Demand Justice for Erika Rocha: Attention to Abuses and Escalating Suicide Epidemic in CA Women’s Prison

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APRIL 25 2016 Press Release from California Coalition for Women Prisoners:

Advocates demand justice for Erika Rocha, who was 35 years old and just one day away from her Youth Parole Hearing last week when she committed suicide. Erika was incarcerated at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. The suicide rate at CIW is more than eight times the national rate for people in women’s prisons and more than five times the rate for all California prisons. In the week since Erika’s death, another suicide was reported and at least 22 more people transferred to suicide watch. The suicide watch unit is overcrowded and CIW is placing people on “overflow” in the SHU (“Security Housing Unit”).

California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) has released a statement highlighting the abuses that Erika suffered at the hands of the criminal legal system, as well as a list of demands to prevent similar tragedies from occurring and a petition to the California Legislature. CCWP is also supporting Erika’s family in raising funds for funeral services.

Erika was 14 years old when she was charged as an adult. Interrogated by police and prosecutors and threatened with a double life sentence for attempted murder, Erika pled to 19 to Life. Erika was 16 years old when she was sent to state prison. Prison staff placed her in solitary to “protect her” until she was 17, but she told CCWP that guards admitted to keeping her in solitary to protect the prison because she was too young to legally be there. At the time of her death, Erika was serving her 19th year in prison following two years in juvenile hall. She suffered from deplorable treatment for mental health issues attributable to her incarceration as a youth, including at least four indefinite terms of 2-3 years  in solitary confinement.

“We are continuing to gather information, but we know that the day before her death, Erika was released from a suicide watch unit and placed in a mental health unit where CIW is still required to take precautions to prevent deaths,” said Colby Lenz, CCWP member. “Multiple institutions, including CIW and CDCR, are responsible for this tragedy. We demand a full investigation into the ongoing crisis and high suicide rate at CIW. We ask the California Legislature to order the Office of the Inspector General to take action immediately.”

CCWP Program Coordinator, Windy Click, who met Erika in prison when she was 19, said, “Erika was always seeking help, she was lost inside an adult facility not knowing what the future held. When she asked for help they didn’t bother to help her.”

“Erika’s death is a painful example of how the criminal justice system is broken and therefore breaks people. They did this to her. She obviously didn’t see any future for herself,” said another friend of Erika’s who was also incarcerated in state prison at 16.

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Please see the list of demands and request for help below 1

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CA state court : Prisoner Can’t Be Punished for Hunger Strike

  • Below is the April 23, 2016 article from SF Gate/San Francisco Chronicle (minus photos and video in the article)
  • Court’s full decision at the bottom of the post.

State court rules prisoners can’t be punished for hunger strike

http://m.sfgate.com/news/article/State-court-rules-prisoners-can-t-be-punished-7305577.php

A state appeals court says a California prisoner who took part in a mass hunger strike protesting long-term solitary confinement should not have been punished for disorderly behavior because he did not disrupt prison operations or endanger anyone.

Although the 2013 hunger strike, which involved as many as 30,000 inmates across the state, may have affected the workload of prison staff members, there was no evidence of “a breakdown of order” or any threat of violence, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said in the case of a former inmate at Pelican Bay State Prison.

The ruling, issued last month, was published Friday as a precedent for future cases. In addition to overturning a 90-day sentencing increase for the inmate, the decision could help numerous hunger strikers whose prison conduct is scrutinized by parole boards, said an attorney in the case, Carol Strickman of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

For inmates serving life sentences with the possibility of parole, “the parole board is citing the hunger strike as a reason to keep them in prison, because of their ongoing criminal mentality,” Strickman said.

“We hope to use this opinion to try to educate the parole board,” she added. “You might say it makes you more suitable (for release), engaging in nonviolent protest. People could see it as good citizenship.”

The inmate, Jorge Gomez, was sent to Pelican Bay, in Del Norte County, in 2000 and was transferred three years later to the prison’s Security Housing Unit, where he was kept in solitary confinement for more than a decade. In July 2013, he refused to eat for four days and, after the third day, was cited for a “serious” violation of prison rules for taking part in a hunger strike.

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Take Action to Demand a STOP to the Sleep Deprivation

California prisoners in solitary confinement continue to be sleep-deprived due to jarringly noisy “security/welfare checks” 40-48 times a day.

The ‘checks’ are particularly loud and distressing for people in Central CA Women’s Facility (CCWF) Administrative Segregation death row, due to guard aggressiveness, and in Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (PB SHU) where cramped, concrete architecture also amplifies the noise. 

Demand a STOP to Sleep Deprivation Torture
in CA Solitary Units

Please make calls (#’s below) and click here to send emails opposing the “security/welfare checks” that are causing sleep deprivation in Pelican Bay SHU and CA Women’s death row. Sleep Deprivation is Torture. Stand with prisoners and their families to demand an end to this torture. We ask that you distribute this flier at your actions. We want to have a big call-in and email day on Monday, April 25th!

EmailClick here http://tinyurl.com/ztjcos3 to tell state officials to STOP the “security/welfare checks!”

Make Calls:

  • CA Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary
    Scott Kernan: 916-323-6001
  • CDCR Director of Adult Divisions: 916-445-7688
  • Senator Loni Hancock, Senate Public Safety Committee Chair:
    916-651-4009
  • Assembly Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Assembly Public Safety Committee Chair: 916-319-2059
  • Governor Jerry Brown: 916-445-2841

Suggested script for calls: Your name, city, state. “Please stop the so-called ‘security/welfare checks’ in the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison and in women’s death row. The ‘checks’ are causing sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is torture.”

Organizations: SEND A STATEMENT to phssreachingout@gmail.com, condemning the sleep deprivation torture. PHSS will forward to state officials. Sample statement here http://wp.me/P1BB1k-2r9

… they’re killing us with these Guard One/Welfare Checks. … I don’t know what to do? We really are suffering right now and I can assure you that this is worse than the hunger strikes.” – PB SHU prisoner Oct 2015

This is torture. We are being emotionally, mentally and physically battered by the security checks throughout the nights.” 20 death row prisoners in Central CA Women’s Facility

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40-48 times a day, these ‘checks’ are subjecting people in small solitary cells to:

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‘Stop the Torture’ – UN Official Receives Formal Complaint from Solitary Prisoners’ Family Members and Advocates

For Immediate Release – Thursday, March 31, 2016

Statewide groups are condemning sleep deprivation – widely recognized as a form of torture – of prisoners in Pelican Bay’s Solitary Confinement Units in a formal complaint to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

Press Contact: Mohamed Shehk
408.910.2618, mohamed@criticalresistance.org
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

 

CA – After months of public outcry, California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) have submitted a formal complaint to Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment condemning the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) jarringly noisy and disruptive “security/welfare checks” in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Units (PB-SHU). These checks, which started on August 2, 2015, have deprived the prisoners of sleep for eight months, amounting to what is widely recognized as a form of torture. The complaint was submitted last week, on Thursday, March 24.

 

One prisoner recently stated that being in PB-SHU with these checks “is like a construction site all night. It is horrible. It really is torture.”  Another wrote, “For decades, military and police forces have used extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, and constant banging/noise to cause mental/physical torment and try to break a person’s mind or human will to resist questioning. These are so-called clean torture methods.”

 

The complaint to Mendez includes reports from interviews with PB-SHU prisoners conducted over a six-month period by Carol Strickman, Staff Attorney at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.  Additionally, Mendez was provided with statements by sleep experts Dr. Thomas Roth and Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, by psychiatrist Dr. Terry Kupers, and by the American Public Health Association’s Jail and Prison Health Committee about the impact of sleep deprivation on mental health – all who have condemned the “security/welfare checks.”  Internationally recognized sleep expert Dr. Zeitzer explains in his October 2015 report, “The negative health consequences of inadequate sleep have been extensively documented and nowhere in the literature is there a report on as severe a disruption in sleep as is occurring in the Pelican Bay SHU.”

 

“My son doesn’t have the energy to exercise, write, or draw nearly as much since the checks started. He used to write me letters 2-3 times a week; now maybe once a week, and only a few lines,” says Grace A., a member of CFASC and whose son is in PB-SHU. “He has hardly been able to sleep since early August, but is fighting to stay strong. I tell him ‘You are not alone.’”

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March 23: HIP HOP FOR CHANGE and PHSS Event!

Please join Hip Hop for Change and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) for an evening of powerful Spoken Word and discussion from 6pm to 9pm at the Niebyl-Proctor Library in Oakland, CA.  

This event is in solidarity with the CA prisoners who challenged the torture of solitary confinement and created the historic Agreement to End Hostilities.  We hope to help cultivate strong community connections inside and outside prisons and grow community support in the prisoner class struggle.  The work to end solitary confinement and create true social justice continues.  Social justice does not include destroying lives, families and communities with incarceration, isolation, and torture. 

Right now we must stop the cruel Sleep Deprivation that began many months ago against people in solitary at Pelican Bay and CA Central Women’s Facility.

Saturday, March 23rd is a day of Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement and, nationwide, groups are conducting actions as part of Together to End Solitary. This event in Oakland is connected to a nationwide momentum to end solitary confinement.

Please share the Facebook event:
https://www.facebook.com/events/973551582700324/

EVENT DETAILS:
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
6:00pm – 9:00pm
Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library 6501 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, California 94609
Donations gladly accepted
For more info:  510.426.5322, jp@hiphopforchange.org, phssreachingout@gmail.com
hiphopforchange.org
prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com  

PHSS is excited to collaborate with Hip Hop for Change!  For three years, Hip Hop for Change has been educating youth about social justice issues, Hip Hop culture, history, and the power of self-expression!!! They volunteer with organizations that are uplifting historically marginalized community, they start gardens and donate thousands of hours. Hip Hop for Change throws Hip Hop shows that provide platforms for artists with empowering social justice-oriented narratives!!! 

Sleep Expert Reports about 30 minute “welfare checks”

 

excerpted from Dr. Jamie Zeitzer’s Oct 2015 Report:
” …While this was instituted as a safety measure, including the prevention of suicides, it has created an even more disrupted sleep environment, one that will actually lead to an increase in suicidal ideation…

An extensive literature that covers the gamut from animal studies to highly controlled studies in humans to epidemiologic studies of many different populations from around the world all come to the same conclusion – there are serious ramifications of sleep loss on both physical and mental health. … A recent series of studies in Veterans has further pointed to the strong connection between suicidality and sleep, so much so that treatment of sleep problems in Veterans is considered part of the first line of treatment in reducing the risk of suicides. The negative health consequences of inadequate sleep has been extensively documented and nowhere in the literature is there a report on as severe a disruption in sleep as is occurring in the Pelican Bay SHU. …

There have been no direct studies of intentionally waking an individual every thirty minutes every night for days, weeks, or months, as doing so would he considered highly unethical in a research environment. …”

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PHOTOS and REPORTBACKS from Rally Against the Torture of Prisoners

On February 1, 2016, people from all over California gathered in Sacramento at the headquarters of the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr) to demand an end to the dangerous and deliberate sleep deprivation being inflicted on the people in solitary in Pelican Bay State Prison SHU, under the guise of “welfare checks”.

Before the Rally, more than 15 formerly incarcerated people, family members, pen pals, and other activists visited the offices of Loni Hancock (chair of the CA Senate Public Safety Senate Committee), Bill Quirk (chair of the CA Assembly Public Safety Committee), and reps from various districts to demand the immediate suspension of the sleep deprivation “welfare checks” in the Pelican Bay SHU.  Sleep Deprivation Is Torture.

Reportbacks below are from Martha Esquivel of San Diego, CA and James Decker of Eureka, CA.
Photos are from Liberated Lens Collective, Lucas Guilkey, James Decker, and Urszula Frydman. Please inquire about photo accreditation before using unlabeled photos.

from Martha Esquivel:
I’m so very thankful for having the opportunity to go to Sacramento and stand up with you all in front of CDCr and show them our unity, meet new people and listen to their stories… about how their loved ones are being tortured by CDCr, our employees. Yes, our employees. Because they get paid with our taxes, and instead of rehabilitating our loved ones who make mistakes, they are looking for methods to keep the torture going one way or another.

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Photo by Liberated Lens Collective

Almost 5 years ago, we were standing outside CDCr demanding CDCr stop the torture of our loved ones in Indefinite Isolation.  We proved to them that was torture. We Won and now CDCr has found another way of torturing them, by not letting them sleep. It has been 6 months of sleep deprivation and they know that it is torture.

Back in 2011, we didn’t have a clue what to do, we only knew that our loved ones were being Tortured and they needed our support. Our loved ones pushed from the inside and we pushed from the outside, and we got the Victory.  Today, we are more people fighting for our loved ones in prison. Some of them are out of the SHU, but we are still here fighting for the one’s still in the SHU. We are not leaving anyone behind. Together We know We can make a change, and we just want to let CDCr know that regarding this new chapter of torture they have created: We are going to win too, because our movement is a movement of Love, and we believe in rehabilitating humans not destroying them!
Martha Esquivel is active in California Families Against Solitary Confinement and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition; She is sister to Luis Esquivel, a named Plaintiff in Ashker v Brown, now out of Pelican Bay SHU after 15 years in solitary there.

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Photo by Lucas Guilkey

from James Decker:
I was proud to be part of the contingent from far northern California to attend the Rally Against the Torture of Prisoners on February 1, 2016. We gathered just after noon, a group of family members, formerly incarcerated persons, activists, attorneys, and faith leaders. Diverse members of the community gathering with a single purpose: to stop the sleep deprivation torture.

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I was moved by the testimony of those folks fighting for the very lives of their loved ones. More then 70 people were there to listen and demand action!  Women, mostly women of color, spoke about a racist system fueled by capitalism that has devastated their families and robbed their communities.

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Thanks to the folks that helped create these powerful posters and the Artist Richard Torres.

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Carol Strickman gave us an update from the legal team.  The folks from Food Not Bombs in Oakland brought nutritious food.  Sarah Torres provided stirring music and chants went up spontaneously from the crowd demanding “LET THEM SLEEP!”

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Cynthia spoke of the callous neglect and medical malpractice that is rampant in the prison system. It resulted in the death of her brother.

We must keep the pressure up to end this abominable behavior by the Department of Corrections and the State of California.

In solidarity,
James Decker works with Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

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Photo by Liberated Lens Collective

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Feb 1st: RALLY Against the Torture of Prisoners

2016- PHSS- End Sleep Deprivation Rally- Feb 1

Rally Against the Torture of Prisoners Feb 1, 2016

As of February 1st, it will be 181 days that the men in Pelican Bay SHU have been tortured by sleep deprivation. For six months the men have been awakened every 30 minutes, 48 times per day, due to so-called “security/welfare checks” by guards.

“…they’re killing us with these Guard One/Welfare Checks…I don’t know what to do? We really are suffering right now and I can assure you that this is worse than the hunger strikes.” PB SHU prisoner Oct. 2015

Join us in Sacramento on February 1st, 2016 at 1:00 pm to rally against the torture of prisoners!

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) claims these ‘checks’ will prevent suicide. Instead, these checks are causing serious psychological and physical harm. John R. Martinez, in solitary for 15 years, stated that the checks “are counter-productive to their so called intended purpose (mental health care) and serve zero legitimate penological purpose other than to harass and mentally torment us prisoners.”

Come and stand with us to put an end to torturous ‘welfare checks’ in the SHU.

RIDESHARES will be leaving from Southern California, Santa Cruz, the SF Bay Area, the North Coast, and locations in between. PHSS will help with travel expenses.  Please contact phssreachingout@gmail.com, 510-426-5322 if you need or can provide a ride. You can also message Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity on Facebook.

We need to make the Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees and Governor Brown stop this now!

We must keep the pressure on!

Media Advisory HERE.

 

For RIDESHARE info and MEETING WITH LEGISLATORS before the Rally, Continue reading

PRISONER HUMAN RIGHTS! events Jan 22 & Feb 1

Join Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition for two events to

END SLEEP DEPRIVATION TORTURE
IN PELICAN BAY SOLITARY

Peter Collins-Solidarity withPBHunger Strike


Solitary Man

Solo Performance by Charlie Hinton,
followed by discussion

When: Friday, Jan 22 at 7pm

Where: Omni Commons

4799 Shattuck Ave
Oakland 94609

Charlie created Solitary Man based on his letters and visits with people in solitary confinement. The show is set in 2014, a year after the largest prisoner hunger strike in history.

Charlie says,“I want this show to gain an audience and become one more voice calling for the end of mass incarceration and solitary confinement…The world is such a cold and cruel place these days, I want Solitary Man to add at least one drop of humanity.”

After the performance, we will discuss how and why the men in Pelican Bay SHU have been continuously deprived of sleep since Aug 2, 2015.

Suggested Donation $5-15, snacks & beverages provided
No one turned away for lack of funds

Facebook: SOLITARY MAN, Performance by Charlie Hinton
http://tinyurl.com/h3adxdd

SacCDCrRally_2-1-16

Rally in Sacramento Against the Torture of Prisoners

When: Monday, Feb 1st at 1pm

Where: CA Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Headquarters

1515 S St. Sacramento, CA  95811

Since Aug 2, 2015, people in Pelican Bay SHU have been jolted awake by guards doing loud “checks” every 30 minutes. This cruel torture tactic is causing serious psychological and physical harm. Sleep deprivation is inhumane.  Join us to demand an immediate end to this torture.

No more torture in our name!

prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com

Facebook:
Rally Against the Torture of Prisoners

RIDESHARE & More Info
510.426.5322
phssreachingout@gmail.com

EMERGENCY ACTION ALERT: over 5 months of sleep deprivation in Pelican Bay SHU

Please make calls (and keep calling!) to demand a STOP to the 30 minute “checks” in Pelican Bay SHU:

  • CA Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary’s Office: 916-323-6001
  • Kelly Harrington, CDCR Director of Adult Divisions: 916-445-7688
  • Senator Loni Hancock, Senate Public Safety Comm. Chair: 916-651-4009
  • Assembly Member Bill Quirk, Assembly Public Safety Comm. Chair: 916-319-2020
  • CA Governor Jerry Brown: 916.445.2841

Suggested script for calls:
Begin with your name and the city and state where you live. Tell them all: “Stop the so-called ‘welfare’ checks in the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison. Sleep deprivation is torture.”

 

Send emails to CA elected officials:
Click this link from Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) to email the message to STOP the ‘checks’http://tinyurl.com/ztjcos3

 

Join the fight against the checks!:
Find out how here!
http://wp.me/P1BB1k-28B

 

Share this YouTube Video far and wide!
“Sleep Deprivation” from Liberated Lens Collective
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjWF3OtGSkQ

Background info: Continue reading