Report back from Prisoner Representatives’ first monitoring meeting with CDCR

published by the Center for Constitutional Rights
May 23, 2016

Last September, in Ashker v. Governor of California, California prisoners reached an historic settlement agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) that is bringing an end to indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons. The Settlement Agreement includes hard-won (and unprecedented) periodic meetings between the CDCR and the prisoners who initiated the lawsuit and led the protests against long term solitary confinement. Below is a report back from the first of these meetings, from lead plaintiff in the case and prisoner representative, Todd Ashker.

I was very pleased to participate in this historic meeting with CDCR officials, which we negotiated in our Settlement Agreement.  I think it is the first time that representatives of prisoners have had this kind of discussion with leaders of any correction department; it is certainly the only time it has happened here in California, the world’s largest prison system.  We were especially pleased that high-ranking prison officials were at the meeting.

At the beginning of this first meeting, it became clear that there was a misunderstanding about its function.  CDCR thought the meeting was for us to listen to them.  Why would we put a term into our Settlement that would have us listen to them?  We listen to them every second of our lives.   We see the purpose of these calls as an opportunity for us to be heard and to have a discussion with people in authority.

Despite this initial confusion, we were able to lead the meeting. CDCR got unfiltered information from prisoners who know what is going on in their prison cells and yards.  We are a leadership group the CDCR knows.  They know we have integrity.  The information we shared at the meeting came not only from the experiences of us four main reps, but also from the other veterans of the SHU, members of our class who have written and met with our attorneys.

We raised in strong terms that some of us who have made it to General Population yards are essentially in modified SHUs (Security Housing Units), in some respects worse than Pelican Bay SHU, although in some respects better.   Conditions, policies and practices that we are experiencing in some of the General Population yards are not what we expected when we settled our case.  After spending decades in solitary we cannot accept many of these conditions.  Too many prisoners are simply warehoused, and there are not enough jobs or programs to give us skills, engage our minds and prepare us to return to our communities.  Guards need training in ‘professional’ behavior.   Bullying and humiliation should never be tolerated.

CDCR may have been surprised at the tenor, strength and substance of our approach.   We expect at the next meeting, we will all understand the agenda and purpose well ahead of time.   We also think a longer meeting will allow for a full discussion and useful interaction.  We hope CDCR officials come to welcome these historic meetings as useful because they will be if prisoners’ perspectives are heard, used and received by them.

Sept. 23rd Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement: Locations & Details

Wed, Sept. 23 ACTIONS by Location
alphabetical order)

 the Bronx, NY –  Crescent City, CA (Pelican Bay) – Los Angeles, CA –   Nationwide for Yom Kippur – Oakland, CA –San Diego, CA – Santa Cruz, CA

If you still don’t see your locale, we haven’t received the details or YOU just might need to set up a simple action where you are!!  Here are two resources with ideas to mark the day:
http://www.cjpc.org/2015/CEPS-Action-Packet-final.pdf
http://www.nrcat.org/torture-in-us-prisons/together-campaign

Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) has a PHSS Facebook Event page.  SCATESC’s growing list of Co-sponsors and Endorsers is below.  Look soon for a website launch for ‘Together to End Solitary’, the nationwide collaboration

Sept. 23 Locations & Details

the BRONX, NY:
All are welcome to join this monthly demonstration against the torture of solitary confinement.  New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) asks you to lend NY_Together Sept. 23 Flyer_Page_1support to abolish Solitary Confinement in New York State.
Here’s the Bronx Flier & NY Solitary Fact Sheet
Bronx Action Details
Time:  6:00pm EST
Location:  corner of White Plains Rd and Gunn Hill Rd, Bronx, NY 10467
For more info, email caicny@gmail.com
Website: http://nycaic.org/
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/435402853327387/
#HALTSolitaryConfinement

 

CRESCENT CITY , CA:
Headed to demonstrate outside Pelican Bay State Prison (Crescent City, CA)

Sleep Deprivation is Torture”
Please join us on Wednesday, Sept 23rd to protest the sleep deprivation torture that began on the night of Aug 2nd in Pelican Bay SHU, perpetrated by the guards. People in SHU cannot escape the constant noise, and they can’t sleep. It’s torture and it’s really hurting them.

We plan to set up across from Pelican Bay in protest of the 30 minute so-called welfare checks, the guards’ bogus excuse for the sleep deprivation. These “checks” happen 48 times a day, keeping people in SHU sleep deprived DAY & NIGHT.

Want to join us?  We will have a banner and music and information (you can learn, if you don’t know much about solitary).  People have been writing letters, sending emails, and making phone calls about the sleep deprivation, which seems to be retaliation for two successful lawsuits settled on behalf of prisoners.∗

The men inside will learn of our solidarity action which, we hope, will lift their spirits.

We will leave for Crescent City from Eureka on Wednesday morning and come back in the evening. Also, we will be demonstrating against CA prisons entombing people in solitary confinement, period.
Crescent City Action Details
Time:  Carpool from Eureka about 9:00am PST
Protest  12:00pm – 5:00pm PST

Location: across from Pelican Bay, 5905 Lake Earl Dr, Crescent City, CA 95532
For more info, call  707-267-4249
Contact Name: Verbena
Contact Email: phssreachingout@gmail.com
#CAHungerStrike #StopSolitary #Together #SleepDeprivationIsTorture #StopSolitaryCA

 

LOS ANGELES, CA:
If the SHU Fits – Sept 23 Voices to End Solitary Confinement  If the SHU Fits – Voices from Solitary Confinement is a play which uses the history, use of, and statistics about solitary confinement in the United States to paint a broad picture of the practice. But the heart of the play comes from letters, articles, statements, stories and commentaries from those imprisoned and their family members, as well as legal and SHU923v3-LAcommunity testimony.On Sept 1, 2015 an historic legal settlement was announced between CA and prisoners held in isolation for 10 years or more at Pelican Bay State Prison, calling for the end of the use of solitary confinement for people based on alleged prison gang affiliation.  Despite that, the struggle is not over.Come join us to learn more about the ongoing efforts to end solitary confinement and to take action yourself!
HERE‘s the Los Angeles flier!
Los Angeles Action Details

Time: 6:30 pm
Location: St. John’s United Methodist Church 1715 Santa Ana Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90002
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/997504186975480/
Website: iftheshufits.net
For more info, call 310-704-3217
Contact email: info@iftheshufits.net

 

NATIONWIDE FOR YOM KIPPUR:
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights is asking people to dedicate their fast for Yom Kippur (which is on Sept. 23rd) to people in solitary and to educate themselves.
‪#‎StopSolitary‬ ‪#‎Together‬ ‪#‎StopTorture‬

Unfortunately, for many people in America, being alone–continuously–is a daily reality. Between 80,000 and 100,000 incarcerated persons in solitary confinement are alone for 23 hours a day. In support with those who face isolation, activists around the country have dedicated the 23rd of every month as a day of action and solidarity. This month, the 23rd is Yom Kippur. T’ruah is calling on Jews across the country to dedicate their fast to those who suffer in prolonged solitary confinement and renew their commitment to ending it.

Full Invite including Resources from T’ruah about solitary confinement
Website: www.truah.org
Contact email: office@truah.org
For more info, call: (212) 845-5201

 

OAKLAND, CA (two actions, day & night):
Oakland Daytime Action
The big banner and new placards will put attention on the horrendous noise at Pelican Bay SHU 24/7, caused by the ‘wellness checks’.
SLEEP DEPRIVATION = TORTURE
The architecture of the SHU at Pelican Bay amplifies the slamming of the pod doors, the guards clambering up and down the tiers as well as the beeper and wand action by guards. The interpretation of these wellness checks by Pelican Bay staffers is unacceptable. Turn out to hear the latest and sign up for our emergency response network.
Daytime Oakland Action Details
Time: 11:30am – 2:00pm
Location: in front of the CA State Building, 1515 Clay St, Oakland, CA 94612
(between 14th and 15th Streets)
Contact phone: 510-435-1898
Contact email: phssreachingout@gmail.com

Oakland Nighttime Action
Flying Over Walls will be hosting their Oakland LGBTQ+ Prisoner Letterwriting Nightagain in conjunction with Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement – and discussing the recent Ashker v. Governor of California settlement, including what it means and what we are still fighting for.

As the SF Bay Area chapter of Black & Pink, our focus is to connect the non-incarcerated LGBTQ+ folks who participate in our events to B&P members in Northern California prisons.
Nighttime Oakland Action Details
Time: 6:30pm – 8:30pm PST
Location: The Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612
Website: https://flyingoverwalls.wordpress.com/about/
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1635556230055874/

 

SAN DIEGO, CA:
We will be out talking with people and providing information to END SOLITARY CONFINEMENT and promote the AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES. Please come join us for an hour after the work day.
San Diego Action Details
Time: 6:30pm – 7:30pm PST
Location: Rosa Park (park is next to the library) City Heights, San Diego  92105
Contact Person: Martha Esquivel
Contact Email:  emartha42@yahoo.com

 

SANTA CRUZ, CA:
Join us on Wednesday September 23rd, 2015 in Santa Cruz as part of actions statewide throughout California and state-by-state nationwide.  We will have sign-making, leafletting, and a rally. Also:
Zines and other literature
•Security Housing Unit (SHU) / solitary model food tray
Updates on the landmark victory of Ashker v. Gov. Brown and Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement in CA & nationwide
Readers’ Theater: plaintiffs’ statement on the settlement of Ashker v. Governor of California; women in and against solitary confinement.

On September 1, 2015 a landmark settlement ended indeterminate long-term solitary confinement in California prisons. The settlement may release 2,000 prisoners from solitary confinement. Let’s keep up the pressure to make sure it is implemented, and to end solitary confinement (15 days is torture), abusive prison conditions, and mass incarceration of the poor, particularly communities of color. 90% of people in the SHU in CA are people of color.

Sept. 5, 2015 is the 2-year anniversary of the suspension of the third nonviolent CA Prisoner Hunger Strike and work stoppage by over 30,000 prisoners. It was based on 5 Core Human Rights Demands and the Agreement to End Hostilities between all racial/ethnic and geographic groups in CA prisons, jails, and communities.
Santa Cruz Action Details
Time: 11:30am Sign-Making and Set Up
12 noon Leaflet and Talk with passersby
12:30pm – 2:30pm RALLY

Location: corner of Pacific Ave. and Cooper St., next to O’Neill’s, 110 Cooper St., Santa Cruz 95060
For more info, call  831-325-3251
Contact email: phssreachingout@gmail.com
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1685905584966193/

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“Our movement rests on a foundation of unity: our Agreement to End Hostilities.” [VIDEO included]

Statement of plaintiffs on settlement of Ashker v. Governor of California

Dated Aug. 31, 2015

This settlement represents a monumental victory for prisoners and an important step toward our goal of ending solitary confinement in California, and across the country.  California’s agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action.  This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters.

Our movement rests on a foundation of unity: our Agreement to End Hostilities.  It is our hope that this groundbreaking agreement to end the violence between the various ethnic groups in California prisons will inspire not only state prisoners, but also jail detainees, county prisoners and our communities on the street, to oppose ethnic and racial violence.  From this foundation, the prisoners’ human rights movement is awakening the conscience of the nation to recognize that we are fellow human beings.  As the recent statements of President Obama and of Justice Kennedy illustrate, the nation is turning against solitary confinement. We celebrate this victory while, at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle.  We are fully committed to that effort, and invite you to join us.

Todd Ashker
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa
Luis Esquivel
George Franco
Richard Johnson
Paul Redd
Gabriel Reyes
George Ruiz
Danny Troxell

“This litigation was led by the plaintiffs – those held in the SHU – from the beginning, not the lawyers, who properly understood their role as carrying out the strategy of those they represented to fight for their release and further their movement. It should be studied.”  Bret Grote, Attorney, Abolitionist Law Center

After decades in solitary they joined forces. Here’s what happened.