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Oct 01, 2014

Pelican Bay State Prison Report

Ron Ahnen

keywords: Lexan Cells

From California Prison Focus Issue 44
Fall 2014

This report is based on dozens of letters from men housed in the Pelican Bay SHU as well as 14 interviews with men currently housed in SHUconducted by CPF representatives in July of this year. The information gathered from these men reveal that conditions at PB have not improved since the hunger strikes of 2013, or since our last report on the conditions of PB SHU, published in our 2014 Spring issue. The blatant abuse of human rights persists relentlessly. The identities of all prisoners are concealed by using a random letter (eg, Mr. A) to reduce the risk of staff retaliation. Information regarding the Step Down Program are presented in a separate report. (See page 8)

As long as men can be placed in isolation indeterminately without having committed a violent act, or any act at all, the SHU will be full and the wheels of the Industrial Prison Complex will keep on turning. Men continue to share with us the circumstances of their non-behavior based gang validation. Mr. C, for example, reported that he was validated in the mid-1990s based on information received from an unidentified informant. He has not received any violation write-ups (115s) in the last fifteen years, except for those he acquired during the hunger strikes. Yet Mr. C remains locked up in the SHU indeterminately. He has been waiting for his parole hearing for fifteen years. Another individual reported that he had been written up for gang activity after having received drawings through the mail with alleged gang-related symbols. He is challenging the purported violation. We heard that there is a new regulation that requires CDCR to give inmates, upon request, a document showing the symbols that may be used towards gang validation.

Officers reportedly receive orders from the top to find some men guilty of violations, whether or not the officer believes a violation was committed. One guard, for example, stated to a prisoner challenging his 115, “I understand what you are saying, but I have to find you guilty.” We received a similar report, in which case, upon the approval of a 602 appeal, the officer stated, “I’ll get in trouble for this, but I’m going to find you not guilty.” Officers have reportedly been directed to write up any jerking of handcuffs as battery.

Medications have been drastically reduced for reasons unrelated to the men’s health care needs. When orders come down from above, the reductions occur all at one time. This has been especially difficult for the older men, some of whom are in severe physical pain. One interviewee reported lack of care for a re-injured shoulder for which he was already receiving pain medication. Despite an increase in pain and discomfort, his previously approved dosage was reduced. We received one troubling report from an individual that his neighbors were told that they needed to debrief in order to receive pain medication.

Several men reported ongoing neglect in both eye and dental care. The medical requests of men who need eye glasses or already have glasses but need a stronger, are regularly denied. One individual explained that if somebody has one good eye and one bad eye, he will be denied optometric care.

There are so many factors that contribute to the poor health of the men imprisoned in the SHU. Lack of fresh air and sun continues to have a toll on the physical and mental health of these men. Mr. G reported that he gets spots on his arms that look like bites. The doctor told him that it was from lack of sun. Mr. L pointed out to his interviewer, in a past visit, that after decades in the SHU he was losing the pigment in his dull, hazy blue eyes.

The disturbance caused by regular cell checks is a growing problem. Cell checks create a lot of noise, making it very difficult to sleep, or even think. The huge chains on the pod doors make a loud noise every time they are opened and closed, which is unrelenting due to the frequency of cell checks, every half hour, all day and all night. In addition, the guards make excessive amounts of noise stomping up and down the stairs with their keys jangling. The noises are multiplied by six as the men can hear the noises coming from each of the six pods in their block. Despite the increasing number of complaints of sleep deprivation, ear plugs are prohibited.

It is hardly disputed among specialists that lack of sleep has adverse health effects. Years of research demonstrate that sleep deprivation has both short and long term effects. Short term effects may include impaired judgment, mood stability and one’s ability to learn and retain information. It also increases the risk of accidents and injury. Long term effects include damage to the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and/or nervous systems, leading to a host of health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Lack of sleep impairs glucose tolerance which is a precursor to diabetes, a life threatening disease already rampant and in Californiaprisons. Cell checks are directly contributing to the already compromised health of the men warehoused in the SHU.

Random drug testing has been occurring once a week or every two weeks. One man reported that for a month, he had been drug tested weekly. The guards state that the cells are picked randomly although some men believe this to be untrue. One individual referred to the drug testing as “bogus.” He reported that he had received an erroneous serious rules violation (115) for being drunk, stating that he had not had alcohol in 15 years. One individual asked in exasperation, “There is money for this, but not for programming?!”

One man reported that he has an active case and that he has been allowed only 2 hours in the Law Library every 6 weeks. This is a violation of his legal rights to defend himself.

The R in CDCR stands for Rehabilitation. Yet, over and over men express frustration at not having access to rehabilitative opportunities, such as education. Despite CDCR neglecting their own mission and responsibility to provide rehabilitative opportunities, many of the men strive independently to better themselves. Many explain that that they are unable to take correspondence courses because they cannot afford to do so. We received one report that the proctored exams, including math and reading, were stalled. Mr. P explained that he had requested the opportunity to take correspondence courses in late 2011, but there were continuous delays and excuses and ultimately, he never received permission to do so. Mr. Q had taken Coastline correspondence courses until CDCR “cut them out.” He was working toward an AA degree in 2006/2007. He is still a registered student there but CDCR will not allow him to continue his studies. Mr. Q wants more education materials in general, but specifically in history and math. He expressed disappointment that the SDP journals are not educationally oriented.

Supposedly, the men in the SHU have the opportunity to attain, at minimum, their GED. Even this minimal education proves nearly impossible to obtain according to several of the men with whom we have spoken. One student explained that when they are in the prison-run educational program,students send their work to the teacher to be graded, but noted “you wait and wait and get no reply.” Mr. W reported that he was in the GED program but then, for reasons unknown to us, he was required to take CASAS (Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System) again. At the time of the interview, Mr.W had already waited for over five months and had been unable to continue his studies. He is determined, however, to obtain an education, and looks forward to being able to do so when the prison makes that possible.

Education is an unquestionably critical element of rehabilitation. It opens the mind enabling one to see a different way of being. It is a critical stepping stone to making better decisions and building one’s self confidence. The Division of Rehabilitative Programs, a branch of CDCR, states that it’s mission is to “help offenders leave prison with better job or career skills, education, life skills, and confidence, so they can succeed in their future despite past obstacles... evidence shows successful rehabilitation is good for communities in a multitude ways, including a significant reduction in criminal recidivism.” CDCR and the Division of Rehabilitative Programs blatantly disregard their own mission statement. CDCR needs to take the R in their name seriously and provide real, effective,and timely educational opportunities for all men who need or desire it. As eloquently noted by Mutope Duguma (James Crawford), "If we fail to educate the people while we got their attention, that’s our failure."

Little has changed regarding the appalling conditions at Pelican Bay. The men describe unsanitary conditions, worn out items such as clothing and mattresses, a faulty ventilation system, to name just a few. Trays continue to be “unsanitary and dirty with old food” visible on them. Showers are reportedly not cleaned regularly as is required by CDCR regulations, and even when they are cleaned, they are cleaned inadequately. Insufficient amounts of cleanser are provided for cleaning the pods, showers and yards. Mr.S said he does his own laundry because otherwise his clothes are returned dirty, damaged or not at all. Additionally, it is difficult to get replacement clothing, and when the men do succeed in procuring new (or used) items of clothing, they are often given the wrong size. It was reported at the time of the interview that there had been no hot water for the previous two days. Another common grievance we hear is about the apparently faulty ventilation system. Rather than cooling the cells, the vents had been feeding hot air into their cells causing great discomfort, especially for the men who are double celled. At other times the ventilation made the cells cold due to the condensation and lack of air movement.

Worn out, low quality mattresses are yet another problem. Mr. F reported that he had received a new mattress just two months earlier, but that it was already lumpy, all the air has gone out of it and he cannot sleep on it. Mr. D reported that despite the worn out state and poor quality of his old mattress, he preferred it to the new ones, which are even worse, he explained. The physical discomfort of sleeping on a slab of concrete on an inadequate mattress contributes to the sleep deprivation, back problems, and other associated ailments experienced by a large percentage of men in the SHU. Even the average barnyard animal receives more comfortable bedding than the men of Pelican Bay SHU.

Lexan cells are cells lined with Plexiglas, with about an inch of air space at the bottom of the walls. We understand that there is one pod in every block has lexan on the cells, though this information has not been verified. Though these cells are designed for mentally ill and/or suicidal inmates, they are being used to house non-mentally ill prisoners, either punitively or arbitrarily. One of the interviewees reported that half of the cells in which the Lexan had been removed, had since had the plexiglass put back on. Mr. X, who was being housed in a Lexan cell, explained that staff “pump in whatever temperature they have in mind, but there is no exiting air vent. So the air is stale.” He said that over the sumer his Lexan cell was extremely hot. However, the guards force in hot air in the summer and cold air in the winter. Mr. K reported that he does not complain about the temperature of his Lexan cell for two reasons: First, because he has been told by the guards that the forced air is not coming off, and second because he believes if he complains he would be the target of retaliation and probably moved to a different pod with even worse conditions. (This is a common threat made by the guards: “If you don’t behave, we’ll move you.”) It is critical that where the Lexan is not necessary for its purpose, it should be removed from the cell.

CPF received two reports through written correspondence that they were no longer able to include stamps in outgoing mail. One man’s letter to the editor of The Rock was returned because he had enclosed 4 stamps as a donation. Staff attached a note when returning it that said, “can’t purchase with stamps” even though it was just a donation. We find it incomprehensible that CDCR devotes time and energy to blocking a donation made to a small, but truthful and informative newsletter to prison while denying basic sanitary conditions and real educational opportunities to the men in SHU.
Recently CDCR attempted to enact a new regulation that would censor incoming publications. The public outcry against the unconstitutionality of this type of censorship forced CDCR to drop and reconsider the proposed regulation. Yet they seemed to have found a way around this move. Reports of stamps being disallowed as use for donations have only been received recently since the proposed censorship regulation was dropped.

We spoke with one man who told us about how he tries to take care of others. If he knows somebody is feeling bad, he will send some food over. “Food,” he stated, "[is what] I call it our ‘emotional currency.’” In addition, he tries to educate those who need it about how to resolve conflict without violence, “to teach them it is okay to have emotions and express them--but emotions change and pass.”

Oct 01, 2014

Tehachapi Report (California Correctional Institution - CCI)

Marilyn McMahon

keywords: California Correctional Facility, Step Down Program.

From Prison Focus Issue 44
Fall 2014

California Prison Focus plans to visit Tehachapi (CCI) as soon as we have the resources to do so. In the meantime, we are tracking conditions there via letters from inside. This report is based on correspondence from two dozen prisoners in Tehachapi SHU.

As in our standard practice, because we do not have everyone’s permission to publish their names, we maintain our sources’ anonymity. Arbitrary letters designate individuals.

The conditions for some new arrivals in the SHU were horrific. In June we heard from one man (“B”) who was housed in a disciplinary management cell. These have no furniture and no electrical outlets. Their occupants get no access to the law library or to CDCR-22 forms (the beginning of the request or complaint process). “B” had been in that cell over five weeks when he wrote to CPF. For the first day and a half he had a mattress that reeked of urine and the cell smelled of excrement and urine. He was given no cleaning supplies. He stood up for the entire day and a half. He did not receive his religious diet for the first week.

Reportedly, others new to the unit were housed in these management cells for three to four days without even a mattress, sheets, blankets, soap, or toilet paper. This means men are sleeping on the bare concrete floor and have no ability to clean themselves properly.

After prisoner “E” arrived, he received no envelopes or pen for nine days. He could not even fill out a health care form. His cell was covered in “soot” and he lacked scrub pads and cleanser to clean it, getting only liquid disinfectant. It took 13 days to receive clean underwear, and then what he got was very worn and not the right size. His mattress was short—“shoulder length” —and he got no pillow. His first exchange of linens was after 19 days. Overall, he found the move from PBSP to CCI to be “a huge step backwards.”

Tehachapi SHU is home to steps 3 and 4 of the Step Down Program—or what passes for steps 3 and 4, as this report will describe. The SDP is allegedly designed to transition prisoners out of gang activity (if any) and prepare them for general population. Yet men have been moved to Tehachapi for months and nominally placed into these steps, only to find that it is SHU as usual--or worse. As they progress in the SDP, they should be allowed to walk to showers unescorted, participate in educational programs or groups, spend yard time with others, eat outside their cells with others, and spend time in a dayroom. The reality is that the prison was sorely unprepared for them and has provided none to little of this programming.

In July, prisoner “A” reported that step 3 and 4 participants were spending virtually no time out of cell, and no programming was in place. They were getting yard time in cages and only one day a week, for one 5-hour block. After being at Tehachapi for six months, “we still find ourselves working to get what comes with these programs.” He is “thankful that change is coming, but it ain’t nothing nice having to be one of the first participants to programs that are still working out the many kinks.” He noted that the promised phone calls and extra package had been granted.

Almost twenty other prisoners echoed his assessment that there was little sign of the steps operating. They detailed what was missing. There was no uncuffed movement, no dayroom time allowed, yard was limited to once a week at most, and no meaningful educational programs were in place. In sum, “we are going along with what is required of us…and…we are receiving no beneficial treatment. It is like we are being punished for participating.”

Letter writer “C” described the conditions for SDP prisoners at Tehachapi as “completely dysfunctional”--in short, “a mess.” He found the conditions there harsher than those in PBSP SHU, from where he was transferred. Given that prisoners are allowed no social interaction or freedom to show that they are not engaging in gang activity, he believes steps 3 and 4 have nothing to do with discontinuing gang activity, but are simply a matter of punishment and control.

Slowly, minimally, changes occurred. In late July, SDP participants were permitted to walk to showers unescorted. In early August, group yard started—but for only four men, three “northern Mexicans” and later, one “southern Mexican.”

One SDP participant (“D”) wrote with a somewhat different story. He reported that “so far we are getting all the privileges in accordance with the SDP memo, such as phone calls (4), packages (2) plus the annual [package]. There are hitches but mostly from the vendors.” As of early September, though, he said that there were still only four men getting group yard. There were men unable to get into groups like NA or AA for lack of space or facilitators, and the dayroom was still just an unrealized promise.

“D” had a positive view of the widely detested journals. He found them to fit the general purpose and “not invasive” as others have reported. He related that some men are graduating from step 4 and being transferred, though the transfer process has taken months. Despite the delays, this progress is very good news. It is the first verification that California Prison Focus has received that SDP participants are progressing through step 4 and being released from the SHU to general population.

However, “D” echoes a suspicion others have voiced--namely, “we still need unbiased oversight ‘cause I feel in time—more specifically after the courts are done, CDCR won’t be so gracious.” And “E” suspects that CDCR is using the SDP policies only to remove those men from PBSP SHU covered by the class action lawsuit.

Despite the slight progress made in the SDP during the summer at Tehachapi, in early October correspondent “C” still reported only four prisoners going to group yard. There were two new developments: first, some group meals were occurring—but only “one cell at a time,” which must mean that cellies were eating together, not exactly something new. Second, those in the SDP were being allowed to walk to showers unescorted, but only once a week. All in all, said “C”, “nothing that resembles a step down program is functioning here, nor can it be for quite some time, because…Tehachapi SHU will have to go through a major overhaul and retro-fitting to be able to secure both prisoners and guards.”

“C” and “G” assert that the SHUs at Pelican Bay and Corcoran “are making big strides in lining themselves up with the Title 15 matrix, standardized SHU and SDP policies,” but not Tehachapi. In agreement, “E” also found his move from PBSP to Tehachapi to be “a huge step backwards.”

There were many health-related concerns. Cleanliness was near the top of the list. Prisoners reported that the yard was “filthy,” covered in dust and trash, and with algae in the toilets. The showers were described as “dirty” and simply “horrendous.” Prisoner “C” explains that the guards don’t clean the showers, yet won’t let prisoners to do it either. Ironically, “F” observes that guards regularly clean the gun tower and their own office. However, “F” indicates that prisoners are allowed to clean them sometimes.

Most tiers are “dirty and dusty” at best. Resident “F” reported that numerous broken sewage pipes flood the tiers with human-waste-tainted water, making the whole block “smell like a sewer.” The puddles, which are not mopped up, attract bugs.

Many prisoners criticized the lack of health care without providing details.

“G” and “C” are concerned about the water. Staff refuse to drink the tap water, which leaves hard white deposits on sinks and cups or bowls. Of course, no other drinking water is provided to prisoners.

These same two individuals report that, though they had active medical chronos [established orders] at their previous prisons for pain medication, Dr. Tate at Tehachapi refuses to prescribe these needed medicines. Consequently, both men are unable to sleep through the night and are prevented from doing all of their usual daily activities. “C” knows of many others who have the same experience.

There does seem to be one improvement for SHU residents’ sleep. In June we heard that the wands that were touched to sensors on the wall—to register that a guard had done the half-hourly check—emitted a screeching beep, whose volume prisoner “F” compared to pushing the test button on a smoke detector. He wrote that the results were widespread sleep interruption, and foul moods among prisoners and staff. Since then, we have not received further reports of these noisy disruptions, so it appears that the prison has remedied the situation.

Several letters alleged pervasive use of excessive force by guards. “B” believes staff at CCI punish prisoners for claiming their legal rights and reporting CDCR abuse and corruption. “F” alleges that even verbal disrespect triggers the pepper spraying of a cell, and that assaults are common in all the blocks of the SHU. He suggests that the brutality started after an officer was killed in 2008.

“F” states that Ad Seg is filled with prisoners who were assaulted by staff and then charged with assaulting staff. “Most victims of these assaults are initially held incommunicado in pods where staff intentionally dog them and isolate them as much as possible. Prisoners with injuries are hidden and denied medical attention.”

Beyond this, many of these prisoners are denied food for days at a time. “F” writes, “Staff go to their cell and say, ‘You refuse your tray? Okay.’ The prisoner usually says, ‘No, I want my tray!’ and [the officer replies], ‘Okay, you refuse your tray!’” This man says he has personally witnessed this scenario three times and heard of it dozens of times.

The serious rules violations (115s) for alleged assaults are nearly identical, according to “F”. “The prisoner is always cuffed and under escort. The guards claim he attempted to kick them. They then deploy their batons and pepper spray,” yelling “stop resisting! stop resisting!” as the prisoner lies balled up defensively and cuffed behind his back. The officer then reports that force was deployed “for my safety.” Other guards’ reports corroborate the first guard’s claim, alleging the prisoner was “combative” or “non-compliant.” The prisoner’s injuries are either ignored or explained as accidental. If the prisoner complains, he is charged with assaulting an officer. Usually the guard even explicitly threatens, “If you snitch, we’ll charge you.”

[As “F” noted, and California Prison Focus is well aware, this whole scenario is practiced far beyond Tehachapi, at other CDCR facilities and also in some county jails.]

An attitude of lawlessness pervades the ranks of Tehachapi’s staff according to our interviewees. When prisoners first arrive at the prison, guards express this attitude, “letting us know they don’t give a damn about Sacramento, 602s or the courts.” According to “F,” staff stop the vast majority of complaints from being successfully filed. Most of the prison’s administrators ignore complaints and back the officers completely.

Many prisoners complained of mail, both incoming and outgoing, being delayed, and sometimes “lost.” Eleven weeks after arrival at Tehachapi, “C” was still waiting for his personal mail--even though it arrived on the same bus as he did.
Nearly all of our sources said that allotments of clothing and linens are deficient. One letter spelled out the problem, comparing what rules and regulations require the men to be issued versus what they actually receive. The discrepancy was blatant.

Laundry exchange happens irregularly and, like the original allotment, delivers clothing of random sizes that is often ragged and dirty-looking. “C” described how he was issued a T-shirt and boxers that were four sizes too small upon arrival at Tehachapi.

Re-packaging of products in prisoners’ packages or from the canteen elicited complaints from multiple prisoners. In one account, the food arrives smelling and tasting like soap or deodorant. Similarly, the canteen food items are re-packaged, and “E” writes that this causes loss of some of the toothpaste or cheese squeeze, etc.

Another area of concern is visits. To book a visit, the visitor must wait two to three hours on the phone. When finally able to speak with the booking person, the visitor may be told there are no vacancies. The visits are officially 60 minutes long. But according to “F,” either visitors or prisoners are often brought to the visiting booth late so they do not get the full hour.

A couple of correspondents lamented the limited selection of TV channels and said that the signal was so weak that reception was frequently lost.

California Prison Focus calls on Warden Kim Holland to immediate start conforming her institution’s practices to Title 15 and CDCR rules and policies. Warden Holland must provide Tehachapi residents with the property and privileges they are due and must get staff under control. In particular, we condemn and call for an immediate end to the excessive force by staff and the writing of fraudulent incident and serious rules violation reports (115s).

Jul 24, 2014

Corcoran Report (California State Prison – CSP)

Kim Pollak and Kim Rohrbach

keywords: Step Down Program, Departmental Review Board

From Prison Focus Issue 43
Summer 2014

"If you do not go in the direction of your heart, you won't make it."-Justin Grant

This report is based primarily on the interviews of ten people in Corcoran's SHU, conducted by CPF investigators in June 2014, and on several letters that CPF has received from prisoners at Corcoran since the hunger strikes of 2013. This report demonstrates that CDCR is not following it own regulations in many instances, and that the men inside are either uninformed or misinformed about the new procedures. As in past reports, the identity of individuals has been kept confidential due to fear of reprisals.

Probably the greatest concern on the minds of the men we interviewed was how the new step down program is going to be implemented. The new policy requires that all men in Security Housing Units due to alleged gang affiliation receive a review by a Departmental Review Board (DRB). At the DRB hearing, the individual will be placed in one of the five steps of the SDP. Some men are also placed into the Step Down Program automatically at Step 1 or during their regular six-year inactive review. Step 5 is general population with special monitoring for 12 months.

The men indicated that those people in the SHU the longest, or who were validated earliest, are being reviewed first. Yet, there seems to be contradictory evidence on this account. Interviewee G said that people are being told that everyone is supposed to be in the SDP by January. Given the slow pace of the DRB reviews, the men are wondering how everybody is going to be placed in the SDP by January. A minority of reviews has been complete, he observed. [Note: According to statistics provided by the CDC on 5/28/14, 826 DRB reviews had been completed and, at that time, 1187 still remained.]

Interviewee I described a conversation with one officer who conceded to him that it may be five years before he has a DRB review. He then asked, "Are you saying that it could be five years before I go to the DRB, then it could be another four years [to go through Stepdown]?" The officer replied, "Yes."

One person reported that people are being placed in the SDP based on what is said during Committee (it is unclear if this means the Institutional Classification Committee, aka ICC, or some other committee). If a person disagrees with something that has been alleged during Committee, yet does not expressly state that he disagrees with it, his failure to disagree is taken as consent. The administration is using this alleged "consent” to place a lot of people in the SDP.

Interviewee A reported that, during the review process, the DRB is not taking into consideration the fact that a person may have no [recent] 115s in his file—except those, perhaps, that were issued during the hunger strikes. He said that the DRB is using Confidential Information Disclosure Forms (1030s) and is only going back four years rather than the entire six. Interviewee C also reported that the DRB is only looking at the more recent records, and indicated that this protocol is equally true with respect to 1030s. DRB reviews continue to use weak evidence towards maintaining men in SHU.

Interviewees A and C complained about the invasive nature of the “self-directed 'journals" which are a requirement for all participants in the SDP. Interviewee C reported that six workbooks must be completed for both Steps 1 and 2 and that Steps 3 and 4 each require twelve completed workbooks. He explained that the workbooks become increasingly intrusive. Interviewee C was concerned that honest responses may be misconstrued by CDCR and unjustly used against him (and others). Nothing in the new STG regulations or in Title 15 specifically prescribes how responses can and cannot be used in the future, or prevents CDCR from rendering a person a "confidential informant" against himself. A facilitator told Correspondent L that nothing he writes in a workbook would be used against him (unless, e.g., it consists of a threat to kill somebody or attack a cop), and no workbooks would be confiscated. Interviewee A explained, however, that no safeguards exist regardless of any such assurances. "The cards or stacked against us," he said. Interviewee C was of a similar mind, and said that the information the men are sharing is not protected, despite what is said in SDP policy.

Numerous individuals explained that SDP participants are expected to answer the questions posed in the workbooks in a way that tries to solidify a social identity for them as criminals instead of promoting rehabilitation. Interviewee F stated the widely shared sentiment that CDCR is attempting to push the men on how and what to think. While CDCR has told the Mediation Team that there is no intent to grade the journals/workbooks, Correspondent L reported that his facilitator told him expressly that the journals would be graded monthly at his door. In addition, both Interviewees A and C, and others through correspondence, reported that despite being told that there are no right or wrong answers in completing the workbooks, answers are corrected when they are not what the administration wants to see. One exercise in the notebook, for example, asked for a description of a picture of a man walking with a chicken. One man reportedly responded, “A man who is about to eat a chicken,” but was told that his answer was incorrect. The correct answer was, “A man stealing a chicken”. Again, this kind of negative reinforcement and brainwash does not foster rehabilitation, but rather opposes it. One must question the troubling fact that men’s responses to journal questions of this nature, or refusal to participate, contributes to the drastic measure of keeping a man in solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time.

Some individuals who refuse to complete the workbooks have been the target of retaliatory acts. Interviewee A cited a specific individual, M, who was moved from Step 4 to Step 3 after refusing to fill out his workbooks. The individual in question received no additional hearing and the change was made without his knowledge. Interviewee C also was moved back one step after declining to do the workbooks. He and Interviewee A both said that those who do not do the workbooks are supposed to be "frozen" in the step they are in at the time, rather than moved back to an earlier step. (Title 15 is not clear on this issue.) Interviewee C additionally reported that he and others received 115s for refusing to "participate in the program." He filed a 602 in response. His complaint led to the issuance of a chrono (Chronological History of significant events) falsely claiming that he had told officials that if he were not returned to Step 2, he would tell others not to participate. Interviewee C emphasized that he is supportive of those who choose to complete the workbooks; he just wants them to understand how it is.

Interviewee C observed that the administration was concerned about the low rate of participation in the SDP and he stated that failure of the program will make CDCR look bad. Interviewee A predicted that CDCR would blame problems with the SDP on the refusal of men to fill out the workbooks. A couple of interviewees indicated that the administration is using inducements, in addition to retaliation, to get people to participate in the SDP. For example, those in Step 2 reportedly get certain privileges. They are allowed some additional items in their packages and can spend up to $65, whereas those in Step 1 can only to spend $55 per package. Interviewee I reported that people were told that they could get two packages annually if they participated in the SDP. Later, however, he was told that the "rules" changed and this promise was rescinded. Interviewee C believes that “incentives” are offered selectively as a form of extortion.

One interviewee reported that guards had beaten him. They struck his head, slammed it against a wall, and bruised up his neck. Since the beating, he stated, "it's not been the same." He was not able to work out for about a month. When he did start to work out, his breathing was strained and his heartbeat was irregular. He has been having headaches ever since the beating. At the time of the interview there were still visible marks and discoloration on his neck where the officers had grabbed him. He filed a complaint (602) which was denied, but he is appealing the denial. He had yet to be provided with the relevant medical records, which he had requested.

We continue to hear about less than adequate medical care and attention for people housed in SHU. Disturbing reports about both doctors and nurses were offered in our interviews, though at least one of the doctors at Corcoran has been described as a “decent guy.” Interviewee E reported that the doctors were not using hygienic practices. For example, they do not always wash their hands between patients, and sometimes use the same tools on patients multiple times. We have received reports that prescriptions are either not filled at all, or that refills are delayed up to several months. Prescribed pain medications are often replaced with cheaper and less effective Tylenol. We have also received reports that the abnormal blood pressure of some inmates is downplayed and/or disregarded altogether. Some men with leg, foot, knee and/or back problems have been denied wheelchairs or crutches.

Basic medical treatments are denied. Interviewee C’s cellmate reportedly broke his thumb. Nurses reported that the x-rays of his hand were never examined by a doctor and there was no follow up. Interviewee F is diabetic and has some serious health issues as a result. He should receive three insulin shots a day, but reported one incident during the 2013 hunger strike when the nurse failed to give him his insulin and he went “man-down” (medical emergency situation in which cellmate or others nearby call for medical help). He also explained that at Corcoran there is no diabetic meal plan. Instead he was offered a healthy heart meal plan, which has been described by others as not much different from the regular meals. Interviewee F was denied his request to be transferred to a facility which would better meet his health care needs because he has been classified as medium-risk rather than high-risk. He has appealed this decision. Another time this same person was informed that he had been denied treatment because he had not shown up for his appointment; however, he reported that he had not received appointment notification.

Another typical example of the kind of medical abuse found in SHU includes a man who has two degenerated spinal discs. Though he had long ago been removed from wheelchair status, he was given a wheelchair for the visit, probably for the staffs’ convenience in transporting him. About four months after the disc-degeneration was confirmed by an outside medical specialist, his pain medication was rescinded. He said that he could not get up from bed for about two weeks, or even eat. Later he fell and hit his back. He was then taken to an in-house doctor who said he could not provide any additional treatment for him. The doctor's medical notes indicated that he was okay, but the inmate fell again. He has been experiencing a stabbing pain when standing. A nurse suggested to him that he “go suicidal” (that is, fake a suicide attempt), telling him that this was the only way he would get any help. Another time a medic remarked to him, without being mean or dismissive, "Man, you're only gonna get help if you die!" An MRI is necessary, the inmate said, but stated that he will not be able to get one because it had not been that long since his last one. A staff member told him that he could get another MRI when he is 40 years old—adding, "You'll know what pain really feels like when you're forty."

Suicide is a very serious issue for people housed in solitary confinement with one study reporting that 50 percent of all attempts at suicide in prison take place among the 6 to 7 percent of people in solitary. Yet guards do not take suicide seriously. Interviewee E reported that for the guards, the suicide death of Billy Sell in July of 2013 was a joke. He reported that guards laughed at the fate of Mr. Sell and made comments such as “He should have never have starved himself.” Interviewee B reported that when men are having mental breakdowns, they are simply given pills to make them sleep. He also reported that prisoners who are put on suicide watch are put in special cells and required to take off their clothes for at least three days.

Based on several reports, cell searches increased significantly after the 2013 hunger strikes. As we were preparing this report, we heard from men through correspondence that another round of raids had just started—the third round in about six months. The men characterize these searches as a systematic tactic of retaliation. Several individuals spoke of two specific searches that were reportedly discretionary, as dictated by the administration. People reported that outside search teams were brought in to conduct these searches. K-9 units were involved in some searches. Our understanding is that one of the searches was conducted by Fresno law enforcement and one by another agency. Interviewee C explained that law enforcement officers from other states are sometimes brought in to see how things are being run in California prisons.

These searches were conducted with unnecessary hardship on the men. Interviewee A reported that the first search was for metal contraband. We received accounts from two different men from two different yards, reporting that they were stripped down to nothing but boxers and shower slippers and were forced to march in that condition a lengthy distance from their cells to a metal detector. While the cell search was taking place, the men reported that they were forced to stand, waiting in cages for several hours. The second search, as reported by Interviewee A, was conducted after a cell phone had been found in one person’s cell. Interviewee A reported that this search produced seven cell phones in one block while another prisoner reported that 15 cell phones had been found and confiscated. The men surmise that CDCR has kept this as quiet as possible, as the only manner to sneak phones into the prison is by the guards. To our knowledge, no investigation has been conducted, despite the fact that there is no other conceivable way that the men could have acquired cell phones.

One man whose cell was recently raided and searched stated that "they just destroyed everything." Others sent letters describing how it took several days to get their cell back in order. One man thought they would take his TV because it had a speaker, and he had heard that the men could no longer have a TV or radio with speakers. At the time of the interview, his radio and TV had not been taken. They did, however, take some cables, a photograph of himself and others, and other items. In addition, they “trashed” his cell. Interviewee D was concerned that a photograph taken by the guards would be construed falsely as "evidence" against him for breaking some sort of prison rule and remain in his C-file for that purpose. Another man reported that his whole building had been raided. The guards did not take anything, but his cell was “trashed” and his books damaged. The plastic casing on his mattress was torn off, but he hoped to find a way to sew it back together. Yet another person reported that his medical books and magazines were taken. His letters were removed from their envelopes and left in a heap on his bed with his legal work. Some fellows were told that certain confiscated items would be returned, but they were not. One individual said that his TV was taken. The guards said it had been altered because there was a small hole on the bottom. He stated that he knew they would not give it back, so he did not bother asking. Another man reported that he had been transferred to a new cell and he felt “lucky” because his property was properly packed and sent to his new cell with him, as protocol dictates.

Interviewee A reported that Corcoran had been conducting mandatory, random drug testing. Though CDCR was saying that the testing is random, it was reported that the testing is not random at all, but rather targeting certain people as a form of retaliation and simply another form of harassment. Many men are refusing out of principle. Refusing to be tested is counted as failing, which results in the loss of certain privileges, including yard for 10 days, radios, TVs and visits for 90 days. Another person reported that there has been retaliation in response to urine test refusals: property is taken, 115s are issued, food portions are smaller, and mail is lost or held for months.

Interviewee D reported that men have been moved all over the place since the hunger strike. “They are flipping up the prison regularly,” he said. He reported that men from Pelican Bay were being moved to Corcoran and vice-versa. He explained that those with allegedly more influence are being relocated where they are more isolated from other inmates. Another person reported that those who file too many complaints (602s) are being sent to Pelican Bay. In addition, people are being shuffled around for block cleaning, painting and maintenance. (See “Structural Conditions” section below).

Title 15 states that “Inmates and parolees have the right to be treated respectfully, impartially, and fairly by all employees” (at § 3004). However, the men inside continue to expose blatant tactics of retaliation. Interviewee A explained that retaliation has been non-stop since the 2013 hunger strikes. “It is one thing after another,” stated another man. Interviewee E reported that guards harass and curse at the men regularly, are often disrespectful, and drag their feet passing out canteen and mail. Interviewee C reported that the actions of guards are under greater scrutiny--that is, when higher administration officials from Sacramento and/or CPF and coalition legal delegations visit, retaliation diminishes. However, in the last few months since they had stopped coming around so often, retaliation has resumed.

The number of 115s has grown since the 2013 hunger strikes. One man reported that sometimes the same men are being issued 115s over and over. Interviewee G reported that he received two 115s: one for inciting/leading a hunger strike, and another for participation in a hunger strike. When he questioned a guard about his confiscated typewriter, he received yet another 115 for delaying an officer. Another person reported an incident when, prior to a medical appointment, his cellmate’s clothesline fell down and he was helping to put it back up. The guard said he was taking "too long to get ready" and called this a "refusal [to obey an officer's orders]." It is not clear whether or not he received a 115 for this, but these are the sort of trivial matters for which the men are receiving write-ups for “serious rule violations.”

CPF continues to receive reports that 602 appeals are frequently lost or hindered by prison staff. Interviewee F reported that 602s have led to retaliatory cell searches in which property is confiscated. Sometimes staff do not respond to 602s within the requisite thirty-day time period and essentially run out the clock on the appeal making it impossible for the filer to follow up on it. Interviewee G reported that he had filed a 602 after getting beat up by an officer. Though he has documentation that his grievance was substantiated, he has received no relief through the administrative appeals process. Interviewee I and his neighbors filed a group 602 regarding the ongoing problems with food. Their objective is to get the kitchen staff retrained on proper procedures. Interviewee B reported that a group 602 has been submitted, protesting the canteen price gouging.

Based on letters and investigative interviews, food rations and palatability have been grossly reduced since the 2013 hunger strikes, which people attribute to retaliation. We have received numerous reports since the hunger strike that the food has gotten worse. The use of paper trays continues to be an issue. One man reported that the use of the paper trays had started about 100 days prior to our visit. Some men were told a dishwasher had broken down and washing all the hard trays would be too much work. However, that incident was “ages ago,” he added. Paper trays were uncommon before the most recent hunger strike. Currently they are being used more often than not. In addition to spillage and water-logged food, another person explained that the food ends up getting “smashed together” as it is pushed through the slot. But even more critical is the fact that the paper trays hold far less food than the hard trays. Portions are significantly reduced, often by as much as half. Interviewee H stated that some portions can be eaten in "one spoonful." Likewise, another fellow stated that portions may be “scarcely more than a mouthful.” Prisoners are reporting that the 2000 calories per day requirement is not being fulfilled. In addition, meals often arrive cold because they don't start delivering it until every last try is on the cart, instead of delivering smaller numbers of trays in succession. Lunch has been coming lately without any condiments and without cookies. Food is often taken when property is confiscated.

Interviewee H reports that new metal button devices were recently installed on peoples' cell doors. He explained that guards use a “wand” that looks like a flashlight, but beep when the guard touches the corresponding cell button. He stated that the men are not aware of what the buttons are for, but presume they are to track check-ins. The guards are saying that they are going to "beef up" the button-pressing up to every half hour. Interviewee H speculated that the installation of these devices was in response to the death of Billy Sells, and the fact that people were not being sufficiently checked in on during the last hunger strike. Director Adult Institutions Michael Stainer told the Mediation Team that the new "wellness check" system only cause a beep during the day, but emits a small LED light at night. Correspondent K recently wrote that the beeping goes on 24/7, night or day.

The men received a survey about the availability of items through the canteen as apparently CDCR was considering changing vendors. As a result, the men were told that new items would be available in July of this year. One person reported that this was a result of the hunger strike and simply a tactic to pacify people. He assumes that the prices will be raised as they have always been gouged. He said access to the canteen is consistent and is not included in lost privileges, though others reported having canteen rescinded for participating in the hunger strike. Interviewee E reported that people have to be in Step 1 to purchase shoes, though some men do get them. “It depends on the guard,” he explained. Another man reported that men were ordering items but not receiving them. He also reported that if a person could not pay for shipping, his package was taken away. In addition, when items are missing from a package, the men are still required to pay for shipping for those items.

Interviewee E reported that only three channels are available to all of the prisoners. If an individual has enough money, he can buy an antenna and receive additional channels. He also explained that the prisoners are required to listen to their TVs and radios by headphones. Headphone wires are limited to four feet long, however, making it impossible to listen to TV or music while lying down.

Men report that guards deny showers and yard regularly denied. For example, Interviewee B reported that guards told them that yard had been cancelled because the cages were not functional and needed to be fixed. He explained indoor cages could have been used, but instead the men are spending extended periods of time without leaving their cells. The result is that men are spending 24 hours a day in their cell, day after day. He stated that showers are frequently cancelled, too. Interviewee A reported that the law library has been pretty consistent lately, and that officers have been coming around regularly asking the men if they need copies. Legal books are not permitted out of the library and non-legal books in the library are limited. There are no mobile book carts for the men. One person reported that there is a crate of books in his section where one can sometimes grab a book on the way to or from yard. A man from a different section reported that they have no such crate. The majority of the non-legal books floating around are sent to the individual prisoners and then passed from one guy to another.

Interviewee A believes that Corcoran is going through an accreditation process and that they are therefore fixing up the sections. Entire blocks are being switched around for block cleaning, painting, and maintenance. Air conditioners are being repaired. Water was turned off for repair due to bad plumbing. Since outside officials had been coming around, the administration was trying to make things look better. Nevertheless, people report that they are not receiving their cleaning supplies, and that the floor officers refuse to clean the tiers.

Shortened Visits. Interviewee E explained that people had been informed that visits were for two hours but were only getting thirty-minute visits. If the visitors are late, time is taken off the visit. He also reported that getting an appointment for a visit is difficult in the first place. The men are being told that all of the booths are full.

Every day in solitary is hard and solitary confinement can break down one’s revolutionary spirit, stated Interviewee F. “One can unravel.” He acknowledged that his family and supporters need him to stay strong. In order to do so he spends a great deal of his time reading, writing, and focusing on the struggle. For these reasons he is committed to his education and personal growth. Interviewee F is currently trying to get his GED. He explained that he has put in four or five requests to get a GED book, but that the assigned staff member for his block has not responded. Interviewee F referred to this individual as “the teacher.” As eager as he is to get his GED, he has thus far been unable to move forward in doing so. He explained that there are supposed to be classes aired on the prison TV channel, but he “had not seen any in a while.” Normally, he explained, the student would watch the classes on TV, complete the GED book, and then send the completed book to the assigned block teacher correspondent to be scored. Finally a test would be taken and scored by their educational correspondent.

Oct 01, 2013

Corcoran Report (California State Prison – CSP)

Ron Ahnen and Kim Pollak

keywords: 2013 Hunger Strike

From Prison Focus Issue 40
Fall 2013

The following report is based on several visits to Corcoran State Prison in July and August of 2013 at the height of the hunger strike. Key issues of physical and medical abuse, unwarranted and illegal confiscation and destruction of private property (including of legal papers) and other injustices linked to not following the hunger strike protocol are the most important matters. We received dozens of complaints in our interviews and via mail, but include only a short summary in this newsletter report.

One of the most common complaints we receive during the hunger strike was the lackadaisical manner in which medical care was administered. When nurses were supposed to be checking on hunger strikers, they would simply "fly by the cells" and maybe peek through the door without interviewing the prisoner. Prisoners reported guards forcing them to walk faster than they were able given more than the usual level of cuffs and shackles and their weakened physical state due to not eating for over a month. Prisoner A noted that it took over an hour to report to a "man down" (medical emergency situation) near his cell. Prisoner B stated he feels the medical staff are "taking the strike very, very lightly." While initially people were pulled out to have their vitals taken, nurses checked only very briefly every day at his cell door, and contact was only orally without diagnostics or assessments. Prisoner C noted the nurse visits at his cell door were mostly oral and of irregular infrequency.

Although medical officials noted that all prisoners were being offered vitamins and Gatorade without being taken off the hunger strike list, many prisoners told us they did not receive them. Prisoner D reported a sign outside of the clinic that reads "we are not giving out vitamins or nutritional drinks." He also said he was told that Dr. Wang, the Chief Medical Officer, instructed prison staff not to follow hunger strike policy. Prisoner E also reported a nurse telling him that Dr. Wang had ordered them not to follow the hunger strike protocol. Prisoner F told us that inmates were not allowed out of their cells for anything, including medical treatment. He was sent to the Acute Care Hospital when his blood pressure skyrocketed, but he was not treated.

Prisoner G was on hunger strike at the time of our visit and reported that his health had suffered greatly. He said that in mid July, his kidneys were hurting so severely that he tried to go "man down" in his cell. The guard arrived but notified him that there were only two nurses on duty at the time. About 45 minutes later they took him from his cell to the rotunda to assess him. They waited for transport to the Acute Care Hospital, but since no doctor was on duty or on call, he was returned to his cell. That night, he was in such pain he took another inmate's prescribed pain meds and passed out in his bed, only to wake up on the floor. He did not see a doctor until he went "man down" on July 31. Eventually, he was sent to the internal hospital and returned to Corcoran SHU in mid-August.

Prisoner G also reported that a SHU inmate of Guatemalan descent had been requesting medical attention for four or five days and not getting any answers. Finally he went "man down" but when the staff responded, they used force in his cell and beat him up.

The lack of treatment was clearly tied to getting prisoners off the hunger strike. Prisoner H said one doctor told him "unless you are willing to eat, I'm not giving you any treatment." Prisoner I reported that the doctor considered him suicidal and unable to make his own decisions because he continued on the hunger strike even in delicate health. When he finally began to eat again, he was put on the "high risk" management, but was then told that he was only moderate risk and should eat half a tray. He got so sick that he was sent back to the hospital.

Prisoner J said the nurse forgot to give him his insulin. He put in a medical request, but they did not respond. Finally he had to "call cage" (yell and shake the cage) before medical staff responded. He was told he would have to wait, however, so that medical could deal with the strikers first.

Several prisoners noted the more aggressive posture of the guards during the hunger strike, who seemed irritated at the extra work and checks they had to conduct. Prisoner K reported that when the guards moved folks, they tried to provoke violence. He noted the prisoners resisted such provocations. Prisoner L states that he and others were not being returned to their original cells as a form of retaliation. He also stated that guards were grabbing, harrassing, and provoking inmates in order to incite violence. They will not allow prisoners to speak at times when they should be allowed to do so. Another prisoners reported that it took him six months to draw a piece of art called "Unity" with four women from different racial groups. He reported the artwork was simply destroyed.

Prisoner M reported that the guards were intentionally manipulating the number of prisoners on hunger strike. Sometimes guards would mark on their sheet that an individual accepted a tray even if they didn't. He challenged a guard on one occasion who seemed surprised he refused a tray noting "you accepted one last night." When the prisoner corrected him saying that he didn't, the guard then corrected the information. When he asked the guard why he put down the incorrect information the night before, the only answer he got was "Sorry, my bad."

The threat of being sent to an SNY yard was one of the tactics used to break the hunger strike. Some prisoners reported being sent to an SNY yard or housed among debriefers. Prisoner N said that there, "things would happen . . . Doors would open . . ." He stated that he did not want "to get taken down like that" (that is, set-up for an attack on an SNY yard). He also received none of his legal material while he was on the SNY yard.

Another tactic was to threaten with permanent loss of property. When prisoners went single cell, they received no receipts for their confiscated property, which was then being thrown away. Prisoner O said he heard this was going on from a guard with whom he has good rapport. Prisoner P noted that a form of punishment for those participating in the single cell action was to split up compatible inmates who had been together for a long time. Prisoner Q noted that new cellmates would be moved in and prisoners were made to sign a compatibility agreement. He noted, "yet how can you agree to be compatible with somebody you scarcely know?" Prisoner R noted that compatibility is to be assessed when a prisoner receive's a potential cellie's C-file to review it for age, where from, validation, etc. Prisoners are supposed to be given a choice among possible cellies. This protocol is simply not being followed.

Also, prisoners who refused cellies were threatened with a second 115 (one for the hunger strike and one for refusing a cellie). Having received two 115s in a 180 day period could have them sent to ICC for reclassification as a "program failure." The consequence is reportedly loss of property increased from 90 days to one year. In addition, inmates cannot have anything in their cell during the first six months including absolutely no books, magazines, or newspapers. After six months they are allowed one book or one newspaper, but not more than one at a time. After this threat, 20 men who were single celled took cellmates back.

Prisoner S reports that IGIs have been spreading rumors about different prisoners. He said that the administration has a pattern of celling up people who are incompatible in order to incite violence. He said that IGI goes around spreading rumors about what one group said about another group in order to stir things up.

Several prisoners involved in the hunger strike but not the single cell action also had their property confiscated and were unable to file a complaint (602) because they never received a receipt of confiscated property. Many reported having part of their property destroyed including legal papers, personal letters and momentos they had possessed for years. Prisoner T who has an upcoming court date, is one of the many men who reported having their legal paperwork confiscated. He filed a 602, but it was rejected on the grounds that he had no property receipt and no proof of what was missing. Prisoner U reported that he got his property back, but a lot of personal stuff had been thrown away.

Prisoner V reported that all of his property, including his hearing aid, glasses, inhaler, and legal papers, were confiscated while he was out on a visit to the law library. He never made it back from the law library, but was moved to an SNY yard. He has an upcoming court date and deadline.

Priosoner W noted that he received two 115's-- one for the hunger strike and one for refusing a cellie-- and that his disciplinary assessment was 90 days of lost credit and 10 days loss of yard. Since his discipline had nothing to do with property, he asked for his property back only to be told that it mysteriously was redirected to the wrong place. It was sent to an SNY Gym. The Sgt. agreed that he should get his property back, but told him there were hundreds of cases to get through, so he didn't know how long it would take to get his property back.

Many other prisoners also repeated the charge that no property receipt was given thereby making it
impossible to file a 602 to get one's property back. Prisoner X was told by the Sgt. in his area "give us a year, there's a lot going on."

Despite the claims of officials in Sacramento that the new security threat group policy and step down program constitute a radical change in CDC our policy with respect to gang validations and SHU assignment, evidence gathered from our interviews suggests otherwise. Specifically, Prisoner Y's validation is based in part on a birthday card he received from his grandmother which included pictures of MLK, Frederick Douglass, and Malcolm X. One guard told Prisoner Z "if IGI came to my house, I would definitely be validated as a member of the be GF because I own books by Malcolm X, George Jackson, the Panthers, MLK Junior, etc." Prisoner Z then asked, "So do you believe I am not BGF?" The guard replied, "Yes, I do, but there is nothing I can do about it." Prisoner AA was validated based on a picture of George Jackson, a card from a friend, and the mention of Black August in a card.

Prisoner BB reported that he has seen signs on the cells door that include a prisoner's name, picture, age, and if you're validated, what you're accused affiliation is. He says the man are upset about this situation because some people might be able to use that information to validate other prisoners.

Prisoner CC was told that only Associates would be reviewed, not members--in direct contradiction to two different memos signed by high CDC are officials in Sacramento.

The abuses contained in this report offer little hope that the new gang validation and SHU placement policy re-write (known as the new Security Threat Group Management Policy) represents the radical shift that CDCR administrative officials claim it is. We continue to push for greater transparency and will continue to report on the widespread abuses that occur daily within our prisons. Only by uncovering and reporting these abuses we will ever be in a position to put an end to them.

Jun 01, 2013

Pelican Bay State Prison Report

Kim Pollak

keywords: Cell Raids, Gang Validation

From Prison Focus Issue 40
Summer 2013

This Pelican Bay Report is based on dozens of letters that we have received in the past few months and legal visits with almost 50 prisoners.

Bogus Gang Validation Practices Continue. The practice of using old information to validate and revalidate prisoners as gang affiliates and keep them in SHU continues. Notably, since gang associates are now being released to the step down program, some prisoners report being switched from "associate" to "member" status in order to retain them in solitary confinement. One man reported the Institutional Gang Investigator (IGI) used points towards his validation that were over four years old. Another was denied relief from the SHU at his six-year review based on a name they said was found in somebody else’s cell two years ago. {Some men have reportedly been validated based on information found in their files from as far back as the mid 1980s.}

Men continue to be validated based on their names being found in the cells of other inmates and information gathered from informants. Prisoners note that such methods of validation are error-ridden. One prisoner stated “an informant might get a couple of things right, like one’s name and address, while the rest is bunk.” Another said “The lists (found in others’ cells) used to validate prove nothing.” “Where does the list originate? How old is the list? Who is actually on it?” Answers to these questions are not considered.

Incoming mail from relatives is used by the IGI to validate gang affiliation construing such phrases as "I spoke with your mother" as "gang communication." Prisoners report that the mere possession or sharing of certain articles and books, including even novels, are deemed "gang activity" by the IGI. Some prisoners report harmless items being used to validate them such as a card with a shamrock or a picture of a jaguar.

One prisoner noted that after spending five years in general population, he was validated as a gang member. He has spent nearly two decades in the SHU even though he has never received a 115 (serious rules violation). Another man explained that he could have been paroled since 1997, but feels sure that he’ll never get out because they want him to debrief and will always find a way to keep him in SHU.

{Another prisoner explained that until he admits to being a part of a gang, he will never be paroled. According to this prisoner, as long as CDCR does not get the answers they want to hear, they will continue to claim that he has not come to terms with or taken responsibility for his crime and continue to deny him parole.}

Prisoners report that guards are issuing many more violations, and that they have become increasingly frivolous. “Guards are much more strict and make up petty rules, then change them again the next day, unexplained” one prisoner said. One man reported that he has been greeting his fellow prisoners in the same way for the past 28 years. Now he is reprimanded for the same behavior that was never a problem in the past.

Prisoners are still being written up for drawings deemed "gang-related." One man related that he received a 128, a violation for “mild misconduct”, for a drawing with an Aztec symbol. As a result his mail was stopped. He filed an appeal stating that mail cannot be stopped without a 115. Within a week he received a 115.

Prisoners are consistent in their reports of retaliation for filing appeals. One inmate spoke of actions taken by guards in response to a Habeaus Corpus that he submitted, including confiscation of his medications and the tinted lenses for his glasses, which he needs due to migraine headaches. In addition, prisoners report that “602s are denied with a rubber-stamp; categorically without regard to the merits.” For that reason many prisoners simply “do not bother with [filing formal complaints] anymore.” One man reported that due to a staff error, he had to resend the entire 602 packet. “This is a big hassle,” he explained, “which is ultimately [CDCR’s] goal--to discourage [prisoner complaints].”

Numerous prisoners report suffering from chronic, preventable pain. Some prescriptions are reportedly now issued only for 2 weeks, while others are monthly. Since prisoners are charged $5 to see a nurse (or $10 if they are on restitution), it costs them money every time they need to renew their prescription. New SHU residents at Pelican Bay are reportedly being denied the medication(s) and/or medical devices they had received at their former institution. Medication continues to be cut and prisoners are more commonly seeing nurse practitioners rather than doctors.

One man suffers symptoms from an unknown cause that initially would come and go, but since 2006 it has not gone away. They sent him to the psychiatrist, but have not given him a brain scan. Prison medical staff concluded that it’s just allergies and gave him an over the counter allergy medication, which has been ineffective. For the last few weeks he’s been getting light headed more frequently. Another prisoner reported that his glasses broke and his requests to have them repaired or replaced have been ignored. A third man reported a familiar complaint. He has Hepatitis C, but medical staff will not recommend treatment until his disease reaches the advanced level of stage 3. He was diagnosed well over a year ago but has yet to receive any preventive treatment.

One prisoner complains that the law library is not kept up to date and prisoners do not have access to more recent cases. Prisoners still note severe restrictions regarding access. A general user who has no current case usually must wait three weeks to a month for a response from his request. If a prisoner needs to file a timely motion in court, this restriction locks them into a very tight if not impossible timeframe. One prisoner reported that his case was dismissed four times for this reason.
Another man reported that he did not receive items sent to him by the court, and that the court did not receive items he sent as well. The law library has only two staff people. When requesting copies, such requests "take forever." In sum, law library restrictions are denying prisoners' legal rights and must be remedied immediately.

Prisoners have noted the increased use of censorship due to the upcoming hunger strike. One prisoner noted that he has had a lot of mail "go missing" in the last five months. Another said that on several occasions, his family wrote to him referencing letters that he never received from them. Others report receiving mail with no problems.

Most notably are the restrictions on publications that speak about prisoners defending their rights, such as The Rock, Bayview Newspaper, and Prison Focus. These publications are being blocked. Several prisoners indicated that catalogues have been withheld by IGI on the grounds that they have "no educational, scientific or artistic use." CDCR is being "petty with the mail."

Often mail goes missing. One prisoner noted that he received a package from a prisoner rights organization that was thrown away. He believes it is in retaliation for collaborating with them on their brochure. Another prisoner noted that he tried to send several drawings to his daughter, but these were confiscated because they had ethnic themes that the IGI claimed were gang related.

Prisoners report that staff frequently deny visits for petty offenses, or for no offense at all. Prisoners emphatically underscore how connections to family members and friends on the outside keep them going. While not all are lucky enough to have family and friends who are able to visit, denying these men contact with loved ones is not only cruel, but counterproductive for everybody.

One prisoner described a situation when a family member passed away. He was permitted 15 minutes to speak to his family on the phone. He remained shackled while the guard held the phone to his ear. He complained that he couldn’t even have that 15 minutes with his family in their time of grief. Another prisoner's family lives in the Los Angeles area which is normally too far for visits. However, one time CDCR approved a visit for his family over the phone only to deny them entry upon their arrival. He said now he just lives with letters.

One prisoner reported that, having won the right to an annual photograph they can send to family members, the photographer was rude, disrespectful, and unfriendly. He was unwilling to give any warning before taking a picture, and was unwilling to do any retakes.

Prisoners report that the food is generally getting worse, but that overall quality and portion varies. Most prisoners report that the portions are too small, leaving them hungry. Some days portions are more substantial, but they believe this happens when an inspector is touring the kitchen. Men report that their trays are often not filled. One man reported receiving burnt food and missing portions lately. Another prisoner noted that they serve the same food over and over in the same week. “At what point” he asked, “do these things become a health and safety concern?” Another, on a vegetarian diet, reports receiving the same tray as others except for the meat item which is replaced by beans. He eats beans every day, though often they are watery, and the salad is sometimes rotten. He explained that he has lost his appetite but forces himself to eat.

One inmate reported that he gets yard time only every other day, or less if there is a lockdown, which occurs almost weekly. For example, whenever a cell is painted the entire block loses their yard time for that day. According to prisoners, cell paintings occur almost weekly, so they are locked in their cell for 47 continuous hours instead of 23. Guards no longer allow people to bring books or towels onto the yard. (Towels protect prisoners' hands from the roughness and heat of the asphalt). Also, prisoners are only getting about 45 minutes of yard time rather than a full 60 to 90 minutes. Guards have been kicking people off the yard for being "too loud." Then they call the next person up for yard time—who is unaware that he's about to be called, because the other fellow's time is not up yet—and tell him, "Sorry, you should have been ready" and deprive him of his yard time as well.

One prisoner estimates there are ten times more than the usual number of cell searches as of late. He said that the six-square-feet rule is being much more strictly enforced in contrast to the past. Guards must now search one in three cells daily, enforce the six-foot-square-rule, and break down people's property accordingly. Prisoners feel the new regulation is designed to create tension in the lead up to the hunger strike.

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