February 24, 2014
As a principal representative of the PBSP–SHU Short Corridor Collective – Human Rights Movement, I begin this personal perspective update – with a shout out of solidarity and respect to all those inside, and outside, these prison walls… who have put aside divisive race/culture differences in order to unite as a prisoner class and demand long overdue, meaningful reforms to the fascist – prison industrial complex – beginning with the end of long term solitary confinement… inclusive of humane treatment, dignity, respect, and rehabilitative programs and privileges of real substance – beneficial to all prisoners, our outside loved ones, and public safety in general.
Additionally, I sincerely thank the California Assembly and Senate, Public Safety Committee Members for holding the joint public hearings October 9, 2013 and February 11, 2014, in order to further examine the CDCR’s use/abuse of long term – punitive – solitary confinement as a general purpose “status” based, gang management policy… resulting in the torture of thousands of people over the course of more than three decades!
These hearings were in response to our third peaceful hunger strike protest in two years… wherein more than 40 prisoners fasted for 60 days, and, at its’ peak, more than 30,000 prisoners joined in solidarity, to protest decades of personal subjection to policies amounting to state sanctioned torture! Prisoner Billy Sell’s death was directly related to our collective protest issues, and others have yet to fully recover!
There can be no doubt that the Legislator’s courageous act of publically acknowledging our protest issues in late August 2013 saved many lives… and gave many people real hope that substantive changes will be forthcoming. And now that there has been additional public exposure – via the two public hearings – demonstrating CDCR’s refusal to institute real, meaningful changes, on its’ own – people are relying on the legislature to do all in their power to pass legislation, reigning in CDCR’s gross abuse of power, this year…
This is of critical importance in light of CDCr’s push to have their “Security Threat Group – Step Down Program” formally adopted into the rules and regulations… in spite of repeated – point specific objections to such by those affected by it… the prisoner class (including outside loved ones, and people of conscience); there are many red flags within the STG-SDP policy, as well as related actions(s), demonstrative of our point that this policy is simply a repackaged – new twist – on the policy(s) in place for the past 30 years, as briefly illustrated below:
The new Disciplinary Matrix changes nothing – it merely codifies all the innocent, associational type acts used to keep us in SHU indefinitely for the past 30 years – into the regulations, as formal rule violations – requiring a rule violation report; being found guilty of such is a slam dunk resulting in placement/retention in SHU for an indefinite term of 4 years to life…
Additionally it instructs staff to issue rule violations based on confidential prisoner informant/debriefing reports meeting reliability criteria per CCR Title 15, Section 3321… Those inside know how IGI (Institutional Gang Investigations) et al manipulate this – thus people can expect lots of write ups based solely on confidential prisoner informant claims… which will result in being found guilty, and once the determinate SHU term assessed for such is completed – it’s all about beginning the 4 year to life SDP!
Since we suspended our hunger strike on September 5, 2013, the CDCr has conducted 12 case by case reviews of PBSP Short Corridor prisoners classified as members – that’s 12 over the past six months! Additionally, the statistics show that while CDCr claims to have released more than 400 prisoners from solitary confinement – to general prison population per STG-SDP case by case reviews – the numbers of prisoners in solitary confinement cells has increased! This is what we stated would happen way back in March 2012 in our public opposition to the STG-SDP proposal!!
The CDCr has kept their word about providing us with a bit more SHU privileges… responsive to our core demand #5, and related supplemental demands. These are all things former CDCRrUndersecretary Kernan admitted we should have had 20 years ago… when we met with him in 2011! And most were only recently authorized a few weeks before the February 11th, 2014 legislative hearing. Of course such are a plus – but, they don’t go far enough (e.g. we should be able to have contact visits, and weekly phone calls etc. etc.) and a real concern is that providing additional privileges is the prisoncrats way of improving SHU/Ad Seg conditions with the intent such will make it acceptable to keep us here forever…
Our remaining demands (#1-4) remain unresolved!!
Many people recognize that there is an element within CDCr’s rank and file – Administrators, Office of Correctional Safety (OCS), California Peace Officers Association (CCPOA – guards union), etc. whose underlying agenda is to maintain and promote the expansion of the prison industrial complex – related to the growing fascist police state agenda in this nation.
One of the prisoncrats tactics under CDCr Secretary Beard’s leadership is the increase in propagandist demonization of SHU prisoners as the “worst of the worst”… in order to try and justify, and expand on, the policies and practices condemned by the world as violating longstanding human rights treaty law banning torture… A recent example is Secretary Beard’s LA Times Op Ed (of 8-6-13) wherein, he claimed the massive – peaceful – protestation was… “A gang power play, intended to regain control of the prison system” Secretary Beard’s support for this obvious lie? Reliance on 25 to 40 year old events – taken out of context… and, stories by two prisoners who broke down after years of enduring torturous SHU conditions, “debriefed” and were quickly recruited as state propagandist collaborators! In order to “successfully debrief”, one must support CDCr – OCS agenda… Notably, prior to these torture victims agreement to become state agent collaborators they were in the PBSP-SHU, Short Corridor, labelled the worst of the worst – each of whom are serving life terms for murder convictions outside prison and, issued many serious rule violation charges while in prison – landing them in SHU – wherein, one was accused of strangling his SHU cell mate… Yet, as soon as they agreed to become state collaborators against our cause – their past misdeeds are forgotten, and their words become “good as gold” while CDCr parade them before the public… used by CDCr to try and distract the world’s focus away from our exposure of state sanctioned torture – this is how fascists operate!!
For their part, these two collaborators now enjoy special general prison population perks, at the “sensitive needs” prison of their choice!
Also notable is the fact that the prisoncrats refused to allow Senator Hancock to personally meet with us in late September 2013… As well as refusing to allow a couple of us to personally participate in the February 11th hearing! CDCr’s intent being to try and prevent us from being seen and heard as human beings… while simultaneously propagating the alleged greatness of their Security Threat Group – Step Down Program!
From my perspective, the above points are ongoing examples demonstrating CDCr’s lack of respect for our human rights and dignity – as well as intent to continue to abuse their power with impunity, if allowed to do so!! It’s especially concerning the way they tried to marginalize us out of the legislative hearing process, and I believe it could be a major mistake for us to allow them to do so without even a token response – a reminder of our resistance and refusal to accept having our voices silenced, so they can maintain the status quo of indefinite solitary confinement and thereby condemning us to the long, slow death such entails, while they profit… Thousands passing on a day or two of food is a strong reminder and showing of solidarity!!
I mistakenly thought there was a consensus, and put out a statement in early January… The prisoncrats have hindered the dialogue, creating confusion, thus, as soon as I found out the consensus wasn’t there, I immediately moved to change the statement to reflect my personal views – this too was stymied!! Now, Ed’s irked, and I can relate… shit happens – we move forward!!
The important thing is – CDCr’s moves to marginalize us from February 11th have failed… Our people outside did a great job of educating the legislators about the sham aspects of CDCr’s STG-SDP (including Dolores’ requests for prisoners here to send letters to Senator Hancock) and, based on my commitment, a few of us went on a three day hunger strike from February 3rd to 5th – it all helped ensure that our humanity was not forgotten on February 11th!! I still believe a crucial part of our struggle for real reform requires us to do our part in here – failing that, we can’t ask for, nor expect, people outside to support us!!!
While I’m at it, I’ll also address/clarify a few recurrent points raised, related to our collective cause – from my perspective, as an individual and, principal representative, as follows:
The Subject of Criticism/Obstructionism
Historically, no social movement has proceeded without criticism. Constructive criticism is a good thing and everyone’s entitled to their opinion… Naturally there’s obvious reasons why we’re not able or willing to discuss the basis for our collective decisions – suffice it to say most people understood from the gate that this effort would be a protracted struggle, and we agreed to do all we could to be smarter than our adversary, recognizing this is a constantly evolving process, similar to a chess game of moves and counter moves, responsive to circumstances… And we’ve done an excellent job of this!
Most participants have done so on the basis of faith and solidarity, recognizing something has to be done to put CDCR’s abuse of power in check… Not everyone gets the point of a concept at the same time – some take a while to get it, and some never do, that’s human nature.
Generally, our goal is the same, and for those who do get it – onward in struggle and solidarity…
As for obstructionism – differences of opinion are always going to happen, and such are not obstructionist in my view. I see obstructionism as, one who actively attempts to hinder an action of resistance – I’m sure everyone recognizes it when they see it!
The bottom line is, our combined, unified efforts, inside and out, have been very effective to date – we’ve gained a lot of ground in a relatively short time… against a powerful entity!
We need to remain on top of things, and continue to do our part, and we will prevail… We can’t become complacent based on CDCR’s psychological tactics (like false hope).
On Agreement to End Racial Group Hostilities
People need to be mindful that this 2012 agreement was made and based on the consensus we came to here in the Short Corridor, and we encouraged prisoners statewide to follow suit – for their own benefits – as summarized in the agreement! This is an adult system, and we need to be mindful of what we all have in common behind these walls, and who our common adversary is… And be smart about achieving positive gains beneficial to all prisoners. As expected, CDCr has refused to allow us to promote our agreement, and there’s always going to be those who seek to derail it! All actions are accountable at some point, and people need to do their best to be wise and reasonably diplomatic!! Airing perceived breaches in public is not appropriate, and looks real bad on those who do so; it perpetuates divisiveness!
On Proposed Legislation
There’s a small opening for getting legislation passed this year – therefore, it has to be a collective effort, focused on the one or two key points, which have the best chance of success – beneficial to the largest number of prisoners! It’s a mistake to put forward a bunch of proposals which have no chance of passing this year, because, such takes away the focus from the one or two with the best chance of passing. An illustrative example is a criminal appeal… When you throw 30 issues at the court, it can hurt your chance of prevailing on the one or two strongest issues!! And result in losing the entire appeal!
I’ve thought a lot about this, and have come up with the two issues I believe have the best chance of passing.
The main issue of contention between us and CDCr is the definition of “behavior” resulting in SHU placement/retention.
The CDCr’s Security Threat Group- Step Down Program merely seeks to require “formal rule violations” to place/retain us in SHU, based on the same things they’ve used for 30 years (without writing us up), via the creation of the STG-SDP “Disciplinary Matrix” wherein, CDCr codifies minor association type activity into the regulations as formal – serious, and/or administrative rule violations. As well as instruction on formal charges based solely on confidential prisoner informant allegations, when the reliability criteria per Title 15, Section 2231 is met.
Thus, we need to obtain legislation that limits such abuse of power, by:
In August 2011, Governor Brown signed into law California Penal Code Section 1111.5, re: guidelines for “the use of in custody informants in criminal cases”… Thus, legislators are aware of problems with abuse involving informants, and I believe a unified push can successfully expand the scope of this penal code section to include the use of confidential informant/debriefing reports in the CDCr rule violation process… A big plus for prisoners!!
Push to end the use of minor prison rule violations – that are not even misdemeanors per penal code (see those listed in the STG – SDP Disciplinary Matrix for categories 6 and 8) – for SHU placement and retention… (The way to push it is to focus on the fact that such aren’t even misdemeanors, yet CDCR uses them to place/retain people in SHU cells for a minimum of 4 years to life – at a cost of at least $20,000 more per year than a general population cell.)
And, this will potentially result in approximately 85,000 prisoners – who currently meet STG criteria – being subject to these costly SHU cells – for 4 years to life (of torture!)
On Step Down Program Participation
Our position has not changed – we are 100% opposed to this! However, if people refuse to participate… then, how do we obtain the proof necessary to support our position that it’s a sham program? The journals are a problem – we’ve been told they don’t leave our possession – the facilitators just thumb through it in front of you to be sure you’ve written something… Naturally, participation is an individual decision, and any abuse need to be documented!!
On Class Action Certification
We’re still waiting on the judge’s written ruling – formally certifying the case as a class action! However, at the oral arguments – all present agreed – the judge indicated such certification would be allowed… The issue is just more complicated since the CDCr came out with their alleged “new” gang management policy per STG-SDP – and this is why we believe it’s taking a while to issue the order on paper!
Based on our own experiences here – we know CDCr – OCS/IGI are already abusing the STG Disciplinary Matrix, and issuing a lot of “serious” rule violations for minor things – using CCR, Title 15, Section 3023 “Promotion of Gang Activity” – without any evidence of “promotion” etc. And, any documentation relating to this – or any other abuse re: STG-SDP issues… needs to be sent to the class action attorneys asap!!!
With Solidarity and Respect – Todd Ashker