We are prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison who have all lived for over 15 years locked 23 hours a day in small windowless cells, without ever being able to hug or touch our families, without ever seeing birds, trees, or the outside world, with no programs or chance for parole. California keeps us in these torturous conditions not because of any violence we have committed, but because it believes we are affiliated with a gang, often based on artwork or photos we possess, tattoos we have, literature we read, who we talk to, or anonymous informants statements that we have no way of challenging. We are put in Pelican Bay not for any specific term of months or years for misconduct we have committed, but indefinitely, which in practice means forever- unless we become informants.
Last summer we went on hunger strike – we were willing to starve ourselves to death rather than continue to endure these dehumanizing conditions forever. We ended the strike because several compassionate legislators promised to call the hearings that are taking place today. Yet today the legislators will hear from psychologists, lawyers, other experts, corrections officials – but not from us – who have the most experience with the conditions we face – because California (CDCR) prison officials refuse to let us testify, even remotely via video or audio which they could easily do.
So this is our banned testimony: CDCR claims to have now instituted a reform program. It is a sham, just like the so called reform they instituted a decade ago after a court settlement which resulted in no real change. This new reform effort still maintains the basic conditions at Pelican Bay, and will continue to keep prisoners in isolation for vague gang affiliation based on artwork, literature, communications, or informants’ testimony that does not meet California’s judicial standards for reliability in criminal trials. California is still unwilling to move to a real behavior based system where prisoners are given determinate terms in solitary after due process hearings at which they are found guilty of some serious misconduct such as assault, murder, rape or drug dealing. Instead, these new policies widen the net of prisoners who can be labeled as gang affiliates and isolated based on that label. These unjust and ineffective policies are very expensive and have already cost our state millions of tax dollars which could be put to better use.
Moreover, even those prisoners who need to be isolated from the general population because of the violence they have committed while in prison ought to be treated humanely. There is no reason California can’t run very high security prisons that allow prisoners held in segregation to have contact visits with family, phone calls to family and friends, educational and rehabilitation programs, more out of cell time, cells with windows, recreational yards that allow for small groups to recreate together and see the outside world: in short, segregation from the general population, but not torture or dehumanization.
We have written petitions and letters to the Governor, filed a class action Federal lawsuit, and gone on hunger strikes seeking real reform, not the bogus reform Californian officials now propose. It’s time for California to do the right thing. It’s time for the legislature to enact meaningful reforms.
Todd Ashker, C58191, D4 121
Arturo Castellanos, C17275, D1-121
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C35671, D1-117
Antonio Guillen, P81948, D2-106
4 Reps: for the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Human Rights Movement, Crescent City, California
Tuesday, February 11, 2014