[This article was first published March 28, 2015 in the San Francisco Bay View ]
Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) began March 23, 2015. Actions were held in California from San Diego to Arcata (Arcata-Eureka, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Cruz) and Philadelphia, Penn. Activists in more locations will be joining in on April 23 and the 23rd of each month. Below is a report from just one locality, Santa Cruz, which took a creative approach.
by Willow Katz
About 45 people attended the first day of Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC), on March 23, 2015, at the Lighthouse on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. We went there to see the ocean for so many SHU and solitary prisoners who talk about their dream to see the ocean again, including Luis Esquivel.
The actions are being held in response to a call by California prisoners. Proposals for action from Pelican Bay State Prison hunger strikers in November 2013 included “designating a certain date each month as Prisoner Rights Day. … Our supporters would gather in locations throughout California to expose [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] CDCR’s actions and rally support efforts to secure our rights. We can see this action growing from month to month as more people inside and out become aware of it and join our struggle.”
Actions were held March 23 in California – at Arcata, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose and Santa Cruz– and Philadelphia. Monterey is planning future actions, and we expect more actions statewide, nationally and internationally.
We had an altar with a photo of Robert “Robio” C. Fuentes Sr. (Nov. 23, 1958 – Sept. 19, 2014) at age 21. Robio was in Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) Security Housing Unit (SHU) for 20 years. People used blue tape to mark off an 8-foot-by-10-foot space, the size of Robert’s SHU cell. We had banners that said “End Solitary Confinement” and “Solidarity with the Prisoners. SHU=State-Sanctioned Torture!”
A literature table included the Agreement to End Hostilities; Youth Justice Coalition’s “Statement to the Streets and All Youth Lock-ups”; Short Corridor Collective’s Proposals for Action, “Prisoners’ Agreement to End Hostilities as the basis for the abolition of ‘legal’ slavery,” Dec. 25, 2014; and a Petition for Strategic Release for Abdul Olugbala Shakur, one of the original authors of the Agreement to End Hostilities – we collected 40 signatures).
We also had the Sin Barras zine produced for the Cages Kill-Freedom Rally in January 2015. Food Not Bombs and Sin Barras served hot food and displayed a SHU meal on a small paper food tray, with soggy bread, partially frozen breaded fish, and “dirty salad” made of iceberg lettuce past its prime. People chanted “Agree to end hostilities, in prisons and communities,” “Unity inside! Unity outside!” and “Strike of 30,000 strong! Long-term isolation’s wrong!”
Sin Barras and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity STATESC outreach committee member Willow Katz spoke on the California Prisoners’ Human Rights Movement, the 2011 hunger strikes and the Agreement to End Hostilities across race and geographic lines, which helped the third hunger strike, in 2013, start with over 30,000 prisoners, the largest hunger strike in world history. It lasted 60 days.
She spoke about the proposals for action and the response outside the walls, Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC), beginning March 23, 2015, and continuing on the 23rd of each month; solitary confinement conditions, statistics and who’s put in; the Dallas 6 facing riot charges for peacefully protesting torture in solitary confinement at SCI-Dallas, Penn.; and Luis Esquivel, in the PBSP SHU for 16 years, plaintiff in Ashker v. Brown, who spoke with U.N. Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez, when he visited PBSP as an expert witness for the federal lawsuit on behalf of 240 prisoners held in PBSP SHU over 10 years. The suit will go to trial in December 2015 in Oakland, and supporters will be encouraged to fill the courtroom each day.
Luis’ sister, Martha Esquivel of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) in San Diego, sent the information on Luis – whom she calls a “warrior of life” – and stories about the torture the family has gone through, with heartbreaking visits through a window and denials of phone calls when family members were dying and even after the death of their brother, because he had died in Mexico.
Four years after the death of their mother, Luis told Martha “what the so-called counselor told him just minutes after I told my brother that my mom passed away. He said to him, ‘Your father is going to need you; your family is going to need you closer. Why don’t you take advantage of debriefing?’ This is how CDCr gives rehabilitation, this is how they help?” Luis never debriefed.
Cynthia Fuentes of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) talked about her brother, Robert “Robio” C. Fuentes Sr., who was in PBSP SHU 20 years. He was a hunger striker, poet and jailhouse lawyer, who also never debriefed.
Cindy read his poem “In This Place,” published in Extracts from Pelican Bay. The editor, Marilla Arguelles, wrote that a BBC program in a series “Short Poems in English” included this poem, and “I do hope that he then, and you now, could find comfort in knowing that he was not only published, but broadcast, internationally.” “In This Place” describes the “cement and steel tomb for the living” in the SHU “within the dark bowels of this prison” at Pelican Bay. It won America’s Best Poetry 1996.
Robert died due to medical negligence by CDCR, so common for prisoners. His name is now on the Plata federal class action civil rights lawsuit against CDCR’s criminally inadequate medical services. (See http://sfbayview.com/2014/10/robert-c-fuentes-poet-jailhouse-lawyer-and-humanitarian-in-the-hunger-strikes-dies-of-cdcr-medical-neglect/.)
In This Place
the dark bowels
of this prison, the walls rise
twenty feet, blocking out the sun.
Creating a cement and steel tomb for the living,
whose life of hell is never done. No quiet or solitude,
yet always alone, trying to keep sanity in place – a hard
task for any person who has to wear a mask to cover
all emotion. Within the dark bowels of this prison,
the animal instinct needed to survive exists
in each prisoner’s heart and mind,
as he continues his lone fight
to stay alive.
Merle Lustig of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights explained the torture of solitary confinement of juveniles whose brains are still developing, the 2011 U.N. call to prohibit solitary confinement of juveniles, abuses in California youth prisons, the Behavior Treatment Program which typically held youth for 60 days, and mental health and suicide risks.
She discussed California Sen. Leno’s Senate Bill 124 that defines solitary confinement as the placement of a person in a room or cell alone, limits its use, and requires documentation. SB 124 is co-sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Public Defenders Association, Youth Justice Coalition and Children’s Defense Fund-California.
Courtney Hanson spoke about Michael Zaharibu Dorrough of the New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism Collective Think Tank (NCTT), who’s held in the Corcoran SHU and who co-authored “Prisoners’ Agreement to End Hostilities as the basis for the abolition of ‘legal’ slavery,” Dec. 25, 2014]. She quoted him from a letter dated May 15, 2013: “The state’s response to everything is to always characterize what we do as ‘gang activity’ … and no sane person can actually believe that ‘gang members’ or the ‘worst of the worst’ are inclined to engage in activity that is as political as this. The hunger strikes, I believe, are an act of decolonization. It’s an effort to transform the culture, one that includes shutting down the Security Housing Units.”
People attended from co-sponsoring and endorsing organizations, including Cabrillo College Justice League, California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), California Peace and Freedom Party, Food Not Bombs, Project: Pollinate, Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization (SCRAM!), Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR) and Sin Barras. Many University of CA Santa Cruz (UCSC) students and graduates also participated.
Abolitionist Law Center, ACLU of Northern California, Anti-Racist Action-LA, California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), California Prison Focus,Critical Resistance- Oakland,Direct Action Monterey Network, Food Not Bombs, Global Women’s Strike, Human Rights Pen Pals, LA Laborfest, Prison Activist Resource Center (PARC-Oakland), Payday Men’s Network, Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community (PARC-Eureka), Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS), Project: Pollinate,Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization (SCRAM!), Sin Barras, Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike
Ramona Africa and The MOVE Organization, Dr. Nancy Arvold, PhD, MFT, member Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Black and Pink – San Diego, Cabrillo College Justice League, Cafe Intifada, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), California Peace and Freedom Party, Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA) Restorative Justice Institutions, Darrell and Karen Darling, Family of Frank Alvarado Jr., killed by Salinas Police, July 10, 2014, Freedom Archives, Free Our Minds, Free Radio Santa Cruz, Rabbi Borukh Goldberg, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, Justice for Palestinians- San Jose, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)-Santa Cruz County, National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), Dylcia Pagán, former Puerto Rican Political Prisoner held in US prison, Leonard Peltier Support Group Silicon Valley, Queer Strike, Redwood Curtain CopWatch, San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR), South Bay Committee Against Political Repression (SBCAPR), T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, United Against Police Terror – San Diego, US PROStitutes Collective, Donna Wallach, Women’s Council- California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers
Robert “Robio” C. Fuentes, Sr., Presente!
Frank Alvarado Jr., Sin Barras member and dear friend, killed by Salinas police on July 10, 2014, Presente!
Angel Ruiz, killed by Salinas police on March 20, 2015, Presente!
All killed and tortured by state-sanctioned violence, Presente!
End solitary confinement! Stop the torture!
For more information, go to www.sinbarras.org and https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/.
Willow Katz is a long-term prisoners’ rights, women’s, LGBTIQ and social justice activist. She works with Sin Barras, Global Women’s Strike, Haiti Action Committee and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity STATESC Outreach Committee. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Other photos from March 23, 2014, various locations