by Todd Ashker
On the subject of SHU and Ad-Seg constituting torture, for those of us who may not be familiar with the specifics and in light of CDCr’s steady stream of propaganda – saying, “We don’t operate any solitary confinement units or cells in the California penal system, nor do we torture anyone” – here’s a summary of relevant facts supporting our position that these SHU and Ad-Seg units and the operations thereof are designed (modeled) after techniques designed to break political prisoners as a control mechanism. They are intended to break prisoners via coercive persuasion into becoming state informants.
I’ll begin by asking you a simple question?
Why is it that CDCr is able to get away with portraying PBSP SHU (Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit) prisoners as the “worst of the worst” sub-human monsters ever encountered in modern times as justification for their policies and practices of treating said prisoners as sub-human via decades of what is clearly a form of solitary confinement with sensory deprivation – and yet, as soon as these men agree to become state stooges via debriefing, they are no longer a threat and are released to the sensitive needs yard (protective custody) general population prison of their choice?
One of the main reasons they are able to continue to get away with their BS is the failure of the people to hold the lawmakers responsible.
I’ve been in the SHU for 28.4 years, to date, 24.7 years of which has been here in PBSP-SHU. [Editor’s note: This was written Dec. 30, 2014.] I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation. (During our hunger strike I was issued two rule violations classified as serious. They were for: a) having a photo of my longtime friend; and b) a letter that someone had sent me, a stranger who represented herself as a supporter of our cause and wanted to be a pen pal. Staff gave me the letter, and then came around later and confiscated it and wrote me up.)
The above is intended to put the following into some perspective: Based on my personal experience in PBSP SHU during the past 24.7 years, I’ve experienced many techniques designed to break me. One is isolation from my social group. This is a tactic used here by prisoncrats to physically remove those prisoners deemed “problematic” to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or weaken close emotional ties, along with segregation of all natural leaders.
I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation.
What prisoncrats like to do is claim that this place can’t be considered a solitary confinement unit because you have eight cells to each pod and thus the prisoners in each pod are able to talk to each other. But here is how it actually operates. If you are deemed a “problematic” prisoner by any of the staff – for example, if you are a prisoner who is constantly challenging the prisoncrats’ policies and practices – their way of subjecting you to an informal form of punishment or to try to break you is to put you in a pod where there are no other people of your social group.
Let me give you another example of this, so there is no misunderstanding: I received my CDCr number in December 1982, and in all my time in prison I’ve never had a problem with a cell-mate. In October 1990, I was set up and shot by a guard here in PBSP SHU. This is supported by a published 9th Circuit Court ruling, upholding the federal court jury verdict in 1995, finding the guard in question had subjected me to assault and battery. This injury caused permanent disability and, between 1990 to 2002, I had cellmates who would assist me with daily activities, such as washing the clothes we are not permitted to send to the laundry and with writing. For example, if you’re an African, they’ll put you in a pod without any other Africans anywhere close to you so that you will not be able to speak to any other African prisoner for the duration of time you are on status with the staff. If you’re Southern Mexican (classified as Mexican Mafia), you’ll be put in a pod with no other Southerners – a pod composed of several Northerners, maybe a White and an African – the same if you’re a Northern Mexican or White.
Between November 1995 and December 2002, the man I was celled with and I achieved three published rulings that were favorable for prisoners across the nation, in 2003. And in August 2002, the 9th Circuit Court overturned the District Court’s dismissal of one of our lawsuits regarding pepper spray decontamination policy issues, finding that it could proceed as a respondeat superior claim as well, a rarity in prisoner cases. And in September 2002, the District Court issued two permanent injunctions on our lawsuits re books and the ability to receive materials downloaded from the internet in our mail.
In response, the prisoncrats issued a memo in October 2002 in which they sought to further restrict prisoners’ incoming mail. We had an attorney contact the warden and the deputy attorney general representing CDCr in our lawsuits, demanding they cease their retaliatory acts in response to the injunctions we’d just obtained. And by November they rescinded the memo re mail restrictions.
Then on Dec. 3, 2002, they moved my cellmate and me to a lexan cell, a cell covered with lexan plastic which restricts air flow and the ability to communicate with other people in the pod even more, as well as being either too hot or too cold; and the following day they separated us. The pretext used to justify these retaliatory acts was an incident in another pod, wherein a White prisoner attempted to spear an officer. We weren’t in the same pod and had nothing to do with this incident and were never written up for being involved. We were both isolated from all other Whites and kept in the single cell lexan cells.
In July 2003, the associate warden granted my formal request to be able to double cell with a good friend, so that he could assist me with my daily activities, as per ADA (American Disabilities Act). He was then brought over to the lexan cell that I’d been in since Dec. 2, 2002.
We immediately began to challenge various conditions of confinement via the 602 inmate appeals process, and on May 19, 2004, we filed our lawsuit challenging our indefinite SHU confinement and related no-parole policies. This suit was a precursor to what is now our class-action lawsuit, and on June 8, 2004, we were single celled. I objected to this clearly retaliatory act, and they knew they had a problem because we’d been allowed to double cell in response to my formal ADA accommodation request in 2003, so they put us in cells side by side, so that my friend and cellmate could still provide assistance in the form of writing. We were still in the lexan cells.
In the interim, we’d been pursuing our civil suit, which had been dismissed a few times for technical reasons; and beginning in late 2009, we began to add peaceful activism activities to our challenges against illegal policies and practices regarding conditions of confinement, leading up to our hunger strike moves in 2011, which brought some international attention to CDCr’s torture policies and practices toward those of us who’ve been confined in the SHU for decades. And we were increasing the pressure via the prisoner class collective efforts we began in 2010, seeking to force the end to long term SHU, and we issued our historic Agreement to End Race-Based Hostilities in August 2012.
On Sept. 6, 2012, IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) had me moved away from the collective as well as my assistant, into a cell covered in lexan, isolated from all other Whites. The IGI’s excuse or pretext for this clearly punitive move in response to my litigation and activism efforts – our attorneys had filed the paperwork seeking to amend our lawsuit as a first step towards seeking class-action status on behalf of all similarly situated PBSP SHU prisoners around May of 2012, and it was getting a lot of publicity in July-August 2012 – was that the move was done for my safety, which was 100 percent bullshit. But it’s another tactic used to try to break prisoners – reporting rumors with the intent of creating mistrust, convincing prisoners they can trust no one and are in danger and need the prisoncrats to protect them.
Add to these isolative, punitive, retaliatory moves – isolation from one’s social group; separation from people you are working with collectively in order to more effectively challenge long term illegal policies and practices; placement into more isolative cells wherein one is subjected to increased sensory deprivation and extreme heat and cold temperatures; spreading rumors that the isolated prisoner has safety issues – many additional acts of psychological torment being perpetrated against us on a daily basis: for example, the systematic withholding and delaying of mail; loud noises blasted into the pods via the speaker system, and loud noises by staff as they walk the tiers at night to count; denying adequate medical care; telling prisoners that if they want to be able to get the care and treatment they need, they need to get out of SHU; telling prisoners, “You hold the keys to get out of SHU anytime you want to, and thereby get to general population where you can get better care and treatment,” and them knowing that our sole avenue for release from PBSP SHU is via death, insanity or agreeing to become an informant for the state via debriefing.
The above are all facts supported by solid evidence, and they constitute direct proof of CDCr’s policies and practices regarding decades of subjecting thousands to a form of torture for the purpose of coercion, as further demonstrated by the following excerpt from the 2013 book by Nancy Kurshan, “Out of Control: A 15 Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons.”
On pages 12 and 13, she writes: “(R)esearch the prisoners had conducted … revealed a 1962 Bureau of Prisons (BOP) meeting in Washington, D.C., between prison officials and social scientists. Billed as a management development program for prison wardens, it coincidentally took place the same year the BOP opened Marion.
“Dr. Edgar Schein of MIT, a key player at that meeting, had written previously in a book entitled Coercive Persuasion about ‘brainwashing of Chinese Prisoners of War (POWs). …
“Schein put forward a set of ‘practical recommendations,’ throwing ethics and morals out the window.
“They included physical removal of prisoners to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or seriously weaken close emotional ties; segregation of all natural leaders; spying on prisoners, reporting back private material; exploitation of opportunists and informers; convincing prisoners they can trust no one; systematic withholding of mail; building a group conviction among prisoners that they have been abandoned by or are totally isolated from their social order; using techniques of character invalidation, i.e. humiliation, revilement and shouting to induce feelings of fear, guilt and suggestibility; coupled with sleeplessness, an exacting prison regimen and periodic interrogational interviews.”
These types of brainwashing strategies that involve physical as well as psychological abuse were being adopted from international arenas and applied inside U.S. prisons. Examples include the tactics used by the Brits to try and break the IRA prisoners and similar tactics refined by the West Germans to try and destroy the RAF (Red Army Faction), who were fighting the imperialism in their country, which is to a large extent due to the West German government policies per USA government dictates.
Now compare the above notes regarding the 1962 conference to Dr. Schein’s recommendations, with the examples of how they operate in the PBSP SHU, that I’ve also included above, and try to tell me such policies and practices aren’t intentionally imposed for the purpose of torturing prisoners into becoming state informants.
Remember, when the Legislature had hearings on said policies regarding long term SHU, they asked the CDCr prisoncrats for evidence to support their claims that said policies and practices were in fact making the prison system – and the public in general – safer and secure. And the prisoncrats couldn’t produce shit.
The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants for the state – period – which is 100 percent illegal.
Additional evidence that is as seriously harmful and painful is contained in the book by Matthew Lieberman, “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” wherein Dr. Lieberman conducted studies using MRIs that demonstrated that people experience social and psychological pain in the same way they experience physical pain. It’s probably even more painful in the psychological context.
Here’s an example: Think about the worst painful experience you’ve ever had. Most people will think about the loss of a loved one or the breakup of a relationship, rather than a broken bone or other physical pain experience. It’s important to also remember that in addition to the circumstances and conditions prisoners are subjected to in the SHU or AdSeg environment is the fact that you are deprived of all semblance of normal human contact.
You are basically on sub-human, animal status for the duration of confinement in such units. You are always in a cage and/or in restraints, under escort by at least two guards, being observed by guards in the control booths who are armed with high power assault rifles.
The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants for the state – period – which is 100 percent illegal.
You are under constant surveillance via guards in the control booths and floor staff, who can and do listen to any and all conversations in the pods when men are talking over the tier and on the yards, via speakers on the yard walls. You have no physical contact with anyone other than while in restraints, via the guards escorting you with their hands on you, or at medical, where you are in restraints with guards hovering over you.
You have no physical contact with your loved ones. Those who are fortunate to get visits – a hardship for the majority of PBSP prisoners due to the remote location of the prison – visit behind glass, talking over a phone with a small video camera mounted on the wall. IGI staff are listening and observing you and your visitor the entire visit, and if either of you says or does anything the IGI observers don’t like, they can cancel your visit on the spot or, a few days or so later, they’ll issue you a write-up for alleged visiting violations and you end up on visit restriction for between 90 days to a year to permanently being banned from visiting with certain people.
Going back to Lieberman’s book, “Social,” it’s important to note that his studies included the subject of empathy, and he found that people really do “feel other people’s pain” when they observe people close to them being mistreated. The reason this is relevant is that not only are the prisoners being subjected to the above referenced coercive, torturous treatment FOR DECADES, but our loved ones and friends are subjected to the same psychological pain as we are. Supported by scientific studies conducted by Dr. Lieberman, and others, we find that the technique for conducting such studies has only become available over the past 10 years.
The point of the above summary is to educate the public and refute CDCr’s propagandistic claim, “We don’t operate solitary confinement units, nor do we torture any prisoners.” Facts prove otherwise.
What can people outside do about the above ongoing torture policies and practices by CDCr?
First, let me clarify a few things about where our cause presently stands from my perspective:
We successfully educated the public and exposed CDCr’s decades-old on-going subjection of thousands of prisoners to the torture of long term, indefinite SHU, via our peaceful activism efforts – the writing campaign (our formal complaint and other statements) and our three peaceful protest actions in the form of mass hunger strikes and work stoppages. By “we” I’m referring to those on the inside of these prison walls and our outside loved ones and supporters.
In my previous writings about our on-going struggle for real reform, the No. 1 priority being the end of long term solitary confinement, I’ve expressed the opinion that the prisoners remain responsible for leading this cause to victory via our actions inside these walls. And I’ve put myself out there with my peers pushing for additional peaceful actions on our part in here.
The response has been mixed, and it’s very difficult to get a collective consensus, as many of our outside people know. The administration has done all it can to prohibit us, the Short Corridor Collective, from being able to communicate. This began with IGI moving me from D1 block to D4 block on Sept. 6, 2012, and has continued with the recent move to D4-207, further isolating me from the prisoners who have influence in their respective groups, and the Step Down Program, with related transfers of many of the collective members to other prisons across the state.
Thus, I’ve had to reflect and re-evaluate our position. This is really not acceptable, and from my perspective is an excuse for non-action.Look, I’ve respectfully sent out several letters calling on the people to hold the lawmakers accountable.
It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.
The lawmakers must be held accountable
I’ve had to re-evaluate my prior perspective regarding prisoners continuing to lead this struggle in light of the above referenced factors. Subsequently, I snapped to the FACT that once we successfully exposed this torture program to the world, making the people aware, at least some of the responsibility shifts to the PEOPLE TO HOLD THE LAWMAKERS RESPONSIBLE.
And their failure to do so equates to THE PEOPLE enabling this to continue. The people have the power. The lawmakers hold their positions on behalf of their representative status – on behalf of the people.
It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.
With this in mind, here’s something people can do now towards holding the lawmakers responsible:
- Select a few of the lawmakers who we all know are in CDCr’s and CCPOA’s pockets for exposure as supporters and enablers of CDCr’s torture program, using social media to blast them worldwide. And you can also have people show up at their committee hearings to blast them as torture supporters. You’ll need to include references to public records supporting this position, such as the transcripts of the legislative hearings held regarding SHU, the September 2012 report by Amnesty International on PBSP SHU and the statements by Juan Mendez. The lawmakers you select for public exposure should be the five to 10 lawmakers who were the most vocal against Tom Ammiano’s bill
- Once these selected have come to be blasted in social media, you have a package together for presentation to the remaining lawmakers. The package needs to be a presentation supporting our position that this is a torture program, without cause or support for CDCr’s positions regarding making the system safer. Again, use the public records. And ask these lawmakers if they condone and support torture. Then, you present them with the things they can do to rein in CDCr’s abuse of power. This is a simple action. It’s something people can put in motion and have in motion while we plan our next moves.
Main reps mark the first anniversary of suspension of the 2013 Hunger Strike and the second anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities
by Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos and George Franco
October 2nd, 2014, published in the SF Bay View
Taken over from PHRM
We expect to hear soon from Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, the fourth of the main reps in the Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement. His remarks will be posted online as soon as they arrive and will be printed next month. He has been transferred to Tehachapi: C-35671, 4B-7C-209, P.O. Box 1906, Tehachapi CA 93581.
Greetings of solidarity and respect to all oppressed people and those committed to fighting for the fundamental right of all people to humane treatment – to dignity, respect and equality.
We are the prisoner class representatives of what’s become known as the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement. Last month we marked the first anniversary of the end of our historic 60-day Hunger Strike. Oct. 10 we mark the two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities. This is an update on where things stand with our struggle to achieve major reforms beneficial to prisoners, outside loved ones and society in general.
Our Agreement to End Hostilities would enhance prison safety more than any long-term isolation policies and yet it still has not been circulated and posted throughout the prison system. We urge that everyone read this document again and that you pass it around, study it, live it. (It is reprinted below.) The California Department of Corrections has yet to post this historic document. It needs to.
In 2010 -2011, many long-term SHU prisoners housed in the PBSP SHU Short Corridor initiated our “collective human rights movement” based on our recognition that, regardless of color, we have all been condemned for decades, entombed in what are psycho-social extermination cells, based on prisoncrats’ fascist mentality. That mentality is centered upon the growing oppressive agenda of the suppressive control of the working class poor and related prison industrial complex’s expansion of supermax solitary confinement units.
The pretext for that expansion is baseless claims that solitary confinement is necessary for the subhuman “worst of the worst” deemed deserving of a long slow death in hellish conditions. Supermax units were originally designed and perfected for the purpose of destroying political prisoners and now extend to a policy of mass incarceration.
Beginning July 1, 2011, we have utilized our collective movement to resist and expose our decades of subjection to this systematic state torture, via a campaign of peaceful activism efforts inside and outside these dungeon walls. We have achieved some success; we are not finished.
Last month we marked the first anniversary of the end of our historic 60-day Hunger Strike. Oct. 10 we mark the two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities.
We will not stop until there is no more widespread torturous isolation in California for ourselves and for those who will come after us. We remind all concerned that our third peaceful protest action was “suspended” after 60 days, on Sept. 6, 2013, in response to Assemblyman Ammiano and Sen. Hancock’s courageous public acknowledgement of the legitimacy of our cause and related promises to hold joint hearings for the purpose of creating responsive legislation.
Hearings were held in October 2013 and February 2014 which were very positive for our cause in so far as continuing the public’s exposure to CDCR’s unjustifiable torture program. Assemblyman Ammiano’s bill was responsive to our issues and it was thus no surprise that the CDCR and CCPOA (the guards’ union) and others opposed it – and it was DOA on the Assembly floor. Sen. Hancock worked to get a bill passed with some changes, but, according to a statement she released, even that failed when the Governor’s Office and CDCR gutted months of work by Sen. Hancock, her staff and the staff of the Senate Public Safety Committee.
California Department of Corrections has calculated that their alleged “new” policy known as Security Threat Group-Step Down Program (STG-SDP) will give the appearance of addressing the horrific inhuman treatment we experience daily. They argue the Step Down Program is a major positive reform of the “old” policy and thereby responsive to our core demands.
They hope to undermine the statewide, national and international growing support for our cause – the end of long-term indefinite solitary confinement, the torture we experience year in and year out.
We will not stop until there is no more widespread torturous isolation in California for ourselves and for those who will come after us.
The STG-SDP is a smokescreen intended to enable prisoncrats to greatly expand upon the numbers held in solitary confinement – indefinitely. Their STG-SDP policy and program is a handbook to be used with limitless discretion to put whoever they want in isolation even without dangerous or violent behavior.
Their Security Threat Group policy and language are based on a prison punishment international homeland security worldview. By militarizing everything, just as they did in Ferguson, Missouri, poor working class communities, especially those of color, become communities that feed the police-prison industrial complex as a source of fuel.
The daily existence of poor people is criminalized from youth on. We become a source of revenue – a source of jobs – as our lives are sucked, tracked into the hell of endless incarceration, our living death. The STG-SDP is part of the worldview and language of death, not life. It is not positive reform. Security Threat Group takes social policy in the wrong direction.
CDCR is explicit in that thousands of us are in indefinite solitary because of who we are seen to be by them, not because we have done anything wrong. They still decide this by our art, our photographs, birthdays and confidential informants who get out of solitary by accusing the rest of us.
The only “program” in the Step Down Program is a mandatory requirement to fill out meaningless journals that have nothing to do with rehabilitation – rather, they are about petty hoops for longterm SHU prisoners to jump through. The step incentives are so small as to carry very little real value or meaning for a majority of prisoners. They don’t meet our Supplemental Demands.
In fact the SHU at Tehachapi, where they send Pelican Bay SHU prisoners who have “progressed” to “better steps” in the SDP, have less visiting, more filthy cells, horrible toxic water, no pillows, nasty mattresses, rags for cloths, used mattresses, loud noises and some officers who are brutal racists.
Some of the privilege opportunities we won for SHU prisoners as a result of our struggles exist only at Pelican Bay. Some mean a lot to us but, in the long view, are trivial.
We need to get rid of the “mandatory” aspect of the ridiculous journals. We need to touch our loved ones and they need to be touched by us. We need to hug our mothers, fathers, wives, children, brothers, sisters.
We need more packages and phone calls and photographs. We need the same canteen that general population gets. We need overnight family visits. Up until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits.
Ultimately, we call for California to end the shame of their policy of solitary confinement for innocuous social interaction.
Prisoncrats propagate the 800-plus case-by-case reviews to date as evidence that their STG-SDP is a new program. The last statistics showed that almost 70 percent of prisoners reviewed were released to general population – including some of us who have been kept in these concrete boxes buried alive for decades.
These statistics prove something entirely different. They are factual data showing, proving that for decades 70-plus percent of us have been inappropriately confined, isolated and tortured.
It is CDCR’s senior people who are ruling that we have been inappropriately confined. These high release statistics prove without a doubt that the force of public condemnation, of united peaceful activity by those of us inside and our human rights supporters outside are required to keep CDCR from continuing their intolerable abuse.
We call for California to end the shame of their policy of solitary confinement for innocuous social interaction.
CDC argues that the transfer of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners to other SHUs at Corcoran, New Folsom or Tehachapi SHU cells or to various general population prisons proves they have taken measures to address the horrors and inappropriate use of SHU. In fact, even with the large numbers of prisoners being transferred out of SHU cells, there are no empty SHU cells.
Across the system prisoners are being validated for art, innocuous social interaction and for lies and misrepresentations about our mail by confidential informants who escape the SHU themselves by accusing others of behavior that cannot be defended against because we are sent to the SHU for accusations that we do not know the specifics about!
We are isolated for confidential, uncorroborated “ghost” accusations with no due process review – because solitary isolation is categorized as an “administrative housing assignment” and not punishment. CDCR is filling up the SHU cells as fast as they are emptied.
CDCR administrators admitted in August 2011 that the programs and privileges sought in our demands were reasonable and should have been provided 20-plus years ago. Up until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits, but no longer today. Why not?
CDCR hopes to destroy our sense of collective structure and our collective unity. We hope to expand our sense of collectivity as we spread out. We work to keep all opinions open, to think through new ideas and options for peaceful activity to shut down the reckless use of isolation and other abuses.
California uses solitary isolation more than any other state in the United States, both in absolute numbers of prisoners isolated – 12,000 in some form of isolation on any given day – and in terms of percentage of the prison population. The United States uses solitary confinement more than any other country in the world – 80,000 prisoners in some form of isolation as part of the practice of mass incarceration and criminalization of life in poor communities.
CDCr cannot deny these facts. Our decades of indefinite SHU confinement and related conditions therein are what led us to peacefully rise up and make our stand as a united collective of human beings – and we have been clear about our opposition to the Security Threat Group-Step Down Program. The prisoner class human rights movement is growing and we’ve succeeded in exposing this nation’s penal system torture program – nationally and internationally.
This mainstream level of attention and global support for the prisoners’ cause is unprecedented and it will continue to grow – so long as we all remain united and committed to doing our part.
Our peaceful actions have demonstrated that we are not powerless and the concrete fact is that the operation of these prisons requires the cooperation of the prisoners – thus, the prisoners do have the power to make beneficial reforms happen when we are united in utilizing non-violent, peaceful methods such as hunger strike-work stoppage protests and forms of non-cooperation.
We are thinking about how to extend this power peacefully across the prison system to make these institutions more focused on rehabilitation, learning and growing so that our return to our communities helps us all. Following and living by the principles in the Agreement to End Hostilities can help make this happen.
With the above in mind, we remind all interested parties that this ongoing struggle for reform is a “human rights movement,” comprised of united prisoners, outside loved ones and supporters. The PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement’s 20 volunteer representatives remain united, committed and determined about achieving the Five Core and Forty Supplemental Demands and the principle goals of the August 2012 “Agreement to End Hostilities,” with the support of all like-minded members of the prisoner class, outside loved ones and supporters.
Our primary goal remains that of ending long-term solitary confinement (in SHU and ad seg). This goal is at the heart of our struggle.
California uses solitary isolation more than any other state in the United States. The United States uses solitary confinement more than any other country in the world.
Along the way we are also committed to improving conditions in SHU, ad seg and general prison population. We make clear that any policy that maintains the status quo related to the placement and retention of prisoners into SHU and ad seg cells indefinitely is not acceptable – regardless of what programs or privileges are provided therein.
We have rejected CDCR’s Security Threat Group-Step Down Program and presented our reasonable counter proposal for the creation of a modified general population type program for the purpose of successful transitions between SHU and general population. CDCR’s top administrators have refused to negotiate, insisting upon moving forward with their STG-SDP. We are evaluating options.
Again, we need an end to the “mandatory” aspect of the ridiculous journals. We need to touch our loved ones and they need to be touched by us. Until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits. There is no legitimate basis for not allowing them now.
We celebrate the brothers who are getting out of the SHU after decades of confinement and understand the willingness to participate in the current CDCr charade.
We recognize those brothers in Corcoran and others who are refusing to participate in the SDP.
We’ve patiently observed the political process at issue for the past year, since such was the basis for “suspending” our 2013 action, and it’s becoming clear that those in power are still not seeing us as human because they refuse to end long term solitary confinement – in spite of international condemnation – ensuring the continuation of such psycho-social extermination policies.
Lawmakers’ refusal to abolish indefinite solitary confinement in response to the established record of abuse and related damage it causes to prisoners, outside loved ones and society in general – supported by the record of the joint Public Safety Committee hearings – supports our position that we are subjected to systematic, state sanctioned torture. This is a permanent stain upon this nation’s human rights record. Their continued refusal will require us to re-evaluate all of our available peaceful options.
Keeping all of the above points in mind, we respectfully encourage people inside and outside these walls to commemorate this two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities by joining with us in living by these principles inside and outside these prison walls.
We remain united, onward in struggle, always in solidarity.
- Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP SHU D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
- Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, PBSP SHU D1-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
- George Franco, D-46556, PBSP SHU D4-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
Agreement to End Hostilities
To whom it may concern and all California prisoners:
Greetings from the entire PBSP SHU Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives. We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP SHU Corridor. Wherein, we have arrived at a mutual agreement concerning the following points:
- If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.
- Therefore, beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end. And if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!
- We also want to warn those in the general population that IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) will continue to plant undercover Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer “inmates” amongst the solid GP prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats and obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our mutual causes. People need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics and refuse to allow such IGI inmate snitches to create chaos and reignite hostilities amongst our racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU, (Investigative Service Unit), OCS (Office of Correctional Safety) and SSU’s (Service Security Unit’s) old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!
In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us prisoners and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!
Because the reality is that, collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners and thereby the public as a whole, and we simply cannot allow CDCR and CCPOA, the prison guards’ union, IGI, ISU, OCS and SSU to continue to get away with their constant form of progressive oppression and warehousing of tens of thousands of prisoners, including the 14,000-plus prisoners held in solitary confinement torture chambers – SHU and ad-seg units – for decades!
The reality is that, collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners and thereby the public as a whole.
We send our love and respect to all those of like mind and heart. Onward in struggle and solidarity!
Presented by the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry) and Antonio Guillen; and the Representatives Body: Danny Troxell, George Franco, Ronnie Yandell, Paul Redd, James Baridi Williamson, Alfred Sandoval, Louis Powell, Alex Yrigollen, Gabriel Huerta, Frank Clement, Raymond “Chavo” Perez and James Mario Perez
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