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Jun 01, 2013
keywords: 2013 Hunger Strike
From Prison Focus Issue 40
This report focuses on the information we gathered about the 2013 hunger strike. We note that specific detailed accounts of many instances of retaliatory behavior of guards and other prison personnel are still flowing in. We are still gathering these data and assembling them in a report to be issued later this year specifically on retaliation. The conclusions and evidence in this report stem from dozens of letters received from men at Pelican Bay and through visits to verify the abuses of legal, medical, and other human rights.
Despite conflicting ideas about strategies, demands and whether or not to even have the strike, we perceived a strong sense of solidarity among the prisoners. Contrary to reports of intimidation, dozens of prisoners wrote us explaining why they were willfully participating in the strike. maintained a strong sense of solidarity. One prisoner who expressed tactical differences and reservations stated that he was going to support the strike either way in order to achieve solidarity. Moreover, a wide-spread and accomplished commitment to non-violence was evident. Though prisoners reported that guards were trying to instigate violence among prisoners before and during the strike, the men reported that they stood by The Agreement to End Hostilities and their commitment to non-violence. They were determined to succeed “on behalf of the youth coming behind” as one man stated. With the drive to make a difference, in the weeks and months before the hunger strike began, participants prepared themselves for the strike both physically, mentally and spiritually.
Before the strike had begun, men expressed concern that CDCR would not meet their medical obligations as stated in the CDC Mass Organized Hunger Strike Policy 4.22.2. They questioned whether CDCR was ready to handle the possible flood of “man downs” and other emergency situations that could come with this action. Clearly the staff added to a tense and harsh atmosphere designed to discourage potential strikers by telling them that CDCR “is not going to do anything” for them and that “men will die.” Even before some guards made these kinds of statements, the prisoners already expressed their view that medical neglect and death were very real possibilities. Indeed, some of these concerns were realized. In addition, while some prisoners reported that they had received “Do Not Resuscitate” forms, others reported that the forms were being withheld. Release of Information forms that allowed CPF or loved ones to check on prisoners’ well-being during and after the strike were also “lost” or disappeared.
We received disparate reports regarding the required health checks of strikers by prison staff. Prisoner G reported that he went once a week to medical, at which time his weight, blood pressure, pulse and organs were checked. Others reported irregular, infrequent and insufficient checks. It was reported for example, that guards and/or medical technicians (nurses) would merely walk by and ask how they were doing or peek into the cells without any verbal communication at all. Prisoners recounted how certain numbers were skewed to support CDCR propaganda that the men were eating throughout the strike. One man, for example, reported that his base weight was taken after two weeks of fasting, minimizing his documented weight loss.
While some men reported they received medical treatment as usual and that they had received sufficient care throughout the strike, the majority reported delays, neglect and abuses. By the end of July we were hearing reports that some strikers had fallen out but that there were not enough medical staff to properly tend to them. When Prisoner J visited the medical clinic, he was informed by the doctor that there was only one doctor working when there normally were six. Prisoner M described an incident where staff was banging on the door of a fellow inmate, yelling “get the fuck up or we’ll extract you.” When the staff finally opened the cell door the man was found unresponsive and taken to medical.
Blood pressure medications were stopped due to high risks associated with lack of food intake. Prescribed medications were often stopped as well, sometimes as a form of retaliation. Prescription pain medications were replaced with Tylenol or even baby apsirin. Psychiatric medications were withheld. One man with diabetes was refused glucose supplement for emergency drops in blood sugar. Prisoners who were relocated from one prison to another were often denied their previously approved medications or had to wait several days after their transfer to receive their medications. When the strike ended, medications were not automatically reinstated, but rather men had to put in a medical slip to get their medications back, causing unnecessary hassle, delays, cost, and additional suffering.
Strikers relayed many of the symptoms from which they suffered. For example, strikers became fatigued, distracted, and unable to focus. They experienced nausea and severe, persistent headaches. Prisoner X reported that he was unable to partake in this normal routine of exercise due to fatigue. Prisoner I explained that by the middle of the 3rd week he had become very pale and was experiencing a sharp pain under his ribs. He was reluctant to seek medical care. Prisoner K’s legs became wobbly and would shake uncontrollably. He could barely walk to the visit. Prisoner L described an inability to concentrate, an on-going headache, dizziness when standing and shaky legs. Prisoners also reported problems regulating temperature, exasperated by the fact that the cells were kept either too cold or too hot. He reported that the supplements made him throw up. Prisoner M reported problems with his digestive track and bowels, and that he was having sharp pains in his heart area. At least one prisoner reported developing kidney problems.
Even before the hunger strike began, prisoners were reporting they were being cut off from access to information regarding the strike, and complained of being left “in the dark.” These reports were substantiated by the fact that the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) coalition and Prison Focus newsletter had been stopped pending an investigation. Prisoner visits by several lawyers and members of the coalition were suspended from prisoners visits based on various alleged infractions. All of these allegations were eventually dismissed and retained issues of our newsletter delivered. Some prisoners were denied legal visits by either being sent to the infirmary unnecessarily or by the withholding of notification of a scheduled visit.
The prison staff continued to obstruct and falsify information about the strike throughout the protest. Prisoner A, for example, reported in late July that some of the guards were telling prisoners that the men in Administrative Segregation had started eating again. Because of their isolation and the lack of communication among prisoners, the men had no way to verify the information. Prisoner A and his cell mate went off strike believing that the strike had ended. When they found out that it was not true they resumed their strike. In addition, prisoners on strike were transferred to other units and other prisons, separating those who were on strike from those who were not participating and those who had come off the strike. Alleged protest organizers were separated from the general SHU population. These actions were presumably part of the prison’s and CDCR’s efforts to impede the flow of strike-related communications.
Prisoners reported that the guards used the threat of being placed in Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg) as a deterrent to participate in the strike. These strategic threats were backed up by the very real conditions of some Ad Seg Units where TVs and radios, a critical source of mental stimulation, are prohibited. Strikers who were transferred to Ad Seg and elsewhere were usually returned to the SHU after they began accepting meals, while some only returned to their regular cells long after the strike was over.
Relocations resulted in property confiscations. Some men had their belongings returned, while others lost most or all of their belongings, including legal paperwork, family photos and so on. One protester reported that a piece of artwork he had made for donation to a coalition fundraiser had been deemed “gang related” and confiscated. Some strikers reported that when their possessions were returned to them, they had been “trashed”.
Refeeding. The following describes the steps of re-feeding as reported by one striker, though it may have varied throughout the prison and/or throughout the strike:
Days 1 and 2: One medicine sized cup of Ensure four times a day.
Day 3: Half a can of Ensure in the morning and half a can in the evening.
Day 4: Two full cans of Ensure; One in the morning and one in the evening.
Days 5 and 6: A peanut butter sandwich and a two-sliced bologna sandwich.
Days 7 and 8: Regular breakfast and dinner with instructions to only eat half.
On day nine the men resumed regular meals. Nevertheless, some men went directly to standard trays immediately, by their own choice.
The men could reportedly drink Gatorade and vitamins and minerals throughout the strike and the re-feeding process, though prisoners reported that they did not start receiving Gatorade or supplements until the end of July (three weeks into the strike). Prisoner G reported on July 25th that he started receiving 2 dry packets of Gatorade a day that he should mix with water. He said that the packets were opened but taped, and not always full. Some prisoners reported that guards told they would not be counted as being on strike if they accepted the Gatorade, further skewing statistics. To our knowledge no forced feeding took place at Pelican Bay.
We received various reports regarding re-feeding, implying that the re-feeding process throughout the prison were not consistent, and actually somewhat arbitrary. We received reports from multiple prisoners who were denied the re-feeding diet or received less than adequate proportions. Prisoner N reported that a fellow inmate was refused a special diet when he ended his strike and as a result he got sick and ended up in the infirmary where he received an IV. Others had to limit even their Ensure as they came off strike because their digestive system was so compromised. Numerous men reported that when they began eating again, portion sizes were and continue to be smaller, and that the quality of the food has dropped significantly, despite how deplete of nutritional value and desirability it already was previous to the strike. One prisoner who was unable to strike because of medical issues reported that he had given his special diet trays to the men who had come off strike so they had more nutrition.
Prisoners endured various acts of retaliation and intimidation by prison staff. Prisoners reported that creating uncomfortable conditions by way of temperature control was one such form of retaliation. The men explained that keeping the cells cold was a ploy to get strikers to eat again, as regulating body temperature becomes increasingly challenging with the loss of body mass. Prisoner O reported that in his pod the air vents were not functioning correctly creating extremely high levels of heat and humidity. The cells that were previously cold became stuffy and hot. Prisoner M reported that the guards had blocked the door with a mattress of a fellow inmate who was not on strike, presumably to keep him from passing food to those around him. The lack of ventilation was particularly problematic for that inmate because he suffers from asthma. In addition, prisoners reported that the guards played mind games with the men. Prisoner P stated, “where we used to get beat up, now there’s more psychological abuse.” Prisoner G reported that the guards offered him a tray with coffee and water to get him to unwittingly end his strike. Other such mind games took place on a regular basis.
Many privileges were revoked, suspended or limited during the strike. Typewriters, which had been issued a few days before the strike, were rescinded and to our knowledge are still not available. Other items were reportedly taken away as well, like cups, soap dishes and candy bars. Mail, including legal mail, was reportedly withheld and delayed throughout the strike. Law library access was limited. Prisoner F reported that he did not have access to books for three months. In addition, and perhaps most disturbing though not unexpected, prisoners were regularly denied yard and showers during the strike. The guards blamed the loss of yard on the work stoppage, and having to clean the pods. Another prisoner was told by guards that the denial of yard time was a result of not enough staff available to respond to emergencies. The men are used to frequent loss of yard time or “down days” as they refer to them, but according to Prisoner D, during the strike “every day was a down day.”
In addition, cleaning of the pods was neglected. Because of the work stoppage there were no tier tenders and it became the responsibility of the guards to clean the pods. However, on July 30th Prisoner H reported that his pod had just been cleaned for the first time since the strike began.
Both before and during the strike, prisoners reported that retaliation and intimidation by prison staff intensified. This was reflected in the number of reports we received regarding the increase in 115 violation write ups that the men received. Prisoners reported that the sergeants pressured the guards to issue more 115s--for anything. So regulations were tightened and rules changed, usually without prior notification, leading to more 115s, as planned. Prisoner D stated that the guards became “increasingly creative with their write ups.” Prisoner J reported, for example, was told that he “can have a stamp and an envelope, but a stamped envelope now counts as contraband.” He explained that this is in accordance to an old, outdated rule, previously unenforced. Prisoner G reported that he received a 115 for “disobeying orders”, for talking. There is no rule against talking, he explained, though there was a sign posted. Cell raids also increased dramatically. Prisoner E reported that both he and his neighbor received 115s for sending stamps as payment for their subscription to The Rock newsletter. Guards claimed that sending stamps was like donating money and having money is against the rules. He reported that his stamps were confiscated.
The majority of strikers received 115s simply for participating in the strike. Prisoner H stated that whether or not strikers received 115 for participating in the hunger strike depended on the correctional officer. Prisoners felt like the inconsistency of who did and did not receive a 115 was used as a method to break solidarity and create bad feelings amongst inmates. Prisoner J reported that everyone in his section received 115s. He explained that when they received the 115s they were told by the guards that if they plead guilty they would only get 90 day credit loss but if they plead not guilty they would receive the same credit loss and have their TVs taken, which is a big deal when one has almost no other sources of mental stimulation. Consequently, most of the men reportedly pleaded guilty. The guys who pleaded not guilty did in fact have their TVs confiscated for 30 days. After summarily being found guilty, they reportedly lost their TV privilege for an additional 30 days. Prisoner V stated that the 115s showed inaccurate dates, downplaying the amount of time they were on strike. Prisoner L reported that he was transcribing legal papers for his neighbor. His neighbor was written up for “passing an unknown item” which the guards claimed was food, with no investigation.
OUTSIDE SUPPORT FOR THE HUNGER STRIKERS.
The hunger strikers received support from many individuals and groups; not only from those of us on the outside of prison walls and those of us from California, but from fellow Pelican Bay prisoners, those incarcerated at other institutions, as well as individuals and groups nationwide. At Pelican Bay, there were individuals who were not participating in the strike, even entire pods, who boycotted the canteen as a way to show their support. Support from other incarcerated individuals emanated from across the country. CPF received letters of support from prisoners in Illinois, Louisiana and other states. In the state of Washington, prisoners, including juveniles, showed their support to California Prison hunger strikers, as well as those of Guantanamo Bay, by going on work strike on July 8, 2013. Prisoners in the Green Hill Juvenile prison in Chehalis, Washington joined the strike and released their own demands. There were also rallies held in support of the strikers in Seattle, Olympia and Chehalis, Washington, as well as in Portland, Oregon and in other cities as well. A Portland/Northwest regional coalition and network of individuals, organizations and affinity groups was formed to support the hunger strikers' five demands.
Following is an excerpt from a statement made during the hunger strike, published in The Fire Inside: Newsletter of the Coalition for Women Prisoners (Issue number 49, Fall 2013/Winter 2014), titled Central California Women’s Facility Supports Hunger Strike: “We. The women of CCWF, many of us who have friends and family members in the SHU, are helping support the men on Hunger Strike. We are fasting once a week on Fridays and doing a prayer walk every Friday at 7pm. We walk and pray at the same time for the men who are suffering from unfair treatment… This issue affects all of us.”
SUSPENDING THE STRIKE
The strike was officially ended by the prison reps on September 5 after sympathetic politicians, California Senator Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano agreed to conduct hearings with the purpose of proposing new legislation on solitary confinement. The first round of such legislation is currently being considered in AB 1652 and SB 892 (see President's Message in this issue).
Apr 01, 2013
From Prison Focus Issue 39
This report is based on dozens of letters received from
prisoners at Corcoran State Prison in the last six
months and interviews with 13 SHU prisoners in October
of 2012. As with previous reports, California Prison
Focus does not use names or initials to identify prisoners.
The basic themes of the report are:
1. the strong support among prisoners of all races for the
End of Hostilities Agreement that entered into force on
October 10, 2012;
2. the continued questionable practices regarding gang
investigations, validation and subsequent SHU placement;
3. the torturous and inhumane conditions of SHU in general;
4. the recent changes in yard policy that restrict the
amount of time prisoners spend outside of their cell
well below the minimum 10 hours per week set out in
Title 15; and
5. the blatant failures and unacceptability of the new Security
Threat Group Policy, including the step down
1. End of Hostilities Agreement
All prisoners from Corcoran with whom CPF has communicated
have responded positively to the End of Hostilities
Agreement. Several reported that the agreement is “holding”
at Corcoran. Many prisoners noted that without unity,
prisoners are not going to be successful in pressing their demands.
Indeed, one prisoner who is listed as “other” in terms
of race (not white, African-American or Hispanic) noted that
he participated in the hunger strike and encouraged others
to do so even though his “race” is not as directly affected by
the gang validation and indeterminate SHU policies. Another
prisoner noted that while the agreement is good, he is frustrated
with the slow rate of progress. According to another
prisoner, staff is fearing the agreement and starting to take
2. Gang Validations
Several of the same problems that have been mentioned
in previous Corcoran reports continue to surface. One prisoner
noted the use of his name in a list of names was used
as evidence against him even though laundry lists are not to
be considered legitimate evidence of gang affiliation. Two
prisoners noted that part of the evidence used against them
was material by George Jackson. One prisoner noted, “How
is it that I ordered the book, the prison handed me the book,
and then is using the book now to validate me as being involved
in gang activity?” The other prisoner noted that his
interest in the writings of George Jackson per se and the history
of black resistance does not constitute “gang activity.”
Another prisoner was validated based on a letter, a postcard,
and information from a confidential informant—the contents
of which he is unable to see or question.
One prisoner noted how he was able to challenge his gang
validation successfully in court, and when the OCS tried to
“revalidate” in one day (the process usually takes weeks or
months), the same judge thew out that validation as well.
Another prisoner was validated as a Nazi Low Rider even
though he is half-Jewish and on a religious diet. He said,
“How crazy is that?” He also noted that while he “isn’t running
with the gang bangers” he also won’t debrief. Two prisoners
noted that they do not even bother to attend the gang
review hearings because they know the outcome has already
been pre-decided and it doesn’t do any good. One prisoner
noted that he thought he would be able to make statements
on his behalf challenging the validation finding, but during
his hearing, he was not allowed to speak and was told to 602
anything he didn’t agree with.
One prisoner noted that the gang validation system is
clearly being abused (see “the real story” below), and that
if the legislature knew how the State of California was really
being soaked by the guards’ union, they would move to
end it. He was not against anyone being validated as a gang
member, but stressed the need for much stricter criteria and
monitoring of the system to prevent the current widespread
abuses. According to one prisoner who said he is not a gang
member and never was, the BGF is a defunct organization
with no ties to the groups on the streets. The only reason one
gets validated for being a BGF is because one is African American
and it’s the only gang they have in the prison for
Another prisoner noted that he was “ambushed” by the
gang investigator. He was pulled out of his cell after guards
lied to him, telling him he had a legal visit, but was instead
taken to the investigator’s office where he was put under intense
pressure to debrief. He noted specifically that investigators
wanted him to lie in his debriefing.
Suicide. The pressure to debrief by gang investigators is
intense. One prisoner told us that IGIs try to get to prisoners
through their families, and in the case of one prisoner, Armando
Morales, the consequences proved fatal—he committed
suicide after being shown a picture of his girlfriend. They
had found her on the streets and arrested her. The authorities
were trying to show their power by demonstrating they could
compromise anyone—even his girlfriend. Instead of debriefing,
Morales committed suicide. Another prisoner also told
of a suicide, but he did not know the name of the individual
and it is unclear if he was also referring to Morales.
The Real Story. One prisoner noted that many academics
and activist groups have been writing about solitary confinement
lately (which is great), but the real story of indeterminate
SHU is still missing. This prisoner is convinced that
at least 80% of indeterminate SHU inmates are neither associates
nor members of gangs. So why does CDCR falsely
validate so many prisoners as gang members or associates?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that those who stand
up for and defend their rights as well as the rights of their
fellow prisoners are the first ones to be validated as gang affiliates.
One prisoner, for example, noted that he heard how
one of the doctors who was working for CDCR had been
reprimanded by the California Medical Board. He thought he
would look into it. After writing to the Medical Board to fi nd
out why the doctor was reprimanded, he was validated. The
guards even warned him that if he kept sticking his nose into
the matter, he would face consequences. CPF has confirmed
that the doctor in question, Dr. Robles, is currently on probation
for negligent decisions in 2006 and 2007 involving four
patients while working at Kaiser. This example confirms a
trend of using loose gang validation criteria as a means to
punish prisoners who are simply trying to protect their rights.
Another part of the answer is the amount of work it creates.
He noted that to get to his “dog cage” for yard, one or
two guards get him at his cell and walk him about 50 yards
through a corridor where he is handed off to another guard.
He is then walked another 50 yards or so and is handed off to
another guard. This type of fi re-brigade process repeats itself
so that by the time he has gone to yard and back, he has been
handed off among 16 different guards!
3. Conditions of Corcoran SHU
Many of the prisoners at Corcoran have been to Pelican
Bay and some have spent significant periods of time (10
years+) there. While the windows at the Corcoran cells and
the “dog cages” (6’ x 9’ cyclone-fenced) on the yard allow
for a less intensely solitary experience and a greater level of
interaction among prisoners during yard time, the conditions
are still inhumane and constitute psychological and physical
Psychological impact. Many prisoners noted the strong
psychological impact of long term solitary confi nement
such as depression, inability to socialize, lethargy, etc. One
prisoner said he wakes up with the thought “I’m still in this
damn box.” He noted that being in SHU brings on a sense of
gloom over one’s life. He said, “Is this justice? I’m a nonviolent
individual. My crimes are not violent. Yet I don’t see
any light at the end of the tunnel.”
Another prisoner mentioned the mental torture one suffers
because you never know what might happen to you. He said
he was set up by the guards to get stabbed by another prisoner
while he was at Pelican Bay. The stabbing was supposedly
in retaliation for a staff assault.
Medical Care. Several prisoners noted that they were worried
about the medical system being handed back over to the
state from the Federal Receivership. One prisoner noted, for
example, that he had a swollen gum, but the dentist refused
to treat him. After a few days it got worse, and a staff member—finally
disgusted with the level of infection—walked
him directly over to see the dentist without an appointment
and without going through the normal bureaucracy. He then
did receive treatment.
Family Visits. Several prisoners noted that their indeterminate
SHU status had compromised their family visits. One
prisoner said, “I’m not going to allow my people to come
all the way from Oakland just for a one hour visit behind
glass.” Another said that his father came to visit, but was
denied when he had not fi lled out the forms properly. After
trying to clear up the matter, his father was still not allowed.
His father later died of cancer and he did not get a chance
to say good-bye to him because of being in SHU. Likewise,
another prisoner was denied visiting by his mother and she
also died after she had fallen ill but before he was able to say
Law Library. In order to deal with reduced staff, offi cials
do not bring prisoners to the law library, but instead ask them
which cases they need to read and deliver them to their cells.
One prisoner noted that such a system is a de facto denial of
his legal rights since he does not know which cases could be
related to his unless he does a search through the law library’s
system. Other prisoners also noted much more limited access
to the law library supposedly due to staff reductions.
No programming. Several prisoners complained about the
fact that no programming is allowed in the SHU. The hunger
strike apparently was able to get the CDCR to change their
policy about not providing exam proctors for those prisoners
who were paying for their own correspondence courses.
This change does not affect those prisoners who cannot afford
programming for themselves. Prisoners said that there
should be programming available in SHU for everyone--not
only for determinate sentences and lifers, but also for Life
Without Parole. One lifer noted that his SHU sentence is
keeping him from being considered for parole even though
he is otherwise eligible.
4. Yard Policy Changes
Corcoran State Prison has gone through several changes
in yard policy in the past month and CPF notes that the yard
policy may have already changed again as of this writing.
CDCR policy as set out in Title 15 § 3343(h) calls for a minimum
of three times per week for not less than 10 hours per
The policy has changed at Corcoran twice in one month.
Prior to September 2012, prisoners received about 9-10
hours a week. The regimen was then changed to fewer times
per week and more time. Thus, prisoners are being let out
between 3 to 5 hours at a time, but only once or twice a
week. One prisoner reported receiving yard time only once
or twice a month. In addition, prisoners said that the guards
will come up with any reason to cancel yard including especially
claims of being understaffed that day or guards having
to attend mandatory meetings which do not allow them to
The newest and most controversial change in yard policy
is that no prisoner with a cellmate will be allowed to go to
yard if his cellmate does not also go. This was instituted on
October 17. All prisoners we spoke with disapproved of this
new yard policy. The Warden instituted the policy on October
17 in response to threats from prisoners to carry out
a protest in which they refuse to double cell with anyone.
While some prisoners noted the protest would only be valid
in refusing new arrivals, others said they could refuse cellmates
as they come back from shower or yard. One prisoner
noted that the yard policy was illegal, and has already 602’d
it. He also noted that since Corcoran has a higher percentage
of older and sicker SHU prisoners, the chances that someone
would miss yard due to health reasons was high. The upshot
of the policy, he contended, would be to create more tension
in the SHU and increase the chances of violence.
5. Security Threat Group Policy and Step Down
Prisoners are in agreement that the biggest problems of the
new security threat group policy are CDCR’s continued reliance
on confidential informants (which produces inaccurate
information), and reliance on innocuous behavior or materials
that do not constitute “gang activity” to validate prisoners
as gang affiliates. Their opinions reflect those of other
prisoners at Pelican Bay and other prisons.
The use of confidential informants provides ample room
for corruption. One prisoner reported being encouraged to
lie about the “gang activities” of other prisoners in exchange
for being let out of SHU. CPF notes that, in essence, this
“underground” policy of pushing prisoners to “turn state’s
evidence” at risk to their person and to members of the families
in order to be released from SHU constitutes the most
common notion of torture.
Another prisoner noted that the four year time frame to
“step down” from gang affiliation was way too long and the
rewards (a phone call after a year, a deck of cards and increased
canteen purchases after two years) were laughable.
One prisoner said that although he never was a gang member,
he will not participate in the step down program because
he has no confidence in CDCR policies. Another said of the
step down program “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Officials told prisoners they would begin by reviewing
the 25 individuals who have been in SHU since before 1980
for immediate consideration to the step down program, and
would get that done by the end of 2012. Yet, officials also
noted that they would begin reviewing other prisoners starting
with gang associates [who do not automatically receive
an indeterminate SHU term under the new policy] and it
would take at least three years to get to prisoners validated as
gang members. One prisoner noted that guards told him off
the record that no gang members would be released through
the new policy.
Briefly, the recommendations from this reports address
two areas: the local yard issue, and the five core demands
from the hunger strike. CPF strongly urges Corcoran State
Prison to halt immediately its policy of denying yard time
to a prisoner unless his cellmate also agrees to go. Second,
CPF again urges CDCR administrative officials to implement
the five core demands of the prisoners, especially altering
the new Security Threat Group Management Policy
in the following ways. First, gang (or security threat group)
validation truly must be based on behavior only and not on
the possession of associative items to which the prisoners
have a right, such as writings by George Jackson, tattoos,
etc. Second, security threat group validations must not be
based on non-contestable yet highly questionable evidence
from secret informants. Finally, the step down program must
be shorter (maximum of 24 months) and include greater incentives
throughout the process.
Apr 01, 2013
From Prison Focus Issue 39
In November and December of 2012, CPF conducted several
dozen interviews with Pelican Bay SHU residents.
The following is a summary of the interviewers’ reports
and some letters from the PB SHU.
Gang validation: The policies of validation continue to
be unjust and corrupt. Validation is regularly used by prison
staff as a tool of retaliation and intimidation. Inmates are
often validated based on unreliable sources and unfounded
evidence, as well as prejudice and stereotypes. The assignment
of non-gang-related rule violations in conjunction with
validation has become more common.
Prisoners reported they and their fellow inmates are getting
validated for such things as ethnic tattoos, saying hello
to someone in another pod, or speaking Spanish, or based on
one’s name being found in another inmate’s cell. One inmate
was validated based on a photocopy of a piece of prison art,
which he reportedly did not even make. Another was validated
based on a poetry book that he published. One of the
poems, it was claimed, “posed a threat”, though according to
its author it had nothing to do with gangs. Others received
115s for cultural art. Some men say they are wary of drawing
any more for fear of receiving more 115s or of being
(re-)validated. Commonly, their fear of getting points for
validation suppresses their natural creative expression, self-empowerment
and education (e.g., content of their art work,
writing, reading political or radical books/magazines, visiting
the law library).
Family letters that mention another prisoner who has been
validated can be “evidence” of gang association. One SHU
resident expressed concern that past write-ups, though dismissed,
will be used against him if ever if he is faced with
potential validation, simply because his file is large.
The same themes arise again and again: being validated
on evidence over 6 years old that surfaces just days before
one’s active/inactive gang status review; false accusations by
guards in a bad mood or with a vendetta; being validated
through secret information from a confidential source; and
being re-validated again and again, despite having no writeups
for behavior, simply because one refuses to debrief.
Prisoners of color report over and over that they are being
persecuted based on their race, which is systematically
contributing to the unfounded gang-validation of people of
Rules violations: According to prisoners, 115s for minor
violations have been increasing. As with validations,
prisoners repeatedly relay stories reflecting the misuse of
violations, also commonly used as a form of corruption and
retaliation. From prisoner reports it appears that violations
are used as a tool to maintain a sense of powerlessness and
isolation among prisoners and to keep the public ignorant as
to what is taking place behind prison walls. There is a general
consensus that the issuance of 115s lacks uniformity and
are issued arbitrarily, based on external motivations. Violations
are frequently based on fabricated claims and for actions
previously unknown to the prisoners to be infractions.
One prisoner with whom we spoke, who received three 115s
for “gang related behavior”, explained that in reference to
115s, there is no due process. Another stated that 115s are
“practically pre-written, just waiting for names to be filled
in.” Inmates describe situations in which a guard or guards
become “predatory” to an individual prisoner, whom they
Following are some examples of violations issued to the
men we interviewed. One inmate received a violation as he
was returning from the yard, for an unprompted attack by
another inmate when the other inmate’s cell was prematurely
opened by the guards. Inmates are reportedly being issued
violations for talking in the law library, with no warning and
often arbitrarily, when in fact nobody is talking. Violations
are also issued when inmates holler hi and bye to friends
in passing and for talking to other inmates in the yard and
between cells. Talking between inmates in the yard is often
equated with gang activity and results in 115s. A prisoner
explained that even if unfounded violations charges are
dropped, the reports remain in the prisoner’s fi le and will
prejudice staff who read the reports.
Inmates are also concerned about the number of individuals
who owe restitution and the fact that CDCR takes 55%
of all incoming money to them for restitution. He explained
that during his time at PBSP (time unknown), funds taken
from inmates’ canteen money have increased from 22% to
the present 55%. He suggests that inmates should bear the
burden themselves by working off restitution, rather than
their loved ones who send them money.
Complaints (602s): Violations as retaliation are reported
to be a common tactic to discourage inmate complaints
(602s). In fact, one inmate explained that guards have outright
threatened prisoners that if they continue to write 602s
they will receive 115s for doing so. Filing a 602 invites trouble,
one inmate explained, and often leads to a cell search of
the entire pod. Guards are known to lose 602s, to rip them
up or write “refused” on them in front of the prisoners. Thus
many 602s are not submitted and even if they are, it is a
struggle to get them into the right hands. The process is corrupted
and largely ineffective.
Medical: The quality and accessibility of medical care
continues to be dismal. Inmates reported that the quality of
medical service improved somewhat under the management
of the federal government. Stories of medical negligence in
the SHU are far too common. Many firsthand experiences
were shared with CPF volunteers during the interviews and
in the hundreds of letters CPF receives monthly.
Inmates say that they are often not seen by a doctor for
one to two weeks after submitting a request to be evaluated,
even when seriously ill or injured. Nurses may be sent out
sooner, but reportedly they don’t do much. Often treatment
is denied for things such as allergies and pain; inmates with
high cholesterol and high blood pressure are only given aspirin.
Their poor diet contributes to these problems. Prisoners
with Hep C report that they are denied medication to prevent
the disease’s progression, and only receive meds when
their condition becomes severe. Procedures concerning
prescription changes are regularly violated. Asthma, which
is exacerbated by the cold, damp climate, is frequently untreated.
One prisoner, despite an absence of medical tests,
was told he does not have asthma, but rather has chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease and receives no treatment.
Medications are frequently reduced with no medical
evaluation. In fact, it was reported that Dr. Sayre recently cut
medications in half, arbitrarily, for many SHU inmates. Prisoners
reported having problems every month in their efforts
to renew their prescriptions. Prison staff often claims that
prisoners will use their pain meds for barter. Prisoners suffer
from the false assumptions of those in charge. One prisoner
reported that pain medication which had been prescribed to
him in another prison had been discontinued, and he was told
Motrin was sufficient, although his medical records showed
that Motrin was ineffective. One injured prisoner reported
that he has been denied treatment for his torn rotator. His
602 was denied as well. Another man suffering from endstage
liver disease can’t get medication because he is too ill,
but not sick enough to qualify for a liver transplant. Another
reported that ADA accommodations are consistently denied
or distorted (for example, limiting writing time rather than
allowing a cellmate to scribe).
Physical therapy has been taken away from many prisoners
who were previously receiving it and/or for whom it has
been recommended. Many who are in need of, or already
approved for medical transfer, have been denied. It was reported
as well, that inmates are often sent to a psychiatrist
when a physical ailment is reported, rather than a medical
doctor. One man lost his hearing aid and has not been able
to replace it, although he has severe tinnitus. Prison staff has
informed the prisoner that he does not need it. Another individual
requested a back brace, cane, a floor mat and pain
medication for injuries he had sustained in a beating in 1996.
They were all denied. With few choices, he presently wraps
a sheet around his lower back to give it support and lessen
the pain. Another inmate described a severe case of carpal
tunnel inhibiting the mobility of his dominant hand and causing
him a great deal of pain. Despite surgery on it four years
ago, it continues to cause him pain. He told us that he “tries
not to complain” and would “rather just pay the $5 to get
the Motrin.” According to inmates, 602s regarding medical
treatment are routinely denied.
As far as mental health, inmates report over and over that
they are suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental
health related problems triggered and/or intensifi ed by the
conditions under which they live. Some prisoners are afraid
to take medication for their symptoms, and report that medication
is often sedating or prevents clear thinking and functioning.
Food: Inmates reported that the quality of the food continues
to be extremely poor. In the words of the inmates, the
food is cold, runny, soggy, under-cooked, burnt, tasteless, disgusting
and of low nutritional value. The trays are reported to
be greasy, dirty with food from previous meals, and/or have
water in the bottom of them which adds to the sogginess of
the food. One inmate reported that recently they had received
moldy bread for six days in a row. In addition, there is little
variation in the menu and the portions are “child size.” It was
reported that the veggie, Kosher, and Halal meals have even
smaller portions and also that portions decreased in size after
the 2011 hunger strikes. One prisoner reported getting two
slices of bread and a spoon of margarine for breakfast on a
Kosher diet. “They want us off special meals because they
cost more.” Some inmates require special meals for health
problems, yet their requests are often ignored or denied.
Even previously approved special meals are being denied.
Heart Healthy Meals were introduced, then taken away when
the CDCR claimed that all of the meals had been made “heart
healthy”—though the meals reportedly had not changed at
all. Another inmate reported that meetings with the Associate
Warden had led to food quality improvements, but they were
temporary and the food quality returned to normal shortly
Inmates explained that breakfast and lunch are served together
in the morning. For most of the men to feel full they
have to eat both of them at once. Then they have to wait until
the late afternoon to get an insubstantial “cold, soggy dinner”.
Prisoners regularly go to bed hungry. Some reported
drinking water at night to help with the hunger. One man explained
that he is usually so hungry, he “can’t think.” Inmates
rely on their own money to buy additional food, also lacking
in quality, from the canteen, where prices have been raised.
Complaining about the food may result in retaliation. One
man was sent to the psychologist as a result of a food related
complaint. The general sentiment was summed up by one
interviewee who stated: “They want us to stay hungry and
with what they give us, we do.” The prisoners consistently
report that the quality and quantity of PBSP prison food is
unsuitable, and both prevents those who are weak and/or ill
from recovering and rebuilding their strength, and actually
causes and contributes to health problems among inmates.
Yard: It was reported that when a cell is painted—approximately
once a week—the entire block is locked down. There
are reportedly no programs or yard time during lockdown,
which can last from one and a half days up to a whole week.
The smell of the paint is strong and unpleasant, compounding
the effects of confiscated yard time. (Incidentally, some
inmates do not like the new paint. They say the shiny white
is stress-inducing and would prefer the old flaky paint or a
warmer color with a more calming effect.) Many of the men
reported that yard time is frequently (up to one and two times
a week) taken away for no apparent reason at all.
Sometimes it is cold and rainy and inmates don’t have the
proper clothing to stay warm in the yard. One inmate explained
that men are walked through the yard for medical
appointments in front of the other men in revealing shorts
and thermals. Requests for more modest shorts or permission
to wear other clothing have reportedly been denied. Old prisoners
whose cells are near the yard door often suffer from
“achy bones” – arthritic conditions that are made worse during
the cold and wet season.
The SHU yards have no pull-up bars or other equipment.
(Reports that Calipatria Prison has installed pull-up bars is
seen as divisive.) Similarly to the cells, there is little to do in
the yard except for pushups, sit ups, pacing back and forth
and so on. Calling these partially roofed confined spaces a
“yard” requires quite a stretch of the imagination.
Inmates report that Special Needs Yards intimidate people
and make guards happy. Prisoners are expected to stop any
problem, but are punished if they do, which creates a double
Conditions: Basic cleaning and maintenance at Pelican Bay
is being neglected. The men are not provided with
enough cleaning materials for their cells, and the guards use
the prisoners’ supplies. One interviewee, who came to Pelican
Bay in 1992, had never seen the cells hosed down, the
air vents cleaned, or the chandeliers dusted. These conditions
can be especially difficult for inmates with allergies. In addition,
the structure is old, cold and leaky, and walls are moldy.
Power outages occur on a regular basis. The general condition
of the structure raises questions as to the overall health
and safety of the prisoners.
Prisoners repeatedly report problems with the televisions.
For so many of them, TVs are the only source of stimulation,
while many more don’t even have that. The TVs are reported
to be low functioning with poor audio and visual quality.
And, inmates explained, like all canteen items the TVs are
far overpriced. Yet it’s worse in Ad-Seg because there are no
TVs there. The reason given was that there are no sockets
or shelves which cost too much to install. The radio station
that carries NPR and Democracy Now has been removed as
a listening option.
Canteen: As with the TVs, canteen items are of average
or poor quality, yet overpriced. The men reported that prices
have increased while selection has decreased. The snacks are
spicy and salty and there is little of nutritional value. Art supplies
are limited. For example prisoners report only being
permitted to have only a few colors of art pencils. Often the
men are told that new items will be offered but they are not.
One interviewee explained that one’s skin gets very chapped
due to the food deficiency, dry air and lack of sunlight. Nevertheless,
since last Fall the canteen no longer carries lotion.
Laundry and Clothes: Several interviewees reported that
their clothes are returned dirty and torn or sometimes not returned
at all. Recently, “it looked as if they had been washed
in muddy water,” said one inmate. When clothes are missing
or damaged the prisoners are made to pay for replacements.
When “new” clothes are issued they are often, in fact, used.
We were informed that prisoners in Ad-Seg are made to wear
pink jumpsuits, described as degrading. Requiring degrading
clothing is an illegal prison practice.
Prisoners must wash their personal clothing by hand, or
sometimes they choose to wash certain items by hand due to
the poor laundry service. However inmates are not provided
with an adequate amount of soap to do that, even with what
they can purchase at the canteen. One inmate reported that
after complaining about clothes being thrown on the floor
after laundering, staff retaliated with a pod raid and cell
searches resulting in the issuance of 115s.
Visits: A CPF interviewer reported that the sound level
on the telephone in the legal visiting booth was very low,
crackly, and inaudible at times. A prisoner noted that the radio
music that was supposed to be played in the background
to prevent guards from hearing the voices during visits was
turned off. Although the right to have a shave and shower
prior to visits was previously resolved, these rights are being
One interviewee explained that his mother had applied
for visitation rights eight times in the past five years, all of
which were denied. The inmate was told that it was because
his mother has a criminal record, which is untrue. One man’s
family came for a visit by bus, from many hours away. It was
to be their first visit in four years. When they arrived they
were told that although they had the notarization that the inmate
was indeed family, it was on the wrong form and the
prisoner was not able to see his family, including his young
son. He filed a 602 and has been waiting ever since.
Mail: It was consistently reported that mail is slow, irregular,
often delayed, tampered with and censored. When
mail is stopped, prisoners are often informed that there has
been a “processing error.” There is, however, no actual accountability.
The Rock newsletter was recently censored,
with certain articles ripped out. Some men’s copies of Rock
were not delivered at all. An inmate on mail restriction has
had letters from approved correspondents denied without explanation.
One man reported that it has taken up to 20 days
to receive mail from his family. Another said that it took 15
days, and the letters, in Spanish, sometimes arrive with portions
blacked out. He is not told what was censored or why.
Mail stop orders are still issued, yet senders are not receiving
notification that their letters were not delivered. Confiscated
letters are likely to be put in the inmates’ files to be used
against them in the future.
Photos: Inmates report that they have been waiting for
their annual holiday photos for months. One inmate reported
6 years between photos. He was not permitted to see the latest
photo before it was sent to family members. It was also
reported that guards had retouched inmates’ photos, changing
hair color and adding mustaches. One man explained
that he was denied a photo because of a 115 he had received.
Another was not given a photo of his family that included
him in it.
Cell changes and transfers: Requests for cell changes are
rarely processed. Double-celling requests by Short Corridor
SHU prisoners are being slowed by CDCR in Sacramento
and inmates do not know if double celling will be approved.
Medical transfers are often delayed or refused; sometimes
apparently as an act of retaliation by prison staff.
Cell Searches: Allegedly conducted on a regular basis as
a form of retaliation and often arbitrarily. Inmates indicate
that there are more of them taking place these days and that
they are conducted in a disrespectful and unprofessional
fashion, leaving the cells with inmate’s belongings thrown
Law Library: On a positive note, one inmate reported
that CDC staff seems to be allowing more access to the law
library. He stated that the previous waiting time of up to a
month has been reduced. However, others complain that the
waiting list is very long. Several of the men reported that
there is the risk in going to the law library of receiving a violation
for talking, even when no one is talking. Several interviewees
confirmed this and some stated that they do not go to
the Law Library for that reason. One librarian had been very
helpful to those visiting the library but was consequently “in-
fluenced” by other prison staff and is no longer able to help.
Miscellaneous: In general, information sharing is inhibited,
if not completely prohibited. Inmate requests for the
administration to post the Agreement to End Hostilities have
been repeatedly denied, as well as requests to air the Agreement
on the Institutional TV channel. Local TV news coverage
is bad, explained many of the inmates we spoke with.
Several explained that there was no coverage of Proposition
36, though at least one man said that all of the other propositions
were covered. As previously mentioned, the radio
station that carries NPR and Democracy Now is no longer
Prisoners expressed their conviction that guards aim to
discourage the success of the Agreement to End Hostilities
using tactics such as opening the wrong doors to the yard, to
incite violence. The men explain that they are not in the SHU
for violence, drugs or gang membership, but rather that they
are there because keeping men in the SHU is an institutionally
accepted method of mind control. This perhaps is exemplified
by the fact that so many SHU prisoners have not received
even one behavioral write up for well over ten years.
STG 7.0: None of the inmates interviewed expressed any
positive feelings about the new STG policy/Step Down Program.
(Most had not seen a version later than 7.0, but a few
had seen the Pilot Program regulations.) The men are dubious
of the program, denying that any real changes are taking,
or will take place. They felt the language was more deceptive
than the earlier (March 2012) version, and even more arbitrary
and would increase the number of men in the SHU. All
of the men agreed that there is still no objectivity as to what
constitutes evidence of gang affiliation, and CDCR refuses
to clarify. As one CPF volunteer stated, “It is not acceptable
at any level, to the men I spoke with.” One interviewee explained
that “the men who have been here a long time are
here because they won’t snitch” and he does not see a change
in their positions happening. It was reported that at least one
prisoner was refused access to SDP because he had participated
in the hunger strikes in 2011.
There is some confusion over whether prisoners are committing
to be in the program just by receiving the program
papers, or how serious the consequences are for those individuals
who drop out of the program and thus labeled “program
Many are asking, “Why are the same guards that are validating
us, still in charge of being our judges?” They feel
that the cases need to be reviewed by outside entities, that is,
non-CDCR persons. An interviewee said that the state Assembly’s
Public Safety Committee, chaired by Tom Ammiano,
promised to involve prisoners in deciding how reviews
would be handled. The prisoners have not yet seen any such
effort made by the CDCR towards this goal. The promise
by Scott Kernan to review first the cases of those held the
longest is seen as having been disregarded.
One prisoner expressed his concerns over the potential
for success in light of the financial gains for guards working
in the SHU. He feels that individual prisons have too
much control over prisoner treatment and that the Legislature
needs to take a more active role in writing California
regulations. It is reported that inmates are being coerced into
signing contracts and to debrief. One interviewee expressed
his belief that the new policy is a way to trap the men into
signing contracts that would be like debriefing. Some question
Step 1 and the value in spending a whole year reflecting
and writing about themselves. This is seen basically as “confessing”
– and the information is likely to be used against the
prisoner in the future.
One prisoner expressed his greatest concern, namely, that
the program assigns the men who have not debriefed to SNY
yards (Special Needs Yards). This is seen as dangerous, since
many of the prisoners in these yards are dangerous sociopaths
or otherwise impaired, and many have already debriefed
and are there for their own protection as “snitches.”
Since they have already conned the guards, they are given
protection regardless of their behavior, which leaves those
who have not debriefed vulnerable. He explained that there
are 38 prison facilities in California that have special needs
yards, many of which are mixed up with the general population.
80% of SNY are dropouts, who have debriefed. There
are approximately 35,000 SNY prisoners now in California,
and yet, he explained, SNY is not an official classification
in Title 15 or in DOM, so has no legitimacy. The solution,
the prisoner continued, is to discredit the SNY program and
debriefing, all together. “What a waste of tax money it is,”
Another prisoner expressed concern about how the public
is going to be looped into the STG classification system and
that children will be marked early, tracking them to prison.
Three Strikes: A prisoner voiced concern that despite the
3 strikes reform, he would be denied release based on his
validation record. He quoted the new legislation which states
that the denial of release can be based on “any reason considered
dangerous... including disciplinary background,” (such
Solutions: There is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom
within the walls of Pelican Bay. The prisoners are a great
resource for ideas on reforming the SHU.
One prisoner, who spent much of the interview talking
about solutions, expressed his support of allowing educational
programs to resume and involving colleges in designing
courses in which the prisoners could participate, with
outside course members.
Most inmates from whom we have heard express support
for the Agreement to End Hostilities. Many of the men who
support the Agreement are known and respected in their
communities both in and outside of their units and the prison.
Other prisoners often listen to these men, many of whom are
elders. This is one of the reasons that many of the prisoners
believe in the potential success of the Agreement to End
Hostilities. One prisoner, however, expressed his conviction,
that the “younger guys won’t go for it.”
It is incontestable that the SHU is detrimental to both mental
and physical well being. According to one interviewee,
even the operational manual for prison staff states that the
SHU is a high stress unit for officers and for that reason a
correctional officer only works in the SHU for a maximum of
two years at a time. Those who show high levels of stress are
removed immediately. Why are these conditions not considered
inhumane for the prisoners? The inhumane, physically
and mentally detrimental, cruel conditions in the SHU, as
described above by over 50 inmates, is harmful to everybody
involved, including the staff, and to society as a whole.
Apr 01, 2012
From Prison Focus Issue 38
The following report on conditions at Corcoran State
Prison is based on interviews with dozens of prisoners
and letters received from prisoners both in SHU
and in general population over the past year. No prisoners
will be identified by name, nor significant identifying information
reported, for fear of retaliation by guards or other
prison officials. Information presented here summarizes the
reports we have heard directly from prisoners.
CONDITIONS RELATING TO HUNGER STRIKES
Clearly the death of a hunger striking inmate, Christian
Gomez, in February 2012 is the most alarming occurrence
related to prisoners on hunger strike at Corcoran. Prisoners
in the Administrative Segregation Unit at Corcoran generated
a list of 11 demands at the end of last year. Administrative
staff initially engaged the prisoners about their complaints
and promised an answer within three weeks. When they received
no reply by the agreed date, the prisoners resumed
their hunger strike. A few days later, Christian Gomez was
found unresponsive in his cell. His death demonstrates the
glaring lack of concern for the safety and minimal well-being
of individuals under the charge of the CDCR.
In 2011 hundreds of prisoners at Corcoran prison joined
the hunger strike led by the prisoners at Pelican Bay commencing
on July 1 and resuming in September. Corcoran
prisoners reported that high CDCR officials met with them in
an attempt to get them eating again, but they responded that
officials should instead deal with the prisoner representatives
at Pelican Bay noting that whatever changes CDCR made for
PBSP would be valid for Corcoran as well.
Some prisoners, but not all, received vitamins during the
2011 hunger strike, but one prisoner reported they were old
and crumbling. Vitamins were distributed during the hunger
strike in July, according to another prisoner, but not in
September or October. A prisoner said he was taken to the
hospital just over a week into the strike and treated for dehydration.
Several prisoners put their lives on the line, losing
significant weight (up to 30 pounds or more) in order to push
the CDCR to make changes. Many prisoners at Corcoran
reported some positive changes resulting from the hunger
strike such as new canteen items, sweats allowed for purchase,
the availability of art supplies, the ability to get photos,
new calendars through the canteen, and even some music
radio stations restored. Problems have already erupted,
however, as some new exercise equipment (ab rollers) has
already broken, sunscreen is still not permitted, officials have
balked at allowing prisoners to get tennis shoes, and canteen
food items which were supposed to be left in their original
packaging are now being opened again before distribution
GANG VALIDATION ABUSES
As in the past, we heard several prisoners’ reports of their
bogus gang validation processes and how they are systematically
denied due process with respect to the validation process.
Prisoners often do not know the evidence against them
even though officials are required by regulation to present
the evidence to them at least 24 hours before their hearings.
In addition, old information items are used to validate prisoners,
and in one case used and previously rejected information
was used to validate a prisoner, in direct violation of
CDCR’s Gang Management Policy.
One prisoner reported that if a prisoner wants to debrief
but has little to no information to report, the institutional
gang investigator will “help” the debriefer by providing information.
They do this by mentioning, in a clearly negative
way, names of people whom they don’t like, thus inviting the
debriefing prisoner to report on that individual.
Evidence is routinely employed for validations violating
basic first amendment rights. Prisoners recently reported
spending up to 18 months or more in Ad-Seg units awaiting
transfer to SHU. Prisoners also complained about the lack of
rehabilitative programs available in both Ad-Seg and SHU.
The great majority of validated prisoners communicating
with California Prison Focus flatly report that they are
neither members or associates of the gangs with which they
are allegedly affiliated. The CDCR is not producing the evidence
required to demonstrate that a prisoner has partaken in
“gang activity” and thus represents a real and present threat
to other inmates.
Dozens of personal accounts by prisoners who have been
recently validated and housed in Corcoran SHU reveal a
consistent pattern of abuse of the gang validation process by
guards, the IGI units and OCS with the aim of getting certain
prisoners off the mainline. Which prisoners are targeted?
The pattern appears to include any prisoner who “shows attitude”
or somehow does not get along with certain guards,
prisoners who file grievances (i.e., stand up for their rights),
prisoners who assist other prisoners in fi ling grievances or
lawsuits, or prisoners who refuse to participate in the gang
structure and thus are “out of the control” of the gangs and
guards. One prisoner noted, “I am not gang affiliated. I get
along with everyone. That is the problem.” Moreover, prisoners
who have the respect of other prisoners but are not in
the gang structure are targeted for validation since the guards
cannot control them either.
One prisoner reported that guards use the structure of
the gangs to control the yard by offering incentives to gang
leaders to keep affiliates under control. Thus, prisoners who
refuse to join a gang, even after enduring physical and verbal
assaults for their refusal, are targeted for validation. One
prisoner reported that the IGI who validated him told him
flatly, “If you just point me in the right direction, I can validate
Race is still used routinely as a way to validate prisoners.
Latino prisoners are designated as either “N” or “S” upon
intake which is taken into consideration both in placement
and in gang investigations. Many Hispanic prisoners do not
know what these designations mean until after they have
been in prison for a while. Any book or writing by George
Jackson is considered evidence of gang activity, but only
for African-American prisoners. A white prisoner noted that
while Blacks and Hispanics may help to defend other prisoners
of their race during a scuffl e or assault with no implication
of gang affi liation, white prisoners are assumed to be af-
fi liated with the Nazi Low Riders if they ever help to defend
anyone of their own race.
Nearly every prisoner reported grave instances of medical
abuse. One prisoner had to threaten assault on the nurse after
his appendix had burst and was told to go back to his cell
with some Tylenol. Another prisoner noted that he waited
literally for years doubled over in pain with his gall bladder
problem before being taken in for surgery. The surgeon
noted it was the worst case of a swollen gall bladder that he
had ever seen.
Prisoners noted that they were routinely denied their medications
or equipment including canes, knee braces and wheel
chairs. Guards will simply deny medication and make the
prisoners file a grievance. The grievance takes time and usually
the medication is restored, but only after several days
or weeks of terrible pain. Some prisoners report having too
many medications, as if the guards are drugging them into
sedation. One prisoner noted that the combination of five
different drugs made his throat swell up and he was having
great difficulty in breathing, but the guards would simply not
believe that he was really having a reaction to the medication.
For prisoners with severe mental health problems, psychological
and psychiatric care is extremely limited. Some
prisoners who are supposed to see a psychiatrist at least once
a month are only seen every two months, and then only for
about five minutes in order to renew the psych meds. Prisoners
reported that one of the main instruments employed
to deny medical care is the paperwork. Grievances are returned
stating that paperwork is missing when the indicated
document is in fact attached to the grievance. References to
previously submitted grievances are denied (i.e., the complaint
was never filed), but when the prisoner files again, it is
screened out due to duplication.
IMPACT OF SHU ON MENTAL HEALTH
A disturbing pattern emerges from several accounts
whereby prisoners develop severe mental health issues due
to prolonged confinement at Pelican Bay SHU and then are
transferred to Corcoran SHU where they are treated. Essentially,
prisoners are tortured by long term solitary confinement
until they become suicidal. When they begin to speak
seriously about killing themselves, they get transferred not
out of SHU, but simply to another SHU. All prisoners noted
that they did not suffer mental health issues before assignment
to the SHU. While in the SHU, they develop symptoms
such as deep depression, hearing voices, anti-social behavior
(ie, not wanting to be around others even though they have
the chance to engage others during yard time), stark irritability
at even the slightest movements or noises of others in
nearby cells, problems sleeping, paranoia, stress, seizures,
asthma, limited mobility, PTSD, anxiety, and reports of seeing
shadows or images that are not really there.
One prisoner reported being lethargic and hopeless. Prisoners
who previously wrote frequently or practiced art
have given up these activities overcome by depression and
despair. Combined with the lack of minimal medical care,
SHU creates a great amount of stress for prisoners who know
that they could easily die alone in their cell and “nobody
would care” about them. One prisoner noted, “We’re treated
like animals.” Another patient with mental health issues argued,
“You would think that if somebody is mentally ill, they
would put him in a place where he could have peace and
quiet and could heal.”
ASSAULTS BY STAFF
We continued to hear reports of severe beatings and excessive
use of force by prison staff. One prisoner reported that
guards took him around the corner before they beat him to get
out of the way of the cameras. One prisoner reported getting
beaten by staff and having an object pushed into his rectum
by the guards while he was already stripped and handcuffed.
Another stated that he was pepper sprayed after refusing to
take his blanket down from the door, but after the altercation
was over, he was not allowed to shower. Several prisoners
have noted that beatings are routine, and that after several
years of such beatings, they are in constant pain and even
have difficulty doing routine activities such as getting up at
night or walking. One prisoner sleeps on the cold floor next
to his bed because when he gets up to go the bathroom, he’s
not sure he can make it all the way from the bed to the toilet,
so he prefers to sleep next to the toilet. One prisoner finds it
hard to sleep as he has flashbacks of previous assaults.
One prisoner has been the repeated target of assaults by
other prisoners for years and only recently discovered that
the file of a child molester of the same last name was “mistakenly”
(he believes intentionally) placed in his file. Guards
and nurses share confidential information in the medical files
when prisoners are taken to see the nurse and then spread
the word at the prison. The prisoner has been “gassed” (feces
and urine thrown at him when passing by others’ cells),
“speared” (with small arrows made of rolled paper) and
physically assaulted by other prisoners. He had always considered
himself a non-violent person before being in prison
and never committed a violent crime on the outside. He has
now added considerably to his prison sentence due to the altercations
with other prisoners based, of course, on the “mistake”
of CDCR personnel in mixing up his file. To date, they
have not corrected the error. That prisoner now suffers from
chronic pain due to injuries suffered in assaults.
The two major problems with mail are that it is often delayed
by up to 60 or 70 days arbitrarily, and that legal mail is
delivered to its addressee already opened. According California
regulations, if prison officials have well founded reasons
to open legal mail of a prisoner, they must open it in his
presence. Several prisoners indicated that they receive legal
mail that is already opened demonstrating that CDCR is both
knowingly and willingly violating the law in this regard.
No prisoner expects anything except the absolute minimum
with respect to the variety and quality of food, yet reports
indicate that the prison does not provide food of suf-
ficient nutritional value in sanitary conditions to meet even
that low standard. Prisoners report that the food is very much
watered down, often served cold, and extremely bland, and
the “patties” consist of questionable ingredients. Prisoners
cannot survive merely on the food provided by the prison and
therefore depend on their canteen orders to get by. More than
one prisoner noted their trays arrived with light sprinkles of
disinfectant on the food. They were given a second tray after
refusing it. One prisoner received a tray with a piece of hair
in it. He was told to “eat around it.” Knowing that the food
service does not meet minimal sanitary and quality standards
adds to the already high stress levels of living in the SHU.
Visits to the law library are routinely denied and allowed
only infrequently at best such as once a month. This situation
is itself illegal as many prisoners do not have attorneys who
can conduct their legal work for them, and the renders them
likely to lose in court and serve more time in prison.
The preceding report demonstrates a clear and consistent
pattern of human rights abuses at Corcoran State Prison.
Judge Thelton Henderson noted nearly two decades ago that
SHU conditions “may press against the outer limits of what
humans can nearly psychologically tolerate.” We conclude
that conditions at Corcoran are, at present, summarily intolerable,
and call on Warden Connie Gipson, Ombudsman
Jean Weiss, CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate, and Inspector
General Robert Barton to investigate these matters and put
an immediate end to these horrific abuses
Apr 01, 2012
From Prison Focus Issue 38
This report is based on recent interviews with and letters
received from prisoners housed in Pelican Bay
SHU. The names of particular prisoners have been
omitted in an effort to protect them from retaliation.
Retaliation from Hunger Strike. The most common thread
running through the correspondence and reports from Pelican
Bay is the various methods of retaliation that have been
and continue to be inflicted on prisoners who participated in
the hunger strike. After the first round of the hunger strike
ended on July 20, prisoners reported receiving a 128B informational
chrono advising them that participating in a hunger
strike constitutes a violation of the rules and that any subsequent
hunger striking would be dealt with accordingly.
When the hunger strike was re-commenced in September,
several prisoners reported a very different and harsh treatment
from staff. One prisoner overhead a guard informing
other guards about how to retaliate against the prisoners on
hunger strike. Cell extractions of the hunger strikers’ representatives
were conducted and significant losses of materials
in the cells were reported. Some hunger striking prisoners
(noted that they) were put on mail restrictions. Several had
all canteen items (not just food) removed from their cells.
Many prisoners also had all visits cancelled.
The hunger strikers’ representatives were pulled out of
their cells and put in bare cells in the administrative segregation
unit. These cells were reportedly very cold and prisoners
reported that prison personnel had turned on the air
conditioning on top of the already cold temperatures of the
building. Generally, thinner prisoners are kept in cells that
are far from the heaters and thus suffer from being too cold,
while more heavy set prisoners are housed right next to the
heaters that blast them with heat. One person reported having
to put up his blanket to block the blast of heat into his cell
while another complained of the constant cold. A request
sent by one prisoner to Sacramento to have heat more even
distributed throughout the prison was denied.
Medical treatment for prisoners did not follow the written
protocol with respect to monitoring weight gain, blood pressure,
etc. More importantly, medications were curtailed or
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sayre stopped medication for
several prisoners, including one who was suffering from
prostrate cancer. In addition, one person said that weight
monitoring, when done, was manipulated to show no weight
gain. For example, they weighed prisoners at the beginning
of the hunger strike with no shackles and chains, but later
weighed them with the restraints. One prisoner reported that
he received no medical attention whatsoever during the second
round of the hunger strike until the 14th day.
One prisoner noted that ALL prisoners in his section were
taken out on the fourth day of the second round and ALL food
was removed from everyone’s cells—not just the hunger
strikers—under the allegation that some prisoners had “lots
of food” and were suspected of feeding the hunger strikers.
One person noted the very poor medical monitoring during
the strike, stating that staff spent no more than 10 seconds at
each person’s door and their only concern was whether or not
the person was drinking water. Nurses or other staff checked
weight, blood pressure or pulse very irregularly.
Many prisoners were issued serious rule violations reports
(115s) at the end of the hunger strike, which occurred on
October 13. Apparently the 115s were issued only to some
prisoners, especially those inmates to whom CDCR officials
wanted to continue to deny any of the new privileges being
rolled out due to the strike. For example, prisoners who received
a 115 for hunger striking were denied having photos
taken to send to their families.
Continued Abuses by Institutional Gang Investigative
Unit. CDCR employ a myriad of ways to target and punish
prisoners in the name of “investigation.”
One prisoner stated, “They keep my address book in order
to find information, but this leaves me without the ability
to write to my family members.” This tactic punishes the
individual by cutting off contact with his family. Another
prisoner reported that several letters from his family are also
being held indefinitely by the IGI and that several family
members were being “harassed” by investigation officials
with the result of inhibiting visits for fear of being accused
of some “ghost crime.”
Another prisoner reported that he was encouraged to debrief
as a way to continue his education. In other words, CDCR
continues to use isolation as a punishment for prisoners by
denying certain “privileges” (such as access to rehabilitation
and educational courses) and then dangling them in front of
prisoners in exchange for intelligence on gangs. CPF notes
that such activities demonstrate that SHU is employed by
the CDCR for punitive purposes—not simply administrative
segregation as the CDCR claims. Second, such holding back
of basic rehabilitative services from prisoners is immoral and
unjust on two counts: First, it constitutes torture (ie, placing
people in extreme isolation for prolonged periods of time
in ways that cause physical and mental illness, and then offering
relief from those extreme conditions in exchange for
information). Second, denying educational opportunities to
prisoners violates one of CDCR’s primary missions which is
to help people to rehabilitate themselves.
Food. The only reports on food that we have received is
that the food is now worse than ever—worse than it was in
June of 2011 when the hunger strike began.