without clear reason, believes this was an act of retaliation for his participation in the hunger strike. NG stated that the consequences for him have been problematic but that the strike was worth even the small changes he has seen. He explained that he now has a different relationship with food, and to eating in general, and often cannot face eating at all. Many hunger strikers are still suffering from subsequent health problems. MH said he has still has not gained all of the weight back that he lost, and he has had two undocumented “man downs” since the strike, due to his compromised health. However he also stated, emphatically, that despite his health issues and the retaliation, he is glad he participated in the hunger strike and that it was worth the sacrifice. Other participants voiced feeling proud of having been a part of it and hold no regrets.
Aug 20, 2015
keywords: Medical Neglect, 602 Administrative Appeals, Agreement to End Hostilities
From Prison Focus Issue 46
“People are coming out of the SHU skinny and pale. Their minds are effected… It start to change you.” Anonymous
This report is based on information received through written correspondence and interviews with incarcerated men at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP). The interviews were conducted with 38 men, in March and June of this year. This report does not cover the Step Down Program (SDP) or Department Review Board (DRB), both of which are covered in a separate SDP/DRB report. All quotes were made by incarcerated men at PBSP.
The medical care at PBSP has not improved. CPF continues to receive reports of denied, untimely and less than inadequate care. It is widely believed among prisoners that withholding medical care is used as a method of retaliation. Doctors reportedly do not listen to the men and are falsifying information in prisoners’ charts. Some falsely claim that their patient turned down treatment. They downplay the symptoms and undermine men's claims in order to withhold medications and treatments. For example, one person reported that medical staff misrepresented his medical issues in his records, downplaying the degree of pain he was experiencing, and was consequently denied pain medications. Another person reported a severe skin condition that was classified as cosmetic and treatment was denied.
Medications are frequently confiscated upon arrival at PBSP, including from those with severe conditions such as chronic degenerative disc disease. After one person’s pain medications were confiscated, he was “barely able to get aspirin.” When a condition is chronic, such as allergies, instead of automatic renewal of their medications, they must make a medical request for an appointment each time their medication runs out, and pay for each appointment. Others have been told that their medications will be returned once they get to the mainline. In addition, some men refuse to go to the infirmary because it is “too risky” and “too dirty”. One reported that he will not even go to the infirmary, for fear that he will lose the medications he already has.
Items such as glasses, compression stockings for high blood pressure, back braces and canes are regularly denied or confiscated, from both the men already at PBSP, and those just arriving from other prisons. One man reported that he had his back brace confiscated when he arrived from Corcoran. He had to put in a new request, and go through the lengthy process of reacquiring the necessary items, a process he presumably already went through at Corcoran. Another man had his reading glasses confiscated upon arrival at PBSP and was made to order new ones through the prison canteen.
Men who suffer from Hepatitus C, which is rampant in California prisons, are not given access to medications known to prevent the onset of symptoms. MERS, a potentially fatal respiratory infection, and staph infections are not being treated properly. High blood pressure is widespread. Substandard food and excessive amounts of stress contribute to widespread hypertension and diabetes. Poor environmental conditions aggravate pre-existing health problems, while creating new ones. The alternate blowing of cold or hot air into the cells exasperates men’s aches and pain and promotes the flu and other illnesses.
Even if decent medical care was provided, the health of all men in solitary confinement would remain compromised due to the horrible conditions, food and abuse. Those who are in good health when admitted inevitably develop health problems that will almost certainly go left untreated.
Few challenge the fact that solitary confinement and extreme sensory deprivation negatively effect mental health. Men who did not suffer from mental health problems before solitary confinement, report developing problems that worsen with time spent in the SHU. Simply put by one person, “It starts to change you.” One man, recently released from the SHU to the mainline and allowed to have contact visits again, described how his deteriorating mental health and auditory hallucinations affected his visits with his wife. He explained that the movement of shadows was disconcerting, “like [the shadow of] a bird on the yard; you can’t figure out where it comes from and it’s paralyzing.”
Other reports describe memory loss, and becoming over- reactive to sounds while other sense are dulled. Aggression and depression escalate. Tempers are ignited with little or even no provocation.
We were informed that at some prisons mental health professionals distribute games and puzzles, but this does not happen at PBSP. Nevertheless, some men engage in activities such as math and mind games that help to stimulate his mind. One such example is a man who said he is trying to stave off losing his sanity “like my neighbors have.” Mental health check-ins are reportedly happening about once a week through the cell door.
CONFISCATION OF PERSONAL BELONGINGS
Cells are often searched when the men are not present but are at yard, in the shower or at a hearing of any sort. The prison confiscates many personal items, like letters and photos, that provide these men with some of the very few comforts they have. Items that one has had in their cells for years may be suddenly removed without explanation, and/or become a piece of evidence used towards validation, such as a photo of a friend or parent that the prison alleges is a gang associate. “IGI is saying that playing cards and pictures with puppy dogs are contraband.” One reported that photos and address book and family photos which were confiscated over a year ago have not been returned because, he was told, they are part of a pending IGI investigation.
The loss and destruction of important court papers is especially problematic. One individual had to start over on a prop 36 resentencing petition after IGI confiscated his legal papers, claiming that the witness list was a prohibited 3rd party communication.
Men arriving at PBSP from other prisons are systematically having their belongings taken or lost. Again, important documents frequently come up missing. The men are rarely allowed to keep all of the items that were approved at the prison from which they arrived, including medications, medical aids, extension cords, headphone extensions, FM tuners, grey sweatshirts and black shoes (shoes must be white), as well as the more personal items; photos, address books, drawings, legal papers and so on. “Anything they give us, they find a way to take. They will find something out of your control and use it against you.”
Most individuals in PB SHU are still only entitled to one package a year. The staff continue to arbitrarily deny package items that the catalogs state are approved. The vendors state that each item in their catalogs have been preapproved by the CDCR office of standardization. COs are reportedly supposed to open the packages in front of the men, however this often does not occur. The contents of one’s package are delivered in a bag, having already been rummaged through and missing items of which the recipient may or may not be informed.
One person who was sent a $360 book order by his family, but the individual was told that the books were on the disallowed list, which the family says is not the case. The books were never returned to his family, and has been unable to get a refund for the books. Others reported that their families tried to send annual packages, only to be told by the vendors that they could not send that person anything at all. Sometimes the delivery of a packages is so delayed that some of the food inside it goes bad.
602s are so frequently lost, delayed, uniformly denied or cause for retaliation, that some men no longer consider them as a resource worth using. Frequently, no responses are received at all. GG stated that he does not bother anymore because he “knows it won’t make it out of the building.” The process was described “as a joke” by one inmate. “The IGI is sent to investigate themselves,” he explained. “They lie and there is no accountability.” One person reported that when he filed a 602 appealing a 115 he had been issued, they sent the same officer that gave him the 115 to investigate it.
The risk of retaliation for submitting 602s is high. Nevertheless, many continue to submit 602s despite these problems. Each man is permitted to submit one 602 for a single issue every two weeks. This causes problems because if you have multiple issues to challenge, you can only appeal some because the others will no longer be eligible for appeal due to filing deadlines. For instance, if you received multiple mail stop notices during one week, you could only challenge the disallowment of one piece of mail. The others could not be 602’d later due to filing deadlines.
The IGI is slowly but surely returning to the use of innocuous, speculative information to issue 115s for STG/Gang activity. Primarily, imprisoned men who have been labeled leaders or members are being targeted, however, other people who have made complaints, submitted 602s or have litigation against CDCR are also targeted.
Though 115s are meant for specific behavior violations, PBSP IGI often do not identify a specific behavior, but rather write the all-inclusive term, “gang activity”. 115 violations are a serious consequence and can have real impact on the length of time an individual spends in solitary confinement.
There has been a notable increase in 115 write-ups that are mail-related, for alleged gang-related communications and activity. Following are a few such reports. One man was accused of “communication with the streets” after he wrote to a family member asking if they could help arrange for him to be celled with a friend of his, also at PBSP. He had been single celled for about eight years, and remains so at this time. Two men who were both writing to the same person received violations for a mutual “link” to somebody on the outside, and therefore, to each other. Another prisoner received a postcard asking if he had “heard from T.R.” When he responded that he had not, he was written up for gang-related communications, based on IGI’s claim that the initials were a code name for a gang associate. This sort of arbitrary denial of mail “chills the likelihood” of sending out letters, becoming yet another factor leading to the isolation of men from their friends, families and communities on the outside.
115s also continue to be issued on a regular basis for alleged gang-related communications, for talking to others in the law library, in the yard or on the way to a shower. One person reported that he does not go to the yard or law library because he fears false allegations of partaking in gang-activity by association.
According to men that have been in both PBSP General Population and the SHU, the mail service in the SHU is significantly worse. Outgoing letters to loved ones and others, as well as time sensitive legal papers, are not reaching their destination in a reasonable amount of time, and often not at all.
Individuals are sometimes not even informed their outgoing mail is blocked. One individual reported that he had no idea that his outgoing letters were being blocked until he finally received a postcard from his family asking why he had not been writing.
There has also reportedly been an increase in the denial of incoming mail. Often men are not informed of the confiscated letters, though they are supposed to receive a mail-stop notice. The “13 oz rule” for packages, which was not previously enforced, is now being enforced suddenly and without explanation. Several men have had their incoming mail returned for this reason.
IGI has been readily issuing mail-related 115s for alleged “gang-activity”. IGI frequently claims that certain addresses are connected to a gang. Men are denied letters from family members who are labeled as gang associates by IGI. In one report, a man received a 115 based on a letter from his elementary-aged daughter. IGI claimed that there was a coded message within her letter. (He 602d the 115 and it was dropped.) (See section on 115s for more on mail-related violations.)
One reported that he had a money order denied because the money, received from a pen pal who had won the money gambling, legally, was classified as “funds from an illicit source.” Another man reported that his money order was held for months, when it should have been deposited into his account right away. Another had his money order returned because it allegedly came from a gang-related address.
LACK OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
The majority of incarcerated individuals with whom we meet and correspond express a strong desire to engage in educational activities. Despite it being common knowledge that education expands ones’ mind and contributes to the rehabilitation of troubled individuals, as well as key to success upon release from prison, the opportunities are scarce, to say the least. There are a limited number of people in SHU that are permitted to participate in educational programs, reportedly due to lack of funds and understaffing. Sometimes approval is based on release date, and lifers are given the lowest priority.
Most educational programs available to men at PBSP cost money, and those that are free are often full. Requests to enroll in college courses are met with either unreasonable delays or no response at all. Even AA and NA materials are difficult to acquire, making it a challenge for participants to work the 12 Steps. One individual, while housed in Ad-Seg, was permitted to attend a group/class, but would have been required to do a strip search each and every time he went to class. As a result he chose not to participate. Other prisoners eager to take college classes are unable to enroll because he has no ability to obtain a copy of his birth certificate or documentation of California residency.
A GED course is offered to SHU inmates, though it is unreliable and slow due to long delays. Most students have no access to an actual teacher or tutor. Homework can be submitted through prison mail, for feedback. There are reportedly many obstacles to accessing proctored exams. Exams that must be returned through the mail may be caught up in mail room delays, leading to an automatic fail. In Administrative Segregation (Ad. Seg. or ASU) there is no access to the GED course at all.
PBSP still refuses to provide less library time than what the other CDCR SHUs provide and less than what regulations require. See CCR § 3123(b). Computer access in the law library is also a problem. Even when men get the opportunity to get on a computer, they rarely have the skills or receive the guidance they need to complete the necessary tasks within the limited time they are permitted. “They put you in a room and say, ‘figure it out’.” Staff are reportedly unhelpful and uninterested in supporting prisoners in finding what they need.
We received a report that after the hunger strike COs retaliated against the men by liquidating their library. Many books were destroyed or removed, and though staff has reportedly begun to reassemble the library, the list of available books is much smaller now. Books ordered from catalogues, or legal cases requested from the law library, may take between one and two months to arrive, or not at all. This can have serious consequences for those working against inflexible court deadlines.
115s are issued for talking in the library. Some men who will not use the library, for fear of being written up for participating in “gang activity” if another inmate speaks to them, or if the COs think they hear something. Others are discouraged to go due to concern that their cell will be raided once they are gone.
While visits have reportedly increased for those in the Step Down Program, there has been an overall increase in the scrutiny of visitors at all California Prisons. Reports include descriptions of family members with criminal records are summarily denied visiting privileges, regardless of the nature of the crime or time since punishment was served.
Prisoners are not provided adequate notice that loved ones are coming to visit, even if the visits are scheduled. As a result, visitors are made to wait hours and visits are cut short, due to timing and capacity restrictions. This can be devastating to families who have not seen each other in years and even decades, and for family members who have saved money, taken time off work and traveled over 800 miles to visit.
In order for each inmate to receive his mandated hour and a half of yard time each day, staffneed to begin releasing men to yard between 7:15 to 7:30 a.m. Often staff “lounge around talking” until they feel like releasing yard, which is frequently after 8:00 a.m.. As a result yard time is frequently cut short for many, and the last person usually only gets a half hour. Yard is often cancelled for entire pods and blocks, due to DRB hearings, staff birthday parties, trainings and so on. If there is an incident, yard may be cancelled for everybody for the entire day.
Food is described with adjectives such as soggy, cold, spoiled, under-cooked, over-cooked, processed, artificial, tasteless, lacking anything fresh, and insufficient in quantity. Food is overly processed and has different taste or texture than natural foods, such as substitute cheeses do not melt and overly-processed peanut butter that give people cramps. The portions are small and men express waking up and going to bed hungry every day. Many substitute the meager portions with over-priced, nutritionally-lacking food from the canteen. Men drink a lot of water to help them feel full, and voice their conviction that poor quality food is used as a weapon to weaken them.
Men describe eating in their cells like eating in a bathroom.
STAFF BEHAVIOR AND MISCONDUCT
Guards continue to act with little or no accountability, behind a wall of silence. We are told that guards stand up and protect one another, even when some cross the line. One man stated, along similar lines, “The prison guard culture here is a big problem. Because of the hunger strike, some changes were made in Sacramento, but the guards have not changed. They are resistant to reforms… because it is considered to be a harsh place, where they can do what they want: Stop mail, give rule violations for innocuous things, deny mail, packages, property...”
Following are incidents that were reported to CPF. One man was sprayed with pepper spray because he was eating paper and reportedly refused to stop when the guards demanded. A serious violation was issued, (to the prisoner, not the guard) but was later dropped to a warning. Another was harassed for whistling while at yard. The guard opened and slammed his door and yelled at the man to be quiet. When the man refused, the guard went into his cell and destroyed his belongings. Another guard allegedly slammed a man’s face on the wall because he thought the man did not move close enough to the wall when other people came by in the same corridor.
Officers harass men who are involved in litigation against PBSP or CDCR with anything from the issuance of 115s, to taking their legal papers from their folders or manilla envelopes and ruffling through and disarranging them.
The so-called “random” urine tests are reportedly targeted and used as a method of retaliation as well.
One guard told a prisoner that he was dedicating his life to keeping him and others in the SHU.
THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
We continue to hear encouraging feedback about The Agreement To End Hostilities. Men voice their enthusiasm, saying that there is peace between groups in ways that there was not before. “Progress is being made.” Prisoners have reported that he would never have brought up issues on behalf of others from different races if it were not for the hunger strike and the growing solidarity between prisoners. He stated that they are “fighting together now” and that “everyone looks out for each other.”
Some guards continue their efforts to undermine this growing solidarity. One CO was heard saying, “I can’t believe you Mexicans are letting a black guy talk like that. You need to keep the African guy in check.”
MISCELLANEOUS REPORTS WORTH NOTING:
• The speakers in the pods are very loud, which is extremely disturbing and anxiety causing to men who are over sensitive to sounds of any volume due to extended periods of sensory deprivation.
• Relative to Corcoran and other CDCR facilities, PBSP offers the men the least amount of human interaction; it is the most isolated.
• “Potty Watch” searches continue to be practiced at PBSP. Men suspected of swallowing weapons or drugs have to undergo a cruel and humiliating contraband search procedure that lasts, at a minimum, as long as it takes the men to have three qualifying bowel movements, while being watched by at least 2 guards, which usually lasts between three and five days. Other states have far less abhorrent ways of searching for contraband, yet reportedly more effective. Potty Watch cannot be described as anything less than cruel and unusual.
• Phone privileges continue to be denied for the large majority of men in the SHU.