Solidarity Message from the Four Prisoner Reps and California Prison Update, February 2020

Download and/or print all documents in this post as a pdf HERE

Four-main-reps-Todd-Ashker-Arturo-Castellanos-George-Franco-Sitawa-Nantambu-Jamaa

These men, known as the “four prisoner Reps,” Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, conceived, planned and led the historic 2011-2013 California mass hunger strikes that drew 30,000 participants at their peak, according to CDCr’s own records.

Introduction from the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

What follows below is an update from the leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes against indefinite solitary confinement and other mistreatment across the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr), the world’s largest prison system. These “Reps” had been in solitary for decades and sought to draw attention to and challenge the systematic torture by CDCr through a series of non-violent hunger strikes, two in 2011, and a third in 2013.

In May of 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights and several prominent prisoner rights attorneys and organizations in California formed a team and partnered with a representative group of 10 Pelican Bay SHU prisoner plaintiffs, including some of the hunger strike reps, to file a class action lawsuit. That lawsuit, Ashker v. Governor of CA, charged that California’s practice of isolating prisoners in solitary confinement for many years, and indefinitely, violated U.S. Constitution protections against “cruel and unusual punishment” and denied Constitutional guarantees to “due process.” Also in 2012, the four Reps and 12 other SHU Prisoner Representatives issued an historic document, the Agreement to End Hostilities, calling for an end to all violence and hostility between different groups of prisoners throughout California.

A third hunger strike began July 8, 2013, involved over 30,000 people incarcerated in California prisons, lasted 60 days, and made solitary confinement a significant issue across the United States. All major U.S. newspapers’ editorial pages had at least one condemnation of the practice in the weeks that followed. The third strike ended when the CA State Senate and State Assembly Committees overseeing prisons held unprecedented public hearings to investigate California’s solitary confinement. On Sept 1, 2015, a landmark settlement was achieved in Ashker v. Governor of CA ending indeterminate solitary confinement in California prisons and allowing the legal team to monitor the California prison system to ensure settlement compliance. This month, February 2020, the four Reps have issued a solidarity statement and California prison update.

SOLIDARITY MESSAGE FROM THE FOUR PRISONER REPS
AND CALIFORNIA PRISON UPDATE
(names listed in alphabetical order)
by Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

A shout out of solidarity and respect to all class members and prisoners across the state. As the four reps, we felt a public report on the current state of California prisons from prisoners was overdue.

As leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes that captured the attention of the nation and the world on the role of solitary confinement in United States prison systems, particularly California, we four prisoner reps became recognized as speaking both for the Ashker class, former Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, but also more broadly in many respects for the entire California prisoner class.

California’s prison system, the largest in the world at that time, was also the greatest abuser of long term solitary confinement. We were housed in the Short Corridor of the notorious Pelican Bay Super Max SHU (Security Housing Unit) and, as all Short Corridor prisoners understood, the only way out of that isolating torturous hell was to “parole, snitch or die.”

We decided standing up together, asserting our humanity even at the cost of our own lives, was better than rotting and dying alone in our concrete tombs. Nonviolent united action was the only path that made sense; our only avenue to act was a hunger strike. It took widespread unity, preparation and work among us prisoners, but also work on the outside by our families, friends and a growing list of supporters across the state and the country.

Without prisoners speaking about our conditions of confinement, the public narrative about imprisonment and mass incarceration is missing a critical voice – our voice, the incarcerated. We are the first-hand experts on the daily experience of being caged in prison generally and the trauma of extreme isolation.

All other experts collect data, do studies, view our experience without living it. Many, not all, are our oppressors. Their expertise is not about what incarceration is like, but why we and so many millions of people in the U.S. should be imprisoned. No voice has more expertise about the experience and impact of incarceration than the voice of prisoners.

Here we make five points:

First. Prison in the United States is based on punishment, not rehabilitation. The United States has the largest prison population in the world and the highest percentage of a state’s population housed in cages. We are held in punishing ways that cause fear, emptiness, rage, depression and violence. Many of us are more damaged when we leave prison than when we entered.

According to the National Reentry Resource Center, a high percentage of state and federal prisoners will be released back into society. National statistics indicate that there is a high rate of released prisoners returning to prison. All of those who leave are older, some smarter, but all of us are less able to be productive in the society at large or good for our communities or our families. It is very hard for former prisoners to get jobs.

Prison presents an opportunity for society to rehabilitate or help people. Many of us could use support services. That opportunity is lost and buried by a vindictive ideology of punishment.

Rather than us being hypervigilant, concentrating on violence, dangers, our fears and rage, prison could be a place to engage our minds in useful jobs and job training, with classrooms for general learning, training in self-awareness and understanding, anti-addiction approaches. Instead, we are mostly just warehoused, sometimes in dangerous yards with angry, frightened, vicious guards.

California’s Governor Newsom has the opportunity to help institute a massive prison reform movement.

Second. California likes to think of itself as a progressive national leader, yet in sentencing California is among the harshest in the nation. In California, a life term is given for second degree murder. Second degree murder is a non-premeditated killing. Only 17 states are that punishing. Two thirds of the states and the U.S. federal system give a flat 15 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that evolving standards of society’s decency should create a national  consensus on sentencing standards. Our prison journeys begin in those courts. We four reps of the California prison class call for reform in sentencing. Massive money could be spent for education, training and jobs here and in our communities rather than on caging human beings to harm rather than help us or society.

Third. The trauma we experience in these overcrowded institutions with a culture of aggressive oppression, as if we are violent animals, is harmful and breeds violence. We prisoners should not join in our own oppression. It is not in the interest of the prison class to buy into promised rewards for lying on other prisoners.

The use of lying confidential informants is widespread and legendary in California prisons and jails. We see even among ourselves, who have great active lawyers ready to pay attention to our situations, just how regularly vicious retaliation, evil lying  and disregard of our medical needs occurs. Broadly among the California prisoner class, there is mistreatment, horrid isolation, medical disregard, terrible food, cells that are too cold, too hot or too damp.

The history of positive social change demonstrates that when those who are oppressed stand together – as a group, a class – against that oppression, change can happen. Our own experience with eliminating endless solitary confinement in California proves that.

We need to stand with each other, behaving respectfully, demanding respect and not turning on our fellow prisoners for promises of crumbs. We four reps stand for major prison reform that helps us, not harms us, that betters society, not makes it worse.

Fourth. We four reps are for the principles we outlined in the Agreement to End Hostilities, the cessation of all hostilities between groups. We called on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes.

If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues. We encourage all prisoners to study the Agreement to End Hostilities and to try to live by those principles to seek your support to strive together for a safer prison environment.

We are not there yet. Dangerous cross-group hostility remains. What we experience in California prisons is not just developed in prison but is also widespread and supported in free society. Racial antagonisms, ghettoized housing, separation, institutionalized racism and promotion of beliefs of each other as less than human, as stupid, as criminal barbarians can cause us to fear and hate each other.It does not serve us or society well. There are no easy ways to challenge these deep American divisions; forcing us together in joint yards, visiting rooms or classrooms will lead to violence and deepen the danger.

We four reps especially call out and stand against 50/50 yards. We oppose forced mixing of hostile groups where mortal enemies are forced together; 50/50 yards are dangerous and will make things much worse by causing fresh horrific encounters. No matter the policy’s intention, the state is responsible for our safety and wellbeing while we’re living under its jurisdiction.

We are entitled to respect and safety. We seek what we are entitled to. The 50/50 yards as a CDCr policy provokes violence. At this time, we endorse separate yards, separate programming and separate visiting.

We also call on California leadership, Governor Newsom and the State Assembly and Senate to implement policies that encourage and grow support for the Agreement to End Hostilities that do not include 50/50 yards or forced interaction, but rather engage our minds and energy with productive jobs, education, training – major prison reform to a genuine rehabilitative system.

Fifth. The guard culture, especially in the yards, is vicious and provocative. Here where we live, the guards do not care about our safety. The guards get extra pay when there is violence; it is in their financial interest to promote it. Not surprisingly, guards regularly provoke disputes. Many enjoy the resulting violence.

California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the powerful guards’ union, is led by men who for the most part consider prisoners less than human. The CCPOA by their network and behavior supports the use of set ups, targeting, lying and isolation for random punishment. This intentionally causes widespread fear.

The CCPOA is one of the most politically influential organizations in California and holds many righteous political leaders hostage. The CCPOA members benefit with large overtime pay bonuses from violence and lockdowns.

Only if prison reform becomes a widespread demand of California voters can the influence of CCPOA be challenged. We need our families, friends and communities to build and extend our allies and develop strong support to vote for politicians who recognize our worth and are for widespread serious prison reform and an end to brutal warehousing that endangers society every day.

CDCR and California itself are legally responsible and accountable for prison conditions. Neglect does not free them of state institution responsibility for those in their “care.” The guards’ union should not be permitted to purchase power for abuse.

California citizens need to vote for prison rehabilitation as a priority: money for teachers, instructors, prisoner jobs instead of lockdown overtime and more guards.

Finally, we close with an update on our legal challenge. Our class action constitutional challenge to long-term solitary confinement was filed in May of 2012. We won a landmark settlement on Sept. 1, 2015, that resulted in thousands of people being released from SHUs across the state.

The settlement also gave us and our legal team the right and responsibility to monitor whether CDCr is following the requirements of the settlement for two years. That monitoring period was set to end in 2017, but in January 2019, U.S. Magistrate Judge Illman granted our motion to extend monitoring of the settlement agreement based on ongoing systemic constitutional violations in CDCR’s use of confidential information and in its reliance on past gang validations to deny parole.

Magistrate Judge Illman’s order extended our monitoring for 12 months. CDCr appealed and asked the court to suspend monitoring pending the appeal outcome. U.S. District Court Judge Wilken intervened and allowed us to continue monitoring pending any appeal outcomes.

Our legal team has two pending appeals that CDCr has filed seeking to overturn the lower court orders in our favor. One appeal covers the extension of the monitoring as discussed above; the other covers enforcement of the settlement agreement regarding conditions of confinement in Level IV prisons and the RCGP (Restricted Custody General Population) unit.

As our legal team continues to monitor implementation of our settlement agreement, they are looking closely at how CDCR uses confidential information to place and keep validated and nonvalidated prisoners in Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation) and RCGP for long periods of time and sentence people to SHU for bogus RVRs (Rules Violation Reports). They are also trying to keep track of how validations continue to impact us, especially when we go before the parole board.

If you have any information about any of these issues, although they cannot respond to every letter, please write our team at: Anne Cappella, Attorney at Law, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, 201 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Fourth Floor, Redwood City, CA 94065.

In closing, we remind all of us prisoners and supporters that we are human beings who have a difficult shared experience. We have a right to our dignity, even inside these punishing walls. We present an opportunity to make society better rather than meaner.

We ask all prisoners to stand together, read and act within the principles of the Agreement to End Hostilities, whether you are in Ad Seg or RCGP or General Population, see yourselves as part of an international Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

We four prisoner reps send regards and recognition to each of you as fellow human beings who are entitled to fairness, dignity and respect. We send our respect to all our brothers and sisters incarcerated anywhere with hopes for genuine rehabilitative programming, jobs, education and training in this coming year.

We send our greetings to all the friends, family and communities from which we come, to all our allies in the general society, and we send our hopes for an understanding of the opportunity California has to again be a leader in reform to make the world a better place with so many of us who need help gathered together in state institutions.

We send extra love, support and attention to our Brother Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, who is experiencing challenging health issues. Our Brother Sitawa sends his extra love to all those prisoners, prisoners’ families and general supporters of the International Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

February 2020

The authors requested this message be followed with the Agreement to End Hostilities.

AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
August 12, 2012

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:

1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals, who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, that now is the time to for us to collectively seize this moment in time, and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.

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Rally Against Continuing Solitary — The Four Prisoner Reps Will Be PRESENT in Court Conference AUG 21, 2018

RALLY at the San Francisco Federal Courthouse while the four CA Prisoner Hunger Strike and Ashker Class Representatives ‘Meet and Confer’ with CDCr to address the continuing solitary conditions that violate the Ashker lawsuit settlement agreement. The four prisoner hunger strike representatives will be present in the courtroom, an historic presence!  

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

RALLY 11:30am

Phillip Burton Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse
450 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102

Help create a strong show of solidarity with prisoners fighting for human rights!

What’s going on? The prisoner class-led movement and the Ashker v. Gov of CA class action lawsuit resulted in the release of over 1400 people from solitary confinement Security Housing Units (SHUs) to what the CA Department of Corrections (CDCr) calls “General Population.” However, many of those people continue to be subjected to conditions of extreme isolation. With little to no out-of-cell time and no chance for social interaction, they are still in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT.

On July 3, 2018, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled:

The Settlement Agreement was intended to remove Plaintiffs from detention in the SHU, where they were isolated in a cell for 22 ½ to 24 hours a day.… many Plaintiffs [now] spend an average of less than an hour of out-of-cell time each day, which is similar to the conditions they endured in the SHU.  … This demonstrates a violation of the Settlement Agreement.” FULL RULING HERE

and “…a substantial percentage of Plaintiffs in Restricted Custody General Population (RCGP) are …not permitted to exercise in small group yards or engage in group leisure activities. This does not comply with the terms of the Settlement Agreement.” FULL RULING HERE

The Ashker Plaintiff class reps and legal team were ordered to meet and confer* with CDCr lawyers to explore a resolution of these two issues.

The four prisoner hunger strike representatives- Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, and George Franco- will be present in the SF courtroom.

Please join the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) outside the San Francisco Federal Courthouse to show our solidarity with prisoners who struggle against solitary confinement torture, who organize across racial/geographic lines, and who- through hunger strikes, massive solidarity, formal complaints, the Agreement to End Hostilities, and the Ashker civil rights class action lawsuit- forced CDCR to release people from solitary confinement SHUs.  The organizing prisoners brought international attention Continue reading

EMERGENCY ACTION ALERT: Demand CA Dept. of Corrections Release Drafters of the Agreement to End Hostilities from Solitary Confinement!

Emergency Action Alert:

RELEASE DRAFTERS OF THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

In October, 2017, the 2 year court monitoring period of the Ashker v. Governor settlement to limit solitary confinement in California expired. Since then, the four drafters of the Agreement to End Hostilities and lead hunger strike negotiators – Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, and Todd Ashker, have all been removed from general population and put in solitary in Administrative Segregation Units, based on fabricated information created by staff and/or collaborating “inmate informants.” In Todd Ashker’s case, he is being isolated “for his own protection,” although he does not ask for nor desire to be placed in isolation for this or any reason. Sitawa has been returned to population, but can still not have visitors.

Please contact CA Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) Secretary Scott Kernan and Governor Edmund G. Brown and demand CDCr:

Immediately release back into general population any of the four lead organizers still held in solitary

Return other Ashker class members to general population who have been placed in Ad Seg

Stop the retaliation against all Ashker class members and offer them meaningful rehabilitation opportunities

Contact Scott Kernan. He prefers mailed letters to 1515 S Street, Sacramento 95811. If you call 916-324-7308, press 0 for the Communications office. Email matthew.westbrook@cdcr.ca.gov and cc: scott.kernan@cdcr.ca.gov

Contact Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814; Phone: (916) 445-2841; Fax: (916) 558-3160; Email: https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/

As a result of the administrative reviews established after the second prisoner hunger strike in 2011 and the Ashker settlement of 2015, California’s SHU population has decreased from 3923 people in October 2012 to 537 in January 2018. Returning these four men and many other hunger strikers back to solitary in the form of Ad Seg represents an intentional effort to undermine the Agreement to End Hostilities and the settlement, and return to the lock ‘em up mentality of the 1980’s.

Sitawa writes: “What many of you on the outside may not know is the long sordid history of CDCr’s ISU [Institutional Services Unit]/ IGI [Institutional Gang Investigator]/Green Wall syndicate’s [organized groups of guards who act with impunity] pattern and practice, here and throughout its prison system, of retaliating, reprisals, intimidating, harassing, coercing, bad-jacketing [making false entries in prisoner files], setting prisoners up, planting evidence, fabricating and falsifying reports (i.e., state documents), excessive force upon unarmed prisoners, [and] stealing their personal property . . .”

CDCr officials are targeting the Ashker v. Governor class members to prevent them from being able to organize based on the Agreement to End Hostilities, and to obstruct their peaceful efforts to effect genuine changes – for rehabilitation, returning home, productively contributing to the improvement of their communities, and deterring recidivism.

Please help put a stop to this retaliation with impunity. Contact Kernan and Brown today:

Scott Kernan prefers mailed letters to 1515 S Street, Sacramento 95811. If you call 916-324-7308, press 0 for the Communications office. Email: matthew.westbrook@cdcr.ca.gov and cc: scott.kernan@cdcr.ca.gov

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814; Phone: (916) 445-2841; Fax: (916) 558-3160; Email: https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/

Read statements from the reps:

  Joint Statement from the 4 – Don’t let CDCR reverse our Hunger Strike-won legal victory

•  Sitawa – Brutha Sitawa: CDCr and Soledad Prison retaliate with false reports to return me to solitary confinement

•  Arturo – Statement by Arturo Castellanos

•  Todd – We stand together so prisoners never have to go through the years of torture we did (with Open Letter to Gov. Brown, CA legislators and CDCR Secretary Kernan)
Download and PRINT this 1-Page Emergency Action Alert.

STATEMENT OF PRISONER REPRESENTATIVES ON SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF Ashker v. Brown SETTLEMENT

Oct 14, 2017 marks the 2 year anniversary of the approval of the Ashker settlement. We celebrate our victory in the Ashker case, in which virtually all of the over 1600 prisoners then languishing in indeterminate SHU were released to General Population. This victory was achieved through 3 hunger strikes and the non-violent legal and political action of thousands of California prisoners, their families, supporters, and their attorneys.

However, unfortunately our general monitoring is due to run out after two years unless the Court grants an extension. We believe that CDCR is still engaged in constitutional violations that deny prisoners due process and seeks to put us back in the hole, for many, indeterminately under the guise of Administrative SHU.  Our attorneys will seek an extension of the agreement due to CDCR’s systemic violations of the Constitution.  We don’t know what the Court will do, but we do know that prisoners and their families have to re-energize our human rights movement to fight against the continuing violations of our rights. Examples are:

·       CDCR’s continued misuse of Confidential Information to place prisoners back in the SHU, particularly with bogus conspiracy charges;

·       The lack of out of cell time, programming and vocational programs in Level 4 prisons. The last letter of CDCR stands for rehabilitation, and there is almost no rehab programs and opportunities in the level 4 prisons. They function like modified SHUs;

·       The denial of parole to lifers and Prop 57 prisoners who have clean records simply because of old, unconstitutional gang validations and CDCR’s illegally housing us in SHU for years;

·       The turning of the Restrictive Custody General Population Unit which was supposed to be a GP unit where prisoners who had real safety concerns could transition to regular GP, into a purgatory where the only way out is to either debrief or die;

·        CDCR promulgation of new regulations which gives the ICC discretion to put people back in the SHU, allows for many prisoners to be placed in the future in indeterminate Administrative SHU, or to be placed in the RCGP on phony safety concerns.

We must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to. We need all prisoners – young and old -to make our collective outcry public to ensure that the victory that we have won is not reversed by CDCR behind closed doors. Ultimately, we are the ones who are responsible for leading the struggle for justice and fair treatment of prisoners. That is why we entered into the historic Agreement to End Hostilities, and why it is so important that the prisoner class continue to stand by and support that agreement. We cannot allow our victories to be nullified by CDCR’s abuse of power, and may have to commit ourselves to non-violent peaceful struggle if CDCR continues on its present path.

We need everyone- prisoners, their families and the public – to send comments on CDCR’s proposed regulations to staff@aol.ca.gov, send emails and letters urging Gov Brown to sign Assembly Bill 1308*, make sure that prisoner complaints about unfair treatment are publicized, and to work together to rebuild our prisoners human rights movement.

We cannot let CDCR increase its use of prolonged solitary confinement either by misusing confidential information to place prisoners in SHU on phony conspiracy charges, or through increasing the use of Administrative SHU. As the Supreme Court stated over one hundred years ago in the 1879 case of Wilkerson v. Utah,  it is “safe to affirm that punishment of torture… and all others in the same line of unnecessary cruelty are forbidden by that [the Eighth] Amendment.” The admired historian Howard Zinn noted the application of that decision to the modern SHU:  “All we need then, is general recognition that to imprison a person inside a cage, to deprive that person of human companionship, of mother and father and wife and children and friends, to treat that person as a subordinate creature, to subject that person to daily humiliation and reminder of his or her own powerlessness in the face of authority… is indeed torture and thus falls within the decision of the Supreme Court a hundred years ago.”

    Sitawa (S/N Ronnie Dewberry), Arturo Castellanos, Todd Ashker, George Franco

* AB 1308 became law on Oct 11, 2017 

PHRM: Our Fifth Year to the Agreement To End Hostilities: Recognize Our Humanity!

Prisoner Human Rights Movement
Our Fifth Year to the “Agreement To End Hostilities”
Thereby Governor Brown, CDCr Secretary Kernan: Recognise Our Humanity!

Original post April 17, 2017: https://prisonerhumanrightsmovement.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/phrm-our-fifth-year-to-the-agreement-to-end-hostilities-recognize-our-humanity/

We are within our 5th Year of the August 2012 historical document “AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES.” followed by the PHRM’s third and the largest Hunger Strike within the State of California and equally larger then any Hunger Strike within the United States federal and state prison system, to which there were over 30,000 Prisoners here in California who participated (that is, from Solitary Confinement and the General Population. We (PHRM) have decreased California Prison Melees in half over the past five years with NO assistance by CDCr: SVSP, PBSP, New Folsom, Kern Valley, SATF, Lancaster, Centinela, High Desert, etc. Officials.

5 Reps of the PHRM: Sitawa, Todd, Arturo, Antonio, George

5 Reps of the PHRM: Sitawa, Todd, Arturo, Antonio, George

These historical acts of courage were led by the four Principal Negotiators Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry, C-35671), Todd Ashker, C-58191, and Antonio Guillen, P-81948, along with the Sixteen known Representatives, and along with our Unsung Heroes throughout CDCr.

We Salute Our Fallen Heroes
We shout out to the Families of those who died during the Historical Hunger Strikes (2011-2013), and to the Families who lost Loved Ones during the (AEH) struggle For Equal Justice, Christian Gomez, Alex Machado, Alonzo Hozel Blanchard, A. “Baby Paya” Morales, Billy “Guero” Sell, Johnny Owen Vick, and Hugo “Yogi” Pinell.

“We also want to warn those in the General Population that [CCPOA guards & their Supervisors] will continue to plant undercover Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer ‘inmates’ amongst the solid GP prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats, and obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our mutual causes (that is, forcing CDCr to open up all GP main lines, and return to a rehabilitative-type system of meaningful programs/privileges, including lifer conjugal visits, etc. via peaceful protest activity/non-cooperation, e.g., hunger strike, no labor, etc. etc.).
People need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics, and need to refuse to allow such IGI inmate snitches to create chaos end reignite hostilities amongst our racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU, OCS, and SSU’s old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!!!”
(quoted from AEH, #3)

CDCr Secretary Kernan, Undersecretary Diaz, (DAI) Director Allison, Director Alfaro (of High Security Prisons) and Governor Brown have all been notified or the crisis here at SVSP C-Facility.

The lack of rehabilitative programs (i.e., Vocational Carpentry, etc.) here at SVSP and throughout the system remains dysfunctional.

Those within the PHRM here at SVSP C-Yard, who were released from Solitary Confinement over the last three years, have created our own Juvenile Divergent Program called “LIFE-C.Y.C.L.E.” (“Careless Youth Corrected by Lifers’ Experiences”), and this program has successfully for the past fifteen months conducted five Seminars, bringing in At-Risk Youth from the local Monterey County to guide them, while mentoring other prisoners. During the Seminars, the Youth share their thoughts and understandings of not wanting to come to prison, and what their goals are, that they will set for themselves to prevent that from happening.

The PHRM prisoners have realized that CDCr has caused harm to them over the past 2, 10, 20. 30-40 years of Solitary Confinement. We – as Class Members of the PHRM here at SVSP C-Facility realize the negligence and adverse impact of that devastating ordeal coming out here to a partial General Population (G.P.). And we realized once again CDCr failed to acknowledge the harm that they caused to us, therefore, we took it upon ourselves to establish our our supportive MEN’S GROUP in order to cope with the devastating harm that was caused by Solitary Confinement.

The purpose of this MEN’S GROUP is to serve as a diverse multi-cultural support group for both those prisoners in- and being released to the G.P. from Solitary Confinement successfully settle-in, be provided access to rehabilitative pre-Parole Board (SR 260/261) Self-Programs, etc., that CDCr/SVSP are mandated to make available for all G.P. prisoners.

The primary purpose of the MEN’S GROUP is for the Participants to mentor and aid one another. Our Group’s vision brings a sense of community, respect and responsibility that springs from the 21st century insight of collective minds who have united in solidarity and have mutually agreed to end hostilities among racial groups. This historic agreement will continue to bring about substantive changes to the CDCr system of non-rehabilitation.

Continue reading

Pelican Bay Hunger Strike: Four Years and Still Fighting

Originally published in Counterpunch

Four years ago prisoners in California – led by those in the control units of Pelican Bay – organized a hunger strike to demand an end to the torturous conditions of solitary confinement. Two more strikes would follow, with over 30,000 prisoners taking united action in the summer of 2013—both in isolation and in general population in nearly every California prison. The strikes reflected significant shifts in political consciousness among prisoners and their loved ones. The violence of imprisonment was further exposed by demands and heightened organization from within the cages. Prisoner-led collective actions as well as growing public support dramatically have changed the political landscape.

The organization of hunger strikes in 2011 surprised many, especially the CDCr – the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the lower case ‘r’ by most prison writers derides the Orwellian use of the word rehabilitation), the media, and much of the public.

Current prison organizing continues a historic legacy of struggle. Among prisoners, the strikes of 2011-2013 were compared to the Attica Rebellion of 1971. Shortly before that rebellion, prisoners at Attica refused to speak or eat in the facility’s chow hall, paying tribute to Black Panther Party member and California prison movement leader George Jackson, who had been assassinated at San Quentin prison August 21st. Jackson was a skilled and effective leader who connected the human rights demands of prisoners to revolutionary ideas both globally and in the streets. He argued with powerful clarity that racist and exploitive power relations could and should be changed through political and military struggle, and that Black liberation was achievable as part of an international struggle to destroy imperialism. Within the prisons, he built unity across racial lines – thinking that a unified prison movement could succeed in winning basic human rights both within the cages and in oppressed communities. While the state obviously found Jackson’s ideas and example extremely dangerous, many prisoners and community members found them a clarion call for action.

On September 9th 1971, Attica erupted. Led by prisoners affiliated with the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and the Five Percenters, the rebellion seized control of several large areas of the prison and issued a manifesto demanding, among other things, better health conditions, an end to political persecution of prisoners, and a right to organize or join labor unions (these demands were very similar to the Folsom Prison manifesto written in California in 1970). After four days of negotiations, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered that the prison be retaken – in the ensuing brutal military assault 39 people were killed by state police and prison guards.

While Attica is one of the most remembered uprisings, between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, there were over three hundred prison rebellions across the US, including those at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1973, the Idaho State Penitentiary in 1972-3, the August Rebellion in 1974 at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York State, a 1975 demonstration at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women, and the Penitentiary of New Mexico in 1980.

In response to these militant uprisings, prisons developed unprecedented strategies of repression, isolation and for a time resistance took less dramatic forms. Yet prisoners were still inspired to resist. In one example, in 1995 women in CA state prisons initiated a class action law suit against genocidal health care conditions and successfully organized family members and allies across the state to support them.

Prisoners in California in 2011-2013 organized against the very policies, strategies, and technology that had been put into place to neutralize the rebellions of previous decades (both inside and outside prison)—including solitary confinement, gang validation (which includes the criminalization of George Jackson’s writings), and the gutting of educational programming. In turn, prisoners used similar historic strategies – collective direct action, multiracial unity, and building strong support and solidarity networks on the outside. Continue reading

CA Prisoner Reps Say: All People Have the Right to Humane Treatment with Dignity

http://sfbayview.com/2014/10/california-prisoner-representatives-all-people-have-the-right-to-humane-treatment-with-dignity/

October 2, 2014

Main reps mark the 1st anniversary of suspension of the 2013 Hunger Strike and the 2nd anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities

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.

All People Have the Right to Humane Treatment with Dignity

by Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos and George Franco

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. Continue reading

May 1, 2014 Letter from Pelican Bay Prisoner Reps To Legislators

LETTER FROM PELICAN BAY PRISONER REPRESENTATIVES TO MEMBERS OF THE CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY & SENATE

 

Todd Ashker – CDCR # C58191

Arturo Castellano – CDCR # C17275

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa R.N. Dewberry – CDCR # C35671

Antonio Guillen – CDCR # P81948

 

May 1, 2014

 

Dear Members of the California State Assembly and Senate:

 

              We are writing to offer our position on the two bills pending before the Assembly and the Senate (SB 892 and AB 1652) dealing with the solitary confinement and gang validation policies of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

 

              We are California inmates who have been in solitary confinement for long periods of time, based on validation as alleged associates and members of prison gangs, rather than based on violent behavior. We undertook hunger strikes in 2011 and in 2013 in opposition of the CDCR’s solitary confinement and gang validation practices as well as the inhumane conditions of CDCR’s Security Housing Units (SHUs). Together with thousands of inmates, we expressed the following five core demands:

 

1) Individual accountability, rather than group punishment, indefinite SHU status, and restricted privileges;

2) Abolish debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria;

3) Comply with U.S. Commission 2006 Recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement;

4) Provide adequate food; and,

5) Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates.

 

             Having carefully reviewed and considered Assembly Bill 1652, introduced by Assembly member Tom Ammiano on February 11, 2014 as amended on April 3, 2014, and Senate Bill 892, introduced by Senate member Loni Hancock on January 13, 2014, as amended on March 18 and April 2, we wish to offer the following comments:

 

I. Discussion of Ammiano AB 1652:

 

          AB 1652 addresses the very narrow but critical issue of eliminating CDCR’s policy of placing prisoners in solitary confinement for gang validation, rather than for commission of a serious offense. We support AB 1652. At the same time, we recommend that the bill be amended to include the following three additional provisions:

 

a. During assessment for SHU placement, the use of testimony (whether or not confidential) of an in-custody informant should be corroborated by an independent source before being relied upon to place someone in a SHU. Corroboration cannot be based upon the testimony of another in-custody informant unless such in-custody informant obtained the information independently from the first in-custody informant and the information is not based on hearsay. This is essentially the same principle now applied in criminal court cases since 2011 (see Cal. Penal Code §1111.5).

 

b. An attorney-advocate should be made available (at no cost to the State) to inmates facing a sentence of more than 30 days in a SHU.

 

c. AB 1652 should implement provisions for increased oversight, studies, data collection, and reporting back to the Legislature on the SHU classification process, the mental and physical wellbeing of inmates in SHUs, and the reasons why SHU inmates are denied reentry into the general population. Senate member Hancock’s SB 892 contains these provisions, which we recommend be included in AB 1652. Collecting and considering this data can lay the foundation for a future more comprehensive legislative evaluation of solitary confinement practices in California.

 

II. Discussion of Hancock SB 892:

 

             Although SB 892 appears to seek to achieve comprehensive CDCR reform on the issue of solitary confinement, there are several provisions of the bill that will adopt inhumane and widely condemned practices into state law. We will only support SB 892 if it is amended to include three critically important items:

 

a. The bill should incorporate the language of AB 1652 (or similar language) which eliminates the use of gang validation and minor rule violations as a justification for placing inmates in SHUs. As it stands currently, SB 892 does not eliminate SHU assignment for mere gang association and it does not eliminate indeterminate SHU terms. This is a critical issue and one of our core demands. The nationwide trend is clearly not to place prisoners in segregated housing units for alleged gang association without accompanying serious rule violations. Numerous states have moved in this direction for public safety reasons, for humane reasons, and to cut costs. California should not move in the opposite direction.

 

b. As mentioned above, we recommend that language be added so that during assessment for SHU placement, the use of testimony (whether or not confidential) of an in-custody informant should be corroborated by an independent source before being relied upon to place someone in a SHU. Corroboration cannot be based upon the testimony of another in-custody informant unless such in-custody informant obtained the information independently from the first in-custody informant and the information is not based on hearsay. This is essentially the same principle now applied in criminal court cases since 2011 (see Cal. Penal Code §1111.5).

 

c. As mentioned above, we recommend that language be added so that an attorney-advocate should be made available (at no cost too the State) to inmates facing a sentence of more than 30 days in a SHU.

 

               We do not believe that the range of provisions in SB 892 related to review by the Office of the Inspector General of cases in which SHU placement is based on the testimony of a confidential informant, the appointment of ombudsmen, the requirement for a daily face-to-face encounter with CDCR employees, the appointment of an “advocate” for an inmate being processed for SHU placement, or the Step Down Program in the bill will make any measurable difference in CDCR solitary confinement practices. The Inspector General is unlikely based upon review of a file to reverse decisions based on confidential informants. Ombudsmen will be of little value as long as inmates can be placed in SHUs for alleged gang association when they have engaged in no wrong-doing. “Face-to-face” encounters already happen almost every day when our food is served or a psych tech walks past our cells. Allowing an “advocate” to assist in the SHU assignment process will mean assignment of a guard who could care less about the result. And the proposed step-down program focuses on forcing prisoners to disavow alleged gang association or activities rather than on a behavior-based model considering whether the prisoner has violated rules while in the SHU. Despite these misguided and costly provisions in SB 892, we would support the bill if it is amended to include the provisions identified above.

 

               However, the narrower and more focused (and less costly) AB 1652, particularly if amended as suggested above, would far better serve the public safety, prison security, and the humane treatment of prisoners. It’s a first but critically important step in the direction of a rational and humane policy. Further legislation could be considered in the next legislative session after CDCR data is collected by the legislature. Thank you for considering our comments and suggestions.

 

Sincerely,

Todd Ashker

Arturo Castellano

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa R.N. Dewberry

Antonio Guillen

Update from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, 4-28-2014

Greetings,

This post is chock full of resources and various updates, downloads of recent newsletters, new media articles and PBS specials about solitary confinement, exciting upcoming events with Lynne Stewart, and information on our weekly meetings.

Thanks to all the outcry about the recent cell raids in Corcoran SHU, we believe they have stopped, according to a letter from the person who alerted us originally.

We still encourage you to send criticisms regarding the Security Threat Group/Step Down Program regulations, even though the official deadline is over.  Send to rpmb@cdcr.ca.gov and cc to peoplesarc@gmail.com.

Upcoming events throughout California, in New York, and in Wisconsin can be found in the calendar at  https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/take-action-2/

Read the entire update HERE.