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.

Continue reading

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.

To Prisoner Class Supporters from Todd Ashker (w/proposed Open Letter to Gov. Brown)

To Whom It May Concern,
To Prisoner Class Supporters
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
California Families Against Solitary Confinement
and Public, etc.

From Todd Ashker
C58191 KVSP – ASU- 2/194
Box 5106
Delano, CA 93216

December 5, 2017

This is a follow-up to our October 2017, Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement, “Statement of Prisoner Representatives on Second Anniversary of Ashker v. Brown Settlement.”

In our collective October 2017 “Statement,” we stressed the importance that “…prisoners and our families will have to re-energize the human rights movement, to fight against the continuing violations of our rights.” … reminding all involved, “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.”

With this in mind, I am sharing a copy of my proposed “Open Letter to Governor Brown, Legislators, and CDCR Secretary Kernan, RE: Attention to Ongoing Human Rights Violations and Related Lack of Reparative Action Necessary To Begin Making Amends for 3+ Decades of Systematically Intentional, State-Sanctioned Torture” …with the hope of helping to re-energize our movement, by gaining wide-spread support for the position/s presented in the “Open Letter.”

As many are aware, our current collective movement began in the bowels of Pelican Bay State Prison – SHU – Short Corridor, wherein prisoners of all races and various geographical areas, became openly conscious of what we had in common- rather than what was different (divisive); we recognized we’d all been subjected to the same adversary’s boots on our necks, all members of a prisoner class subjected to decades of solitary confinement torture.

We became aware of the fact that those of us serving “term-to-life” sentences, were all akin to the living dead, our existence being that of a mind numbing, spirit destroying, endless nightmare. I believe coming together in the “short corridor” wherein we witnessed the toll of our slow decay- together with the prisoncrats progressively punitive, oppressive provocations- was one cause of our awakening, leading to us coming together as the “PBSP – SHU, Short Corridor Collective.”

Our struggle was focused on ending long-term solitary confinement [and improvements to conditions therein]. We stood up together and collectively.  We educated our loved ones and general public about what had been in society’s shadow for far too long. We publicly “drew the line” and said, “No More!”

As a committed collective of fellow human beings (a large majority hailing from working class, poor communities) we lead our struggle — from behind the walls – putting our lives in the balance… at that point, our lives being all we had… We demanded an end to our torture, based on our inherent right – as human beings – to humane treatment, inclusive of dignity and respect for ourselves, our loved ones, and the unfortunate generations to follow.

Notably, our collective membership had been the subject of the states’ decades-long ‘war against the working-class poor, tough-on-crime’ (focused and applied mainly upon the poor), politicized, vilified, and branded as “The Worst of The Worst” in order to justify our subjection to endless torture (lasting more than 30 years)!

In this climate, we came together and utilized non-violent, peaceful protest action, mass hunger strikes and work stoppages, which, together with the support of our awakened loved ones, and countless other people of conscience outside the walls (while all along, suffering with us), exposed our plight to the world community.

In 2012, we introduced our collective “Agreement to End Race-Based Hostilities,” making clear our united intent to no longer be the source of our mutual adversary’s manipulation tactics – centered on keeping us divided and violent towards one another, (thereby used to justify our adversaries agenda – supermax, indefinite warehousing); and thereby demonstrating our humanity in the face of the provocations of our oppressive torturers. We pointed out the fact that, in the absence of race-based violence, our mutual adversary/s would be forced to end their policy of warehousing us in the small cells indefinitely, and open the prisons up for meaningful programming and privileges- beneficial to the prisoner class.

I mention the above points as important reminders of the fact that the main basis for the success we’ve achieved to date has been Our Collective Unity Inside and Outside the prison walls, making strategic use of combined litigation, and peaceful activism- action tools, which, together with our related collective belief in and commitment to Our Cause, is a great example of “The Power Of The People.”

It’s also true that with the progress comes responsibility; we must be vigilant with respect to maintaining, and crucially building on our achievements. The responsibility is ours for doing so. “The novelist Aldous Huxley once said: ‘Liberties are not given; they are taken.’ We are not given our liberties by the Bill of Rights, certainly not by the government which either violates or ignores those rights.  We take our rights, as thinking, acting citizens.” [quoting from Howard Zinn’s The Zinn Reader – Writings On Disobedience & Democracy (1997) at p. 418]

Our adversaries are constantly resisting any change beneficial to the prisoner class! History demonstrates the importance of our need to stand together collectively, and refuse to allow those in power (at the will of the People) to halt our progressive movements’ demands for human rights and real justice, because, historically, every class action, civil-suit ‘victory’ for the prisoner class in California has been manipulated by prisoncrats to the ultimate detriment of those that such ‘victory’ was intended to benefit. It’s a non-stop battle!

What I greatly appreciate, and respect, about our Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement, is what I hope is our part in society’s evolutionary leap in collective human consciousness. Standout examples of this for me, go back to the Arab Spring (2010, I believe), followed by the August 2010 massive Georgia Prison, system-wide work strike, and the January 2011 Hunger Strike at Ohio State Prison.

Reflecting on the above, as well as our historic, collective group mass hunger strike protests across the California system, of 2011-2013, brings to mind an often quoted phrase (as a sort of benchmark of what’s wrong with society) that of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, reflecting on his own incarceration, famously said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Our collective coming together in the context of having been demonized – tortured over 3 decades – composed of working class poor, facing extreme adversity for a powerful, well-funded adversary… toppled (to an extent- losing their supermax jewel, PBSP SHU) by our peaceful protests, and related Global Condemnation (and litigation), epitomizes a great side of our society! I hope it’s an example of a growing social revolutionary process.

Related to the above, and to our common struggle in general, I want to share a few excerpts from The Zinn Reader, a bit of food-for-thought.

Continue reading

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.

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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.

Prisoner Human Rights Movement BLUE PRINT

(FULL BLUE PRINT pdf- all docs-284pgs)
Overview
Table of Contents
Blue Print core document
Appendix

BLUE PRINT

The declaration on protection of all persons from being subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 3452 (XXX) of December 9, 1975. The Declaration contains 12 Articles, the first of which defines the term “torture” as:

“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining his or a third person’s information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating him or other persons.”

FREEDOM OUTREACH PRODUCTION
December 1, 2015

 

PRISONER HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT
#1
Blue Print Overview

California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (“CDCr”) has systemic and dysfunctional problems that run rampant state-wide (within both Cal.’s Women and Men prisons), which demand this California government to take immediate action and institute measures to effect genuine tangible changes throughout CDCr on all levels.

The entire state government was notified and made aware of this “Dysfunctional” CDCr prison system in 2004 when its own governmental CIRP blue ribbon commission (authorized by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger) reported this finding and fact. (See http://www.immagic.com/eLibrary/ARCHIVES/GENERAL/CAGOV_US/C040600D.pdf; also see Prison Legal News article, “CA Corrections System Officially Declared Dysfuntional.”)

However, this CDCr state of “dysfunction” was not new to the massive number of women, men and youth being kept warehoused in CDCr, because they face it daily. (See Cal. Prison Focus News, 1990s-Present, Prisoner Reports/Investigation and Findings; San Francisco Bay View News Articles; ROCK & PHSS Newsletters, etc.)

During the historic California Prisoners’ Hunger Strikes (2011-2013), tens of thousands of men and women prisoners in CDCr’s solitary confinement torture prisons, as well as a third of the general population prisoners, united in solidarity in a peaceful protest to expose this dysfunctional system officially reported in 2004 by the CIRP.

The Prisoner Human Right’s Movement (PHRM) Blue Print is essentially designed to deal with identifying and resolving primary contradictions by focusing on the various problems of CDCr’s dysfunction, including (but not limited to) the following areas… [read full OVERVIEW Here]

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS for Blue Print

OVERVIEW by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

Prisoner Human Rights Movement BLUE PRINT

Prisoner Human Rights Movement (“PHRM”)

PHRM Principle Negotiators, Reps, Plaintiffs, Local Councils

I. Monitoring Reports on 33 State Prisons

II. Monitoring Implementation of the Ashker v. Brown Settlement Agreement

III. Instituting the Agreement to End Hostilities

IV. Legal PHRM Political Education

V. Freedom Outreach

Conclusion

APPENDIX

All Appendices can be found at www.prisonerhumanrightsmovement.org

#1 (A) Five Core Demands; &
(B)
Agreement to End Hostilities

#2 Second Amended Complaint, Ashker v. Brown

#3 Supplemental Complaint, Ashker v. Brown

#4 Settlement Agreement, Ashker v. Brown

#5 PHRM’s Principle Negotiators’ Statements on 2nd Anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities

#6 (A) Example Monitoring Report w/ Exhibit; &
(B)
Example Monitoring Record

#7 (A) CA Assembly Public Safety Committee Legislative Hearing on CDCr SHU policy, 8/23/2011
(B)
CA Joint Legislative Hearing on CA Solitary Confinement, 10/9/2013

#8 – Mediation team publications

(A) Mediation Team Memorandum on Meetings with CDCr Officials, (3/26/12)
(B) Mediation Team Memorandum on Meetings with CDCr Officials, (3/15/13)
(C) Mediation Team Memorandum on meetings with CDCr Officials, (2/20/15)

#9 – PHRM LEGAL PRISON ACTIVISM EDUCATION Packets*:

(A) LEARN TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS
(B)
MEMORANDUM ON UNCONSTITUTIONALITY OF CDCR’s STG/SDP (Feb. 2015)

* To receive Educational Materials (Appendix #9), please write and send, for the cost of the mailing, either eleven dollars and fifty cents ($11.50) or the equivalent in postage stamps to:

Freedom Outreach/PHRM
Fruitvale Station
PO Box 7359
Oakland, CA 94601-3023

 

PRISONER HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

We are beacons of collective building, while clearly understanding that We, the beacons, must take a protracted internal and external retrospective analysis of our present-day prisons’ concrete conditions to forge our Prisoner Human Rights Movement (PHRM) onward into the next stage of development, thereby exposing California Department of Corruption and Repression (CDCr)/United States Prison System of Cultural Discrimination against our Prisoner Class. This is why our lives must be embedded in our determined human rights laws, based on our constructive development of the continuous liberation struggle via our scientific methods and laws. Therefore, through our Prisoner Class, the concrete conditions in each prison/U.S. prisons shall be constructed through our Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

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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.

Solitary Confinement: A “Social Death” ––– New York Times on “Shocking” Data from Lawsuit [VIDEO included]

New York Times video:
Effects of Solitary Confinement

by Colin Archdeacon and Center for Constitutional Rights
Aug. 3, 2015
People imprisoned in Pelican Bay State Prison describe their experiences in long-term solitary confinement http://www.nytimes.com/video/science/100000003831139/effects-of-solitary-confinement.html

Today’s New York Times science section features a front-page piece about the research that CCR commissioned and compiled for our ground-breaking challenge to long-term solitary confinement. … 10 expert reports we submitted to the court in Ashker v. Brown, the class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners in solitary in California’s Pelican Bay prison. …
According to the expert reports, prisoners subjected to prolonged solitary experience a form of “social death” that is not cured upon release, but rather lingers as a “post-SHU syndrome” characterized by social withdrawal, isolation, and anxiety. …
The international and domestic experts agree that such prolonged isolation is not only unnecessary for prison security, but actually counter-productive, as well as a violation of international law. …
By bringing public scrutiny to the severe physical and psychological harm our clients and so many others are suffering as a result of their isolation, we hope to continue turning the tide against this form of torture until it is eradicated from the U.S. once and for all.  Read entire Center for Constitutional Rights article here: https://ccrjustice.org/home/blog/2015/08/04/solitary-confinement-social-death-nyt-shocking-data-ccr-case

New York Times article:
Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life