The New York Times added this video summary which was part of a series of interviews the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) conducted with the plaintiffs of the Ashker v. Brown class action lawsuit (2015). Date: August 10, 2015.
The New York Times added this video summary which was part of a series of interviews the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) conducted with the plaintiffs of the Ashker v. Brown class action lawsuit (2015). Date: August 10, 2015.
Published in the SF Bay View on May 20, 2015, and on the site of the Prisoner Human Rights Movement (PHRM), with the original typed here.
PDF of Moving forward with our fight to end solitary.
by Todd Ashker
Greetings of solidarity and respect to all similarly situated members of the prison class unified in our struggle to end long term solitary confinement and win related long overdue reforms to the broken California prison torture system! As one of the four principle prisoner class representatives, I am presenting this further update on where things stand with our human rights movement from my perspective.
I personally believe the prisoncrats’ efforts to turn the global support we have gained for our cause against us will fail. An example is CDCr (California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation) Secretary Beard’s reliance on 20-40-year-old prison history, much of it taken out of context and/or telling only one – biased – side of the story, which was transparently weak, for the purpose of dehumanizing the prisoner class in response to our global exposure of CDCr’s decades long, state sanctioned “policy” of torturing thousands of prisoners in SHU and Ad-Seg cells. [Security Housing Unit (SHU) and Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg) are forms of solitary confinement in California – ed.]
Such CDCr rhetoric indicates desperation – a very concerning desperation in the sense that it is demonstrative of CDCr’s top administrators’ intent to continue their culture of dehumanization, torture and other types of abusive policies and practices. See, for example, Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard’s Los Angeles Times op ed of Aug. 6, 2013, “Hunger strike in California prisons is a gang power play.”)
California prisoncrats have little to no credibility regarding most of their policies and practices in what is a failed, multi-billion dollar fraudulent system. Our global support remains strong and continues to grow, as we patiently continue to observe the progress of our evolving movement with an eye on planning additional ways to improve the effectiveness of our resistance, as necessary, to achieve victory. Here’s where things presently stand, from my perspective:
Their courageous efforts were stymied by the CDCr and CCPOA (guards union), using their political influence over Gov. Brown and many lawmakers. All of them took active roles in squashing Ammiano’s bill as well as repeatedly amending Hancock’s bill to the point of it being of very little relevance to our five core demands, thereby resulting in withdrawal of much of our outside support and finally Hancock’s withdrawal of the bill.
California prisoncrats have little to no credibility regarding most of their policies and practices in what is a failed, multi-billion dollar fraudulent system.
Gov. Brown and the other lawmakers who opposed these two bills are thus exposed as CDCr prisoncrat collaborators. Their acts and failure to act regarding CDCr prisoncrats’ indefinite SHU-solitary confinement policies and practices we helped expose to the world via our prisoner class collective’s mass peaceful protest actions between 2011 and 2013 make them supportive enablers of torture. And they need to be constantly exposed as such.
Keep in mind that since we formed the PBSP Short Corridor Collective in early 2011 (now known as the Prisoner-class Human Rights Collective), we have made a lot of positive progress in a relatively short amount of time. And it’s important to note that those who formed the collective are now in stronger positions, capable of being more effective now that many of the collective members have been transferred out of Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) to other prisons via CDCr’s Step-Down Program, enabling them to more effectively promote our Agreement to End Race-Based Hostilities.
This is directly related to our overall strategy on prison reform – our primary goal being to end long term SHU and Ad Seg confinement. Our secondary goal is to bring an end to CDCr’s abusive exploitation of the prisoner class, inclusive of our outside loved ones. That is related to CDCr’s failure to adhere to the legislative mandate to prioritize public safety via the rank and file staff’s “promotion of prisoner-on-prisoner violence” in order to justify the ongoing endless warehousing of tens of thousands of prisoners in the general population prisons across the state, especially in the Level 4 institutions.
Thereby, our goal is to limit the violence amongst the prisoner class and thus end the justification for indefinite massive warehousing. This forces prisoncrats to open up the general population prisons and use the billions of dollars budgeted annually for the purpose intended by the people: to promote public safety via programs beneficial to prisoners, our outside loved ones and society in general.
Our goal is to limit the violence amongst the prisoner class and thus end the justification for indefinite massive warehousing.
This includes allowing lifers’ to once again have conjugal visits with their loved ones on a regular basis, because maintaining close family ties is a well known, proven method of rehabilitation, including the reduction of violence in the prison environment.
And we are additionally hoping our example of effective collective unity for the benefit of all those who are similarly situated behind these walls will be followed by the working class poor in the communities.
We are in a protracted struggle against a powerful entity that includes an element with a fascist police state mentality and related agenda. We are fighting to make major changes to the way prisoners and our outside loved ones are viewed by society and treated in the prison system – inclusive of more than 30 years of well entrenched cultural policies that exploitatively dehumanize the prisoner class in order to subject them to systematic, state sanctioned torturous treatment and brutal conditions that have been condemned by international treaty law.
We cannot allow this to continue. We have taken a stand against it, and we must continue to do our part, collectively, from behind these walls, to end such malignant practices.
The reason for our progress is our empowering collective unity inside and outside these walls, the unity amongst prisoners, our outside loved ones and other supporters. Our efforts have helped to expose horrendous, immoral treatment of tens of thousands of incarcerated men and women, nationwide for decades. And we gratefully acknowledge the world interest, support and outraged condemnation of the United States prison industrial complex’ torture regime openly occurring in public institutions.
The reason for our progress is our empowering collective unity inside and outside these walls, the unity amongst prisoners, our outside loved ones and other supporters.
I believe it’s important for people outside who support our cause to be able to effectively counter the prisoncrats’ propagandist, dehumanizing rhetoric, as well as their ability to educate the public in general as to what’s really going on in this system – the current CDCr annual budget is more than $12 billion – and it is for this purpose that I include the below points.
1) Prisoncrats’ claim that “CDCr does not confine any prisoners in solitary confinement; nor do we torture prisoners.” These self-serving claims are demonstrably false.
Prisoncrats – the “civil servants” within the prison industrial complex, which is related to the military and homeland security complex, all being utilized in the class war on the working class poor – have been utilizing coercive brainwashing and torture techniques to exploit, manipulate and control prisoners and the related working class poor in the communities since the early 1960s. These techniques are modeled on those created by the Russians and used on American POWs by the Chinese during the Korean War (1950-1953).
Such techniques were subsequently studied – per CIA and military directives – by psychologists, psychiatrists and social scientists, resulting in two influential texts published in 1961: “The Manipulation of Human Behavior” and “The Power to Change Behavior.” The latter “became a theoretical and practical foundation for the behavior modification programs that shaped U.S. domestic prison policy in the 1960s and ‘70s. Both publications were heavily indebted to the literature on ‘Communist’ thought reform and sensory deprivation and both yielded specific techniques for the production of social death, both within the United States and beyond,” according to an excellent book on the history of solitary confinement in the U.S. called “Solitary Confinement: Social Death and its Afterlives” by Lisa Guenther, 2013.
Prisoncrats have been utilizing coercive brainwashing and torture techniques to exploit, manipulate and control prisoners and the related working class poor in the communities since the early 1960s.
Further support is the 1961 symposium, “The Power to Change Behavior,” convened in Washington D.C., by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). It brought together prison wardens and behavioral scientists – including Edgar Schein, an important researcher on Chinese Communist thought reform to consider how prisoners could be “treated” with behavior modification therapy.
“Edgar Schein’s contribution to the symposium, ‘Man Against Man: Brainwashing,’ draws on his 1953 research (published in 1956) on Communist brainwashing techniques to reflect on how these techniques might be used to reform U.S. domestic prisoners. Schein was a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management (then the School of Industrial Management). After publication of his 1971 book, ‘Coercive Interrogation,’ he went on to have a highly successful career in corporate and organizational psychology” (Guenther, “Solitary Confinement,” pages 84-87).
At the symposium, “Schein put forward a set of ‘practical recommendations,’ throwing ethics and morals out the window. They include: physical removal of prisoners to areas sufficiently isolated to 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” (Nancy Kershan, “Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons,” page 12-13).
Of course, these brainwashing techniques have been refined and perfected over the course of the past 60 years, such as techniques the British have used on Irish Republicans and similar tactics refined by the West German government to try and destroy the Red Army Faction, who were fighting the imperialism in their country, related to a large extent to West German government leaders adhering to the dictates of the U.S. government. And these are the techniques applied to prisoners confined in this country’s “control unit” prisons, as summarized with reference to specific examples in my Dec. 30, 2014, article “The way forward to end solitary confinement torture: Where’s the army?“ posted on the San Francisco Bay View website on Jan. 25, 2015.
Indeed, the control unit prison environment and effects thereof on the “living beingness” of those subjected to it are much more damaging than most people can imagine. Of course, one who studied the subject, obtaining a doctorate degree in the related fields of psychology and psychiatry, would be well versed in these effects, as I’m sure CDCr Secretary Beard is.
The control unit prison environment and effects thereof on the “living beingness” of those subjected to it are much more damaging than most people can imagine.
Examples of this are taken from Lisa Guenther’s book, “Solitary Confinement,” shared below in rebuttal to CDCr’s claims:
“We don’t operate solitary confinement – nor do we subject prisoners to sensory deprivation or torturous conditions in our SHU and Ad Seg Units.” This and the following quotes are taken from Beard’s LA Times op ed of Aug. 6, 2013, in which he states that “all SHU cells have outside facing windows” and “At Pelican Bay, all cells have skylights.” These are boldfaced lies.
“Inmates have TVs and radios.” This is true only if you can afford to purchase your own, and many can’t.
“They have weekly access to a law library.” This is a boldfaced lie. You might get access once a month.
“They have daily exercise time.” In Pelican Bay SHU, you may go to “yard” for one and a half hours per day, depending on circumstances from day to day. The “yard” is akin to a concrete cell, absent a toilet and water unit. You’re on camera, by yourself, unless you’re one of the few who have a cellmate.
“Many have cell-mates.” Very few have cellmates.
“They can earn degrees.” There are only a few openings, and one must pay for the required books; most prisoners can’t afford it.
“They send and receive letters.” Mail is one of the things IGI and other staff withhold and play games with.
“Their family and friends visit them every weekend.” Due to the isolated location of Pelican Bay, most prisoners never receive a visit.
“This is not ‘solitary confinement,’ in that prisoners can have visitors and, in many cases, interaction with other inmates.”
As described in my Dec. 30, 2014, article referenced above, the control unit environment is designed for the purpose of enabling prisoncrats to maximize their ability to dehumanize and psychologically exploit prisoners in order to coerce them into becoming informants for the state. One tactic is to place a prisoner of one race in a pod – a pod consists of eight cells – totally isolated from his social group. This can and does go on for years.
The control unit environment is designed for the purpose of enabling prisoncrats to maximize their ability to dehumanize and psychologically exploit prisoners in order to coerce them into becoming informants for the state.
From Guenther’s “Solitary Confinement” (2013): “What is it like to be confined in a supermax unit? A typical cell ranges in size from 6 feet by 8 feet to 8 feet by 12 feet; it is part of a ‘pod’ of eight to 10 cells arranged into two tiers. Cells are usually painted white or pale grey to reduce visual stimulus. Furnishings consist of a bed, table and seat, a toilet and sink – all bolted in place. [In California’s SHUs, all are concrete and steel].
“The door is constructed of perforated stainless steel resembling a dense wire mesh that obstructs the prisoner’s view to the outside while allowing some natural light to filter through along with the sounds and smells of adjoining cells, or even the pepper spray used on prisoners during cell extractions.
“There is a slot in the door, called a cuff port, tray port, meal port or pie flap, through which food trays are exchanged and the prisoner’s hands cuffed or uncuffed for removal from the cell. There are either no windows at all or just a small, high window that lets in light but does not afford any view of the outside. Surveillance via listening devices and cameras is constant.
“Prisoners are confined in solitude for 22 to 23.5 hours a day, with the remaining time spent – again, in solitude – in an outdoor exercise yard, surrounded by concrete or tightly woven security mesh walls that offer little or no view of the outside and only a small glimpse of the sky. These yards are often called ‘dog pens’ or ‘dog runs’ because of their resemblance to an outdoor kennel. Remotely operated doors allow prison staff to release prisoners from their cells for showers or exercise without coming into contact with them. Depending on the prisoner’s level of good behavior, they may be given access to books, radio, television …
“A prisoner in a Control Unit can for years, even decades, go without experiencing any form of touch beyond the chaining and unchaining of wrists through the cuff port in the door. … Officers are entitled to perform strip searches … Often, these searches are conducted as a matter of routine. …
“What would it be like to have one’s bodily contact with others reduced to the fastening and unfastening of restraints, punctuated with the most intimate probing of the surface and depths of one’s body? Not to be able to speak to anyone except through intercom or by yelling through a slot in the door? To be kept in solitude and yet exposed to constant surveillance and to the echoing noise of other prisoners? What would it be like to be prevented from having a concrete experience of open, unrestricted space? Not to see the sky or the horizon for days, weeks or even years on end?
“A prisoner in a Control Unit can for years, even decades, go without experiencing any form of touch beyond the chaining and unchaining of wrists through the cuff port in the door.”
“It is impossible to imagine. … Prisoners in solitary confinement are, by definition, excluded from the looping effects of social interaction; they are isolated in their cells, with no one to see or to look back at them, no one to touch or to receive their touch. And yet, precisely by virtue of their forced isolation, prisoners’ situation is mediated by countless others: the guards who keep them, feed them and monitor their activities; the wardens who oversee the guards; the prison review board that continues their isolation every 90 days [In California, it’s 180 days.]; … and us, the public who tolerate their ongoing isolation, even (or especially) if we are not even aware of it.
“Supermax prisoners are unperceived and unimaginable ‘others,’ but they are our others, and a society that practices long-term, wide-scale solitary confinement cannot help but be shaped by our (non)relation to those who have been ‘disappeared’ but who remain among us, and sometimes return to haunt us.
“Many prisoners speak of their experience in supermax prison as a form of living death. On the one hand, their bodies still live and breathe, eat and defecate, wake and sleep (often with difficulty). On the other hand, a meaningful sense of living embodiment has for the most part drained out of their lives; they’ve become unhinged from the world, confined to a space in which all they can do is turn around or pace back and forth, blocked from an open-ended perception of the world as a space of mutual belonging and interaction with others …
“[P]rolonged solitary confinement amounts to a production of something like schizophrenia in the prisoner (Merleau-Ponty, 2002, page 335). I argue that supermax confinement is not a solution to the problem of finding a place to keep ‘the worst of the worst’ from harming others. It is – among other things – a technology for producing what one could call mental illness, if ‘mental’ were not too narrow a term to express the complex intertwining of body, mind and world that I have undertaken to describe.
“Many prisoners speak of their experience in supermax prison as a form of living death.”
“Prolonged solitary confinement in a control prison threatens to exhaust the otherwise inexhaustible horizons of perceptual experience by blocking prisoners’ concrete experience of depth in its spatial affective and social dimensions. It leaves prisoners feeling like their lives have been drained of meaning, like they are dead within life, no longer of space but merely in it” (Guenther, pages 161-194).
2) Related to the above, is my response to those who question the position that we are in a class war, inclusive of policies and practices referenced herein, I will add my viewpoint of personally seeing our struggle for human rights and dignity in these prisons as being directly related to the war being waged against the working class poor in this nation – going on for far too long now. And that’s the point I’ve intended when various media reporters have taken my words out of context.
The imperialistic, fascist police state elitists’ abusive exploitation of the working class poor is out of control, and the only way for people to bring about meaningful change is to come together collectively. This includes the prisoner class, which is a microcosm of the working class poor, with most prisoners being casualties of the class war.
Related to this class war is CDCr prisoncrats’ intentional, systematic, state sanctioned torture regime for the diabolical purpose of breaking prisoners, using coercive sensory deprivation and other brainwashing techniques. One only needs pay attention to the consistent use of methods designed to dehumanize the prisoner class, especially those in SHU, and thereby psychologically indoctrinate those in control of said prisoners with a mental image of the subhuman “other,” thereby ensuring a continuation of the culture of malignant abuse.
This position regarding intentionality of CDCr prisoncrats’ continual dehumanization of the prisoner class is supported by more than 100 years of scientific study and experimentation, as exemplified in the various books covering the subject. As you read the following excerpts, remember – CDCr Secretary Beard holds at least one doctorate degree in psychology.
From Stanford Professor Phillip Zimbardo’s book, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil,” at page 307, “Dehumanization and Moral Disengagement”:
“Dehumanization is the central construct in our understanding of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ Dehumanization occurs whenever some human beings consider other human beings to be excluded from the moral order of being a human person. The objects of this psychological process lose their human status in the eyes of their dehumanizers. By identifying certain individuals or groups as being outside the sphere of humanity, dehumanizing agents suspend the morality that might typically govern reasoned actions toward their fellows.
“Dehumanization is a central process in prejudice, racism and discrimination. Dehumanization stigmatizes others, attributing to them a ‘spoiled identity.’ Under such conditions, it becomes possible for moral, morally upright and even idealistic people to perform acts of destructive cruelty. Not responding to the human qualities of other persons automatically facilitates inhumane actions. The golden rule becomes truncated: ‘Do unto others as you would.’ It is easier to be callous or rude toward dehumanized ‘objects,’ to ignore their demands and pleas, to use them for your own purposes, even to destroy them if they are irritating.”
At pages 311-312, “In ‘Faces of the Enemy,’ Sam Keen shows how archetypes of the enemy are created by visual propaganda that most nations use against those judged to be dangerous ‘them,’ ‘outsiders,’ ‘enemies.’ … Such propaganda has been widely practiced on a worldwide scale … In creating a new evil enemy in the minds of good members of righteous tribes, ‘the enemy’ is: aggressor, faceless, rapist, godless, barbarian, greedy, criminal, torturer, murderer, an abstraction, or a dehumanized animal.”
Taking the above into context, those people who pay attention will recognize the correlative relevance to what I’ve been pointing out: The fascist-elitists in power positions in this country have been waging an all-out, ever expanding war upon the working class poor – inclusive of the prisoner class. Support is self-evident when we consider the constant bombardment of propagandist war-monger rhetoric that the masses are subject to 24/7, via the government controlled mainstream media. Examples are “The War on Crime,” “The War on Drugs,” “The War on Gangs,” “The War on the Worst of the Worst.”
“Dehumanization is the central construct in our understanding of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ Dehumanization is a central process in prejudice, racism and discrimination.”
Those in power have been using this fear mongering, dehumanizing propagandist tactic in response to our societal social problems, keeping the people in a never ending war AGAINST EACH OTHER, while being constantly exploited by those in power in countless other ways. And the underlying root causes of our major societal problems remain unresolved – No. 1 of which is the growing unequal distribution of wealth. As Einstein so eloquently stated, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
I will add, it’s important to note that California prisoners’ and our outside loved ones’ treatment and conditions under the malignantly manipulative leadership of CDCr Secretary Beard have not gotten better. They have actually gotten worse when one examines the new police state-type regulations implemented over the course of the past three years. For example:
a) “The Security Threat Group Step Down Program” policy, which will ultimately enable prisoncrats to greatly expand upon the numbers of prisoners entombed indefinitely in SHU cells;
b) The expansion of the so-called “obscenity” policy, which criminalizes any and all prisoner – and public – writings critical of prisoncrats’ dehumanizing abuse of power; and
c) The mandated drug testing of all prisoners, together with subjecting all visitors to invasive searches and drug sniffing dogs, based on Beard’s crusade to rid prisons of drugs.
Beard’s pretextual support for this is his underlings’ fraudulent manipulation of “random” voluntary prisoner drug tests that allegedly demonstrated more than 25 percent of the population was on dope!? Most of the “dirty tests” were from people on their medically prescribed meds.
The above examples are textbook tactics, historically employed by fascists. These types of tactics are always initiated against the marginalized, disenfranchised segments of a society, and incrementally expanded to include the rest of a society. Under Beard’s watch, the system will continue to be a multi-billion dollar failure.
The deeply rooted culture of abuse will continue as long as leadership utilizes old policies and practices, expanding on them in spite of such being proven failures and violations of human rights. CDCr’s exploitative dehumanization of the prisoner class must end.
As summarized from the above excerpts taken from Professor Zimbardo’s book, such dehumanization is for the sole purpose of perpetuating the cultural climate of endless abuse of prisoners and our outside loved ones. Such is contrary to the principles of a society which promotes evolving standards of decency.
It’s disturbing Gov. Brown would appoint a malignant psycho-doctor like Beard to run an already twisted prison system. Secretary Beard is an opportunistic, career corrections administrator – a malignant torturer of prisoners – with a doctorate degree in various types of psychology. Prior to his appointment as CDCr’s secretary, he spent more than 30 years in the Pennsylvania prison system, retiring as the director of that system.
He was subsequently hired as an expert witness by lawyers representing California prisoners in the class action case, Coleman-Plata regarding mental and medical care violations, and he testified before the federal court in 2010 and 2011, declaring the systemic problems re mental health care violations in the California system had not been fixed, only to flip-flop on his position a few months later after Gov. Brown made a deal to hire him to run the California system, with an annual salary of nearly $300,000. That’s in addition to his large pension from Pennsylvania.
Once he became CDCr’s secretary, Beard submitted a declaration on behalf of the state, claiming the problems regarding mental health care had been fixed. He did this at a time when CDCr prisoncrats were regularly subjecting mentally ill prisoners to gallons of pepper spray, prior to brutally beating them, resulting in at least one prisoner’s death, which prisoncrats attempted to cover up. No big deal in a system operating with a long standing culture of dehumanizing prisoners, placing them on sub-human status with the support and enablement of lawmakers.
Also notable under Beard’s watch in Pennsylvania, the system instituted its own brand of additional, torturous sensory deprivation, via the creation of a unit for the “worst of the worst.” In this unit, prisoners are in solitary confinement cells, deprived of virtually all reading material, including newspapers and magazines. Apparently, the only reading material allowed is a fictional book once in a while, no personal photographs etc., a draconian policy upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 52 126 S.Ct. 2527 (2006).
Notable under Beard’s watch in Pennsylvania, the system instituted its own brand of additional, torturous sensory deprivation, via the creation of a unit for the “worst of the worst.”
With the above points in mind, it is no surprise to see the fascist policies of malignant oppression occurring under Beard’s watch in California. This is the purpose for which he was appointed by Gov. Brown – without opposition from California prisoncrats and the CCPOA guards’ union. They allowed appointment of this outsider without a peep.
3) In response to those who pose the question, “Why should we care about what’s going on in prisons?” there are many reasons for people to care, including their civic responsibility as citizens to be conscious of what their elected representatives are doing in their name. Here are a few more examples of why it’s in the peoples’ best interests to care and, in caring, hold those they allow to be in power accountable:
a) We, as a people, do not condone the torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of our fellow human beings under any circumstances. Such practices are not in keeping with our nation’s international public stance of being a protector of human rights, nor is it in keeping with our society’s evolving standards of decency.
Our nation’s prisons are intended for the purpose of punishing convicted offenders humanely. Our U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. We know that most of our imprisoned people will be released one day and it’s contrary to society’s interests to have people returning to society much worse than when they went in, especially not after being subjected to years of exploitative, dehumanizing techniques, inclusive of the worst types of physical and psychological torture that most people will never be able to imagine.
It’s no secret our nation incarcerates more people than any other nation on the planet – not surprising when we consider the fact that those in power have exploited the masses, the working class poor, via promotion of an endless state of war upon each other – War on Crime, War on Drugs, War on Gangs, War on the People. It’s also no secret that our nation subjects between 25,000 and 80,000 to a type of intentional sensory deprived solitary confinement as an ultimate control mechanism, designed for the purpose of completely severing those relegated to worst of the worst, sub-human status from their own sense of “living beingness.”
It’s no secret our nation incarcerates more people than any other nation on the planet.
In the California system, tens of thousands of prisoners have been subjected to an indefinite type of dehumanizing sensory deprivation in SHU and AdSeg cells. Many have been subjected to this endless form of state sanctioned torture for decades. And thousands of California prisoners have collectively participated in three massive peaceful protests, 2011-2013, thereby exposing this fact to the world.
Such practices are immoral and illegal. According to “Restatement of the Law Third, the Foreign Relations Law of the United States,” “a state violates international law if, as a matter of policy, it practices, encourages or condones … (d) torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, or … (g) a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, “Prolonged isolation and coercive solitary confinement are, in themselves, cruel and inhuman treatments, damaging to the person’s psychic and moral integrity and the right to respect of the dignity inherent to the human person” (Velasquez v. Rodriguez case, InterAm. Ct. H.R.(ser.C) No. 4, at page 156 (1988)).
The United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The CAT was ratified by the U.S. in 1990. The CAT defines torture as:
“An act by which pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as … punishing him for an act he or a third person committed or is suspected of having committed or intimidating or coercing him or a third person … when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
There is no question of California’s intentional violation of international treaty law via their policy and practice of subjecting prisoners to decades of indefinite solitary confinement, one purpose of which is to break the prisoner via brainwashing torture techniques, so the prisoner agrees to become an informant for the state – the worst sort of coercion.
The conditions and effects thereof on the person are summarized above. One additional point of support that such dehumanizing treatment and related conditions cause severe pain to those prisoners and their outside loved ones mercilessly subjected to such is the studies conducted by Matthew D. Lieberman, a Harvard trained professor in the Departments of Psychology, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UCLA. In his book, “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” Lieberman relies on fMRI brain studies and related experiments to support the position that we respond to social pain and pleasure in the same way we respond to physical pain and pleasure. And social pain may hurt more than physical pain.
There is no question of California’s intentional violation of international treaty law via their policy and practice of subjecting prisoners to decades of indefinite solitary confinement.
“When asked what the most painful experiences in our lives have been, most of us do not recount an injury or a broken bone; we describe the death of a loved one or the end of a marriage or a relationship.” The studies also demonstrate that empathized pain is real too. This supports what people have known for a long time: Social isolation causes people to experience extreme pain. This includes the experience of our loved ones and people of conscience who know of and thereby feel our suffering.
Another note from the U.N. General Assembly, July 28, 2008 [A/63/175], 63rd Session, Item 67(a) of the provisional agenda:
“IV. Solitary Confinement [Paragraphs 77-85, pages 17-20]
“When the element of psychological pressure is used on purpose as part of isolation regimes, such practices become coercive and can amount to torture. …
[At page 24] “Research indicates that small group isolation in some circumstances may have similar effects to solitary confinement and such regimes should not be considered an appropriate alternative.”
And then there’s the following from the introduction to the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s “Convention Against Torture: Periodic Report of the United States of America”:
“2. The absolute prohibition of torture is of fundamental importance to the United States. As President Obama stated in his address to the nation on national security, delivered at the National Archives on May 21, 2009:
“’I can stand here today, as president of the United States, and say without exception or equivocation that we do not torture, and that we will vigorously protect our people while forging a strong and durable framework that allows us to fight terrorism while abiding by the rule of law. Most recently, in his May23, 2013, speech at the National Defense University, the president reiterated that the United States has ‘unequivocally banned torture.’”
Finally, let’s not forget the revelations in late December 2014 regarding disclosure of the Dec. 9, 2014, release of the redacted portion of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s finding the CIA tortured countless detainees – per directives from Bush, Cheney et al. President Obama’s response declared that past practices were “brutal and, as I’ve said before, constituted torture in my mind. And that’s not who we are.”
The above points, when considered in the context of this nation’s blatant, ongoing violations of treaty law regarding exploitive torture of tens of thousands of prisoners subject to long term solitary, sensory deprived conditions of confinement, begs the question: Why? Why are you, the people, allowing these decades-old policies and practices of dehumanizing treatment and torture to continue to be carried out upon your fellow people – the casualties of the class war?
b) The fact that CDCr’s current annual budget for this fiscal year is more than $12 billion, while most other social programs are suffering from the past years of continual deep cuts, and the present push to substantially increase college tuition should be cause for the people to care.
This is $12 billion going to a corrupt state agency whose policies and practices are a 100 percent failure. We’re talking about a state agency funded by billions of taxpayer dollars each year, a state agency subject to a legislative mandate to prioritize public safety that has for decades done the opposite via a philosophy and culture of exploitative dehumanization of the prisoner class for the purposes of the expansion and related profit of the prison industrial complex – the related factor being the fascist, police state-type psychosocial war on the working class poor and related mass incarceration, including the expansion of the control-unit prison, as one means of keeping the masses in check.
The CDCr system is an ongoing, multi-billion-dollar fraud on the taxpayers; this fraudulent scheme includes involvement of most of our state lawmakers, who receive their share of kickbacks from various prisoncrats, including the CCPOA, the guards’ union.
The CDCr system is an ongoing, multi-billion-dollar fraud on the taxpayers.
People should care because there are more than 7 million children going without enough to eat every day. People should care because we’re treating our fellow human beings worse than our poultry and other animals. This is what our elected officials are doing to SHU prisoners, in the people’s name.
c) People should care because, historically, fascist police state regimes occur incrementally, via the initial oppression of the marginalized and disenfranchised members of society. Usually such oppressive action is taken based on the government’s claim that such is necessary “to protect the people’s freedoms.”
The fact that there is an element with an expanding police state agenda in this nation is not a secret, and an excellent book pointing to specific examples of this, with reference to similar historical events resulting in fascist regimes, is Naomi Wolf’s “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot.”
In typical fashion, these police state tactics are being borne out by CDCr’s dehumanizing police state practices of torture and other malignant oppression, presently being expanded upon to further oppress the working class poor people in the communities.
A current prime example of this is the San Diego District Attorney’s Office’s recent use of a clause in Proposition 21, passed in 2000, which states that anyone who benefits from gang activity can be charged with conspiracy. This is being applied to anyone who’s entered into the “California Gang Database,” created per Prop 21.
People are entered into the database based on meeting two or more criteria that for the most part are based on the subjective view of the officer who enters one into the database, no questions asked. The gang conspiracy charge is being applied to everyone who is affiliated anytime any one of the other affiliates commits a gang related crime.
Police state tactics are being borne out by CDCr’s dehumanizing police state practices of torture and other malignant oppression, presently being expanded upon to further oppress the working class poor people in the communities.
Those familiar with CDCr’s alleged “gang management” policies will note the correlation between the Prop 21 provisions and CDCr’s policy of using three or more items to validate a prisoner as a gang affiliate and thereby, on the basis of said classification alone, place him or her in SHU indefinitely. We remain until we parole, die, go insane or debrief – become an informant for the state.
Keep in mind the additional, more recent policies of oppression implemented under Beard’s watch, referenced above. I urge people to pay close attention to what is going on in San Diego because, if successful, such tactics will be used statewide, with the result that anyone with a sliver of association with someone in the gang database can be arrested and charged with conspiracy.
People should care because the CDCr tactics referenced in this document will, in time, all be implemented in our communities, if people continue to sit back and fail to hold lawmakers accountable.
Resist! Using peaceful action, fight for what’s right via coordinated, collective efforts – inside and outside these walls.
In early 2011, our collective drew the line and said, “Enough!” We, the prisoner class, will no longer complacently accept being dehumanized, subject to the social death and related endless torture many of us have been forced to endure in this tomb of non-living death for three or more decades with no end in sight.
Prior to our peaceful actions beginning in 2011, the prisoner class being exploited and abused in these long-term SHU units were all but forgotten. We were the faceless, nameless, socially dead subhuman “worst of the worst,” per prisoncrat propaganda, and we set out to take back our living human beingness and force major changes to the system, via our united, collective, peaceful actions.
Prior to our peaceful actions beginning in 2011, the prisoner class being exploited and abused in these long-term SHU units were all but forgotten.
Our intent is to educate and expose our decades of torturous treatment in these publically funded dungeons, the nature of which is the ongoing, multi-billion-dollar fraud on the taxpayer – on the people – to the world. And to date we’ve had some success, with more to accomplish.
In 2011, we said, “Enough!” and meant it. We are not going to accept anything less than the complete end to long-term SHU and AdSeg confinement, as well as the humane treatment and dignity that all living beings are entitled to. In the prison context, this requires an end to the CDCr culture wherein the prisoncrats have systematically dehumanized the prisoner class with impunity.
By prisoner class, I’m referring to prisoners and our outside loved ones. And we remain committed to our cause, no matter how long it takes or what sacrifices are required. And, crucially, we remain united in our collective struggle toward bringing the long overdue reforms to this broken, fraudulent, publically funded state institution – with the help of the people.
We remain united in our collective struggle toward bringing the long overdue reforms to this broken, fraudulent, publically funded state institution – with the help of the people.
The above is my perspective on our struggle, and here are a few quotes I try to keep in mind as we move forward. They’re from Howard Zinn’s “The Zinn Reader.”
At page 418: “The novelist Aldous Huxley once said: ‘Liberties are not given; they are taken.’ We are not given our liberties by the Bill of Rights, certainly not by the government, which either violates or ignores those rights. We take our rights, as thinking, acting citizens.”
At page 407: “It is never to be expected in a revolution that everyone will change their opinion at the same moment. There never yet was any truth or principle so irresistibly obvious that all people believed it at once. Time and reason must cooperate with each other to the final establishment of any principle; and therefore those who may happen to be first convinced have no right to persecute others on whom conviction operates more slowly. The moral principle of revolutions is to instruct, not destroy.” This quote is from Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man, Common Sense and other Political Writings.” Paine was a leader in the American Revolution.
From “Zinn Reader” at page 632: “Action is preferably organized, thought out action, but there should be room for whatever kinds of action any individual or group feels moved to undertake …
“We never know exactly the depth or the shallowness of the resistance to our actions – until we act. We never know exactly what effect we will have. Our actions may lead to nothing except changing ourselves, and that is something. They may have a tiny cumulative effect, along with a thousand other actions. They may also explode. We should not be preoccupied with prediction or with measuring immediate success but rather should take the risk of acting.
“We are not totally free, but our strength will be maximized if we act as if we are free. We are not passive observers, students, theorizers; our very thoughts, our statements, our speeches, our essays throw a weight into the balance which cannot be assessed until we act.” Action based on conscience. Action based on one’s civic duty as a “free” citizen to hold those in power accountable.
With all of the above in mind, I hope people will consider the following points
i) From the outset, we reject all intentions of prisoncrats and collaborating stooges of those operating with a fascist, police-state agenda of oppression to dehumanize our just cause, accusing us of being “worst of the worst,” making a power play to “regain control of the system,” or other labels used by the enemies of the working class poor. Our struggle adheres to the principles of the Constitution and International Treaty Law and is inspired by all oppressed people’s demand for human rights, dignity, respect, justice and equality – the demand to be treated as living beings.
Our struggle adheres to the principles of the Constitution and International Treaty Law and is inspired by all oppressed people’s demand for human rights, dignity, respect, justice and equality – the demand to be treated as living beings.
ii) Our outside supporters have all of our gratitude; their tireless efforts supportive of our cause make a gigantic positive difference. They have recently begun monthly supportive actions across the state, publicly rallying on the 23rd of each month for the purpose of keeping the subject of our endless torture in public view, and thereby exposed to the world. The 23rd of each month is symbolic of our 23-plus hours per day in these tombs of the living dead and it is hoped such rallies will spread across the nation.
iii) The people need to step up and hold their elected officials accountable. Our endless torture in these tombs is directly related to the power elite’s war of oppression and exploitation on the working class poor; we are casualties of this war. The people have the power. Power is worthless when it’s not utilized. The lawmakers in this state need to be constantly exposed as supporters and enablers of torture.
iv) I personally am no longer participating in CDCr’s Step Down Program. At this point I believe we’ve sufficient examples of such program being the sham we said it would turn out to be when we rejected CDCr’s STG-SDP pilot program proposal back when they first rolled it out in March 2012. We rejected it 100 percent back then and have never wavered from this position.
At this stage, I personally believe it’s a mistake for mass participation in the Step Down Program, especially for those doing life and/or long terms, because it’s a b.s. policy and ongoing mass participation is only helping provide prisoncrats with validation for such policy. As we’ve said many times before, if you’re not doing a “determinate” SHU term, you shouldn’t be in SHU, period.
Why should you have to eat shit – which is what’s being shoveled out in Tehachapi and Corcoran – to “earn your way out of SHU” when you shouldn’t have been in SHU in the first-place? I’m not going to do it, and I refer people to the open memo I’d put out to Secretary Beard et al, dated Sept. 1, 2014, regarding the way in which their policy, as structured, is open for failure. CDCr never responded.
v) And I encourage other people to put their heads together and see what types of further peaceful, non-compliant, non-cooperative, resistive means of achieving our goals they can come up with. One thing I’d like to see our outside supporters add to their agenda is a program targeting the CDCr rank and file’s culture of dehumanization of the prisoner class.
We’ve already demonstrated the power we have when united and collectively fighting for the benefit of all who are similarly situated, it’s time for CDCr to see and respect us as human beings and end long-term SHU. It will be a start towards meaningful reform of the entire system.
Onward In struggle and solidarity,
Send our brother some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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
This was published on Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, Sept. 18, 2014. The letter itself was written on Sept. 1st 2014
Todd Ashker writes from Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor:
“….I am requesting your attention and responsive dialogue-addressing these issues during the meeting with our outside mediation team- and with Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, James Williamson, and myself in the near future…
The following is from me.
We are presently at the one year point- post “suspension,” of our third peaceful protest hunger strike action against longterm-indefinite-solitary confinement [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg confinement]… and related conditions therein and damage therefrom- to prisoners, our outside loved ones, and society in general….
.…The bottom line is, longterm-indefinite-SHU is not effective and harms all concerned. It’s ending nationwide and this will be the case in Calif. too- better to be sooner than later….”
Sept. 1, 2014
Secretary Beard, UnderSec. Hoshino
Director Stainer, Assoc. Dir. Diaz,
PBSP Warden Ducart
From: Todd Ashker, C58191-
One of four PBSP-SHU Prisoner Reps
(via outside mediation team)
Subject: Five Core Demands, 40 Supplemental Demands,
and CDCR’s STG-SDP
This memorandum is directed to the above CDCR Administrators for the express purpose of respectfully reminding you about unresolved, and/or continued problematic, issues relevant to our 2011-2014 Five Core and 40 Supplemental demands… and CDCR’s Security Threat Group-Step Down Program [STG-SDP]…
I am requesting your attention and responsive dialogue-addressing these issues during the meeting with our outside mediation team- and with Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, James Williamson, and myself in the near future… The following is from me.
We are presently at the one year point- post “suspension,” of our third peaceful protest hunger strike action against longterm-indefinite-solitary confinement [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg confinement]… and related conditions therein and damage therefrom- to prisoners, our outside loved ones, and society in general, as supported by the public record from the legislative Joint Public Safety Committee hearings held in Oct. 2013/Feb. 2014…
I believe we have demonstrated out commitment to seeing the reforms sought in our demands implemented in principle and spirit, via our peaceful collective actions and I am reminding you of some relevant facts…
A) In 2011, CDCR Undersecretary Kernan, and others, admitted that our five core demands were reasonable-and, many should have been implemented/provided  years ago-Three years later, many remain unresolved –
B) It was our (2) peaceful hunger strike actions-involving thousands of prisoners statewide, and related international/national public exposure and condemnation of our decades of subjection to a form of coercive, state sanctioned torture… that brought out Undersecretary Kernan, and others’, public admission that CDCR had been over using the validation process’, and was going to revise such policies… responsive to our demands –
C) Our Primary Goal has always been, and remains, …Ending Longterm Indefinite- SHU/Ad-Seg confinement!
Contrary to CDCR Secretary Beard, et al, claims the STG-SDP is not responsive to our Primary Demand because it continues a policy of indefinite SHU placement and retention. (And it’s structured in vague over reaching terms, that will ultimately result in many more prisoners being subject to indefinite SHU-in large part due to minor infractions- already being born out by fact of, more prisoners are in SHU-Ad-Seg today- than there were prior to start of STG-SDP pilot program Oct. 2012!)
D) With our primary goal in mind -”Ending Indefinite SHU” policy- any policy/practice that enables such to continue is not acceptable, thus, while CDCR has been somewhat responsive to some of our demands re: SHU/Ad-Seg program/privilege issues- most of us in SHU for decades already,… remain here indefinitely! The point is, no matter how you dress it up- spending 24/7 in a small cell for months, years, decades- without normal human contact- especially, the contact of physically touching one’s outside loved ones… equals a form of torturous social extermination- period!!
E) A major aspect of our collective movement to meaningfully reform this prison system in ways beneficial to prisoners, staff, outside loved ones, and society in general, is related to the system’s rank and file treating prisoners and our outside loved ones humanely- as fellow human beings, with dignity and respect.
I’m not sure how many of you current administrators were in the loop during our discussions about SHU policy change(s) in 2011-2012, …but we pointed out that “CDCR leadership knows how to create a reform policy- intended to be successful or, – one intended to fail.” …As summarized below, the current structure and implementation of the STG-SDP appears to be intended to fail- this will not bode well for CDCR!
Remember this, our 2013 peaceful protest action was “suspended” and many prisoners are not happy with much of the STG-SDP policy!! They aren’t being treated humanely-with dignity, or respect, under the present structure and implementation of said policy…
Like it or not, you need prisoners cooperation, support, and participation with any policy affecting thousands, or your policy fails!
For example, if all prisoners refused to participate in you SDP, while you go by the STG provisions- your policy fails you because you end up having tens-of-thousands on Step 1, indefinite SHU status… Add peaceful actions, resulting in additional peaceful protesting prisoners’ deaths, and costs, etc… should you have to force feed a hundred to two hundred etc. prisoners- and related global attention… At some point, jobs would be lost and changes made- ending the failed policy!! Will it come down to this?? The bottom line is, longterm-indefinite-SHU is not effective and harms all concerned. It’s ending nationwide and this will be the case in Calif. too- better to be sooner than later…
With the above in mind, the following are points supporting the referenced facts and unresolved issues you have the power to meaningfully resolve:
1) Our alternative proposal to the STG-SDP has been on the table since Sept. 2012…. It’s based on principle points of (a) SHU placement being reserved for those guilty of felonious type violations-assessed determinate SHU terms, and (b) A modified type of general population transition program between SHU and G.P.- Our mediation team has details about this proposal, which have been provided to you as well. The SDP-Steps 3 and 4, aren’t even close to this (e.g. zero contact visits)
2) In addition to provisions enabling continued indefinite SHU placement and retention, the following examples support the position that the STG-SDP as structured and implemented is designed to fail…
(a) The issue(s) re: legitimate- meaningful- incentives for each step have not been satisfactorily resolved (e.g. allowing more- phone calls, photographs, packages/special purchases, contact visits, etc.)
(b) Steps 3 and 4 at CCI-Tehachapi, are seen as a bad-step down re: conditions, programming and privileges- to the extent that many prisoners see no point in participating!
Examples are: visits are limited to (1) hour, on either Sat. or Sun.; cells are dirty and cleaning materials are not being provided; nor is laundry, clothing, linen, etc, being provided/exchanged; the T.V. and radio stations are very limited and out of signal all the time; the food is bad; shower program is poorly run- as is yard program; property is processed very slowly, and typewriters are not being allowed, etc.,etc.,etc; Staff attitudes are poor!!
Plus, many prisoners held in PBSP-SHU for decades have loved ones who reside in the Del Norte Co. area- with jobs, etc., and a transfer to CCI is a hardship to their loved ones…
You have ability to remedy the above, via use of former PSU [at PBSP] cell block(s) for Steps 3 and 4… These steps should also allow contact visits!! A Step 3 and 4 at PBSP should be an option for those with local family ties, etc!!
There’s no legitimate penological basis to deny these prisoners human physical contact with loved ones and friends… Up until mid 1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed contact visits- thus, it’s a reasonable, meaningful incentive for those prisoners participation in Steps 3 and 4…
(c) The journals remain a problem for many (e.g. Corcoran) and I will point out that George Guirbino, et al, admitted at one of our meetings last year, that the journals were ‘lacking re:substantive rehab, value’ -qualifying this with- “but that’s all that’s available.” Look, we all know the journals have zero relevance to rehabilitation of prisoners transitioning between SHU and G.P. (demonstrated by the fact that prisoners placed on Step 5 by DRB’s case-by-case reviews of longterm SHU prisoners don’t have to do a single journal!!) You should make the journals a voluntary self-help program available to all CDCR prisoners… The way you’re using them as required part of SDP- Steps1-4, makes you all look bad- for many reasons!!
(d) The case by case reviews at PBSP are too slow-100’s still wait on theirs.
Miscellaneous Issues Remaining To Be Resolved Include But Are Not Limited To:
Your attention and anticipated positive responsive resolution(s) to the above subjects is appreciated.
Todd Ashker, C58191/PBSP-D4-121