by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Baridi J. Williamson
published in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper:
California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) had been locking classes of prisoners up in solitary confinement since the ‘60s as part of CDCr’s para-military low-intensity warfare, to break the minds and spirits of its subjects, California’s prisoner class. CDCr’s solitary confinement has two operating components: 1) punishing you and 2) physically and mentally destroying you.
In the 1970s, CDCr’s report to then Gov. Ronald Reagan on revolutionary organizations and gangs resulted in Reagan ordering the CDCr director to lock up all radicals, militants, revolutionaries and jailhouse lawyers who were considered “trouble-makers.”[i] And a 1986 report by the CDCr task force stated that during the ‘60s and ‘70s, California’s prisoners became “politicized” through the influence of outside “radical, social movements.”
And conscious prisoners began to “demand” their human, constitutional and civil rights,[ii] as exemplified by those politicized prisoners of war (PPOW) like W.L. Nolen.[iii] In the late ‘60s, Nolen and other PPOWs filed a civil rights class action case challenging the inhumane, degrading conditions and institutional racism that was prevalent at Soledad Prison’s solitary confinement O-wing,[iv] as well as throughout CDCr’s prison system to date.
The 1986 CDCr task force report recommended that CDCr build “supermax” prisons for this politicized class of prisoners, which was echoed by the California prison guards’ union (known today as CCPOA) in continuing their low-intensity warfare upon California prisoners up into and through the ‘80s.
Shortly thereafter, California government through its apparatus CDCr, built its solitary confinement torture sites, such as Security Housing Units (SHUs) and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Segs) at Tehachapi in December 1986, New Folsom in December 1987, Corcoran in December 1988 and at Pelican Bay State Prison in December of 1989. All were designed with the malicious intent to destroy human lives through their diabolical low-intensity warfare scheme of mass validation – group punishment – indeterminate SHU classification and enhanced “debriefing” interrogation, known as “snitch, parole or die!”
Each of California’s governors and CDCr cabinet secretaries from 1977 to 2015 knowingly enhanced their system to become more repressive upon the prisoners held in solitary confinement in the SHUs. We prisoners have known for the past decades that California citizens have not condoned the torture of California prisoners. Nevertheless, since the ‘60s, each state governor and legislature knowingly sanctioned solitary confinement torture.
California’s CDCr – with the winks and nods of lawmakers and judges – has held countless prisoners in solitary confinement, whether it is called Ad-Seg, Management Control Unit, Adjustment Center, SHU or Administrative SHU, longer than any prison system within the United States, ranging up to 45 years of torture and acts of racial discrimination from Soledad Prison’s O-wing to PBSP’s new form of solitary confinement torture.
The case of Madrid v. Gomez was the first acknowledgement on the part of California authorities and judiciary recognizing the harm that CDCr had been causing – mental torture – to those held in solitary confinement across the state’s prison system.[v]
We prisoners have known for the past decades that California citizens have not condoned the torture of California prisoners. Nevertheless, since the ‘60s, each state governor and legislature knowingly sanctioned solitary confinement torture.
The Madrid case touched on the harsh conditions and treatment toward the solitary confinement prisoners at PBSP. It is a clear fact that during the years 1989 to 1994, PBSP had one of the most notorious Violence Control Units (VCUs) in the U.S. CDCr-PBSP officials utilized the VCU for to violate prisoners’ human, constitutional and civil rights by beating us and destroying the minds and spirits of so many of us for years.
An example of how some prisoners would find themselves forced into PBSP’s VCU is when the CDCr bus would arrive at PBSP and park outside the entrance doorway to solitary confinement – Facilities C and D. A squad of goons dressed in paramilitary gear with black gloves, shields and riot helmets would be there waiting. They called themselves the “Welcoming Committee.”
These guards, describing themselves as the Green Wall guard gang, using “G/W” and “7/23” as symbols for “Green Wall,” would roam through the SHU corridors assaulting, beating, and scalding prisoners. See Madrid v. Gomez.
The Welcoming Committee would select one or more prisoners and pull them off the bus – usually choosing those the transportation guards accused of “talking loud.” They would take each one to the side and jump on him, then drag him off through the brightly lighted doorway.
These guards, describing themselves as the Green Wall guard gang, using “G/W” and “7/23” as symbols for “Green Wall,” would roam through the SHU corridors assaulting, beating, and scalding prisoners.
When the rest of the prisoners were escorted off the bus into the corridor to be warehoused in the general SHU cells, they would see those beaten prisoners dragged off the bus “hog-tied”[vi] and lying on their stomachs or crouched in a fetal position, sometimes in a pool of blood.[vii] Later, they were dragged off to the VCU, where they were targeted with intense mind-breaking operations.
When these prisoners were eventually taken out of VCU and housed in the general SHU cells, they mostly displayed insanity – smearing feces all over their bodies, screaming, yelling, banging cups, throwing urine.[viii] And it was only when prisoners began to go public about the VCU at PBSP that CDCr ceased those practices.[ix]
The effects of solitary confinement at PBSP compelled CDCr to establish Psychiatric Service Units (PSUs) in response to the Madrid ruling for remedying the conditions that were destroying the minds of all prisoners who were held captive from the time of the Madrid ruling in 1995 through 2014, but they were poor and ineffective. Those released to the PSU from SHU fared no better than others held in solitary confinement at PBSP.
Prisoners in SHU continued to suffer mental, emotional and physical harm with no remedy made available by CDCr until we were released out to General Population units by the Departmental Review Board (DRB) between 2012 and 2014 and the Ashker v. Brown class action settlement in 2015.
These released prisoners were coming from a torture chamber, where by necessity they created coping skills like self-medicating. Typically, when coming out of solitary confinement, women and men prisoners show signs of depressive disorder and symptoms characteristic of self-mutilation, mood deterioration and depression, traumatic stress disorder, hopelessness, panic disorder, anger, obsessive-compulsive disorder, irritability, anhedonia, fatigue, feelings of guilt, loss of appetite, nervousness, insomnia, worry, increased heart rate and respiration, sweating, hyperarousal, serious problems with socialization, paranoia, loss of appetite, as well as cognitive issues, nightmares, muscle tension, intrusive thoughts, fear of losing control, and difficulty concentrating.[x]