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
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.