Letter to Organizations and Individuals, January 2016

Please help us end the sleep deprivation torture in Pelican Bay SHU (solitary confinement)

We’re reaching out to you on behalf of a committee of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. We ask you and your organization(s) to work with us to stop the sleep deprivation torture being waged against the men in Pelican Bay SHU (solitary confinement). Since August 2, 2015, they have been awakened every 20-30 minutes, 48 times a day, due to so-called “security/welfare checks.”

The architecture of the Pelican Bay SHU (PB SHU) amplifies the loud noise of the checks including pod doors opening and slamming closed, chains and locks rattling, guards’ boots stomping, metal rods clanging on cell doors, and the beeping of the electronic monitoring system at each cell door. In addition, sometimes guards shine their flashlights into people’s eyes.

As of the new year, January 1, 2016, it has been 152 days that these men have been tortured by sleep deprivation.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) claims the 30 minute checks are intended to prevent suicide. But we know that interrupted sleep can cause interrupted sleep can cause serious mental and physical health problems. John R. Martinez, in solitary for 15 years and in Pelican Bay SHU for over a decade, wrote in late August: “…there is a reasonable probability that life-threatening injuries and/or even death is inevitable, as medical symptoms are only worsening but not being treated.” People locked up in PB SHU report health problems including:

  • severe stress
  • weight loss
  • dizziness
  • faintness
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • eye problems
  • stomach and bowel problems
  • depression
  • fast heart rates

John’s mother, Dolores Canales, co-founder of California Families Against Solitary Confinement and the Family Unity Network, said: “I visited my son in the Pelican Bay SHU on 12 September and he is going crazy from not being able to sleep. I’ve never seen him like this. He couldn’t think, and he fell asleep while I was talking with him from across the glass partition.” John was in that state in September after 5 and a half weeks of sleep deprivation. It has now been 5 months since the checks started on August 2, 2015. This is extremely cruel and dangerous.

The 1,000 to 1,200 men inside Pelican Bay SHU need all of us to act to get CDCr to stop the checks now!  The checks are causing sleep deprivation, which is torture. These checks serve no welfare or security purpose; they only harm the prisoners, mentally and physically.

Take action now! Here are five ways that you and your organization(s) can get involved:


(1) Join our next open committee phone conference on Wednesday, January 6, at 6:00pm. Call phone number 1-302-202-1092, access code 3119726#. Bring your ideas of how you, your organization, and all of us can stop this torture, and specific ways we can collaborate.


(2) Make calls to stop the 30-minute checks:

  • CDCR Secretary’s Office: 916-323-6001
  • CDCR Director of Adult Divisions, Kelly Harrington (he): 916-445-7688
  • Senator Loni Hancock, Chair of Senate Public Safety Committee: 916-651-4009
  • Assembly Member Bill Quirk, Chair of Assembly Public Safety Committee: 916-319-2020

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


(3) Join/support our next major action on February 1st in Sacramento! We are planning a huge action, including people from all over the state of California, outside CDCr headquarters, if the checks have not stopped by then! We need help doing outreach, getting people to attend, and arranging rideshares from the SF and Monterey Bay Areas and Southern California. Stay tuned for a Facebook event page.


(4) Spread the word! More people need to know about this sleep deprivation! Share the SF Bay View article, the American Public Health Association (APHA) letter opposing the checks, and this video. (Video, by Liberated Lens, of our Emergency Protest at CDCr in Sacramento on Nov. 30, 2015, the 119th day of sleep deprivation torture.) Get more information on our website and Facebook page.


(5) Send us testimony from men who have experienced the Pelican Bay SHU sleep deprivation and from their family members and loved ones.  To contribute their words or letters, email phssreachingout@gmail.com.

We look forward to working with you to stop the torture of sleep deprivation.

In solidarity and joint struggle,
Committee to Stop the Sleep Deprivation,
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition