Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Source: SF Bay View:
October 16, 2011
by Alfred Sandoval
I’ve been in the SHU since July of 1987 so I’ve lived through a lot of physical as well as psychological abuses. I was originally placed in SHU at San Quentin’s Adjustment Center. The first thing I noticed as I was being escorted past the sergeant’s office was a caricature of a boar hog dressed in a correctional officer’s uniform holding a noose with a hammer hanging from it posted on the wall. So, being Mexican, I knew what time it was. Slowly, the blatant racism was pushed into the politically correct broom closet but it’s never been thrown out.
In 2003, I was returned from court to Pelican Bay and told in no uncertain terms that I would die here.
When PBSP created the control unit – known as the short corridor – in early 2006, the goal of the Office of Correctional Safety (OCS) was made perfectly clear: Debrief or die! They implemented orders to the short corridor correctional officer (C/O) staff to apply pressure to targeted prisoners, and the gang unit (Institutional Gang Investigations, or IGI) became the overseers of the control unit and began to target prisoners’ families and friends and attempt to create discord by mixing up mail, withholding and delaying personal mail and restricting visits for as little as saying hello to another prisoner. Their goal is to isolate these targeted prisoners.
I had never believed in hunger strikes, thinking that they’re counter-productive. However, when the gang unit began to work in concert with the chief medical officer – the IGI actually decides the level of medical treatment prisoners in the short corridor receive – I decided to participate in this and the next hunger strike, but here’s why:
A few years ago, a close friend – his name was Jimmy – developed cancer. The medical staff, MTAs and RNs, explained that if he’d debrief, become an informant, he would receive better medical care. Now Jimmy and I had known each other since we were teenagers running the streets of East Los Angeles getting high and living the lifestyle that ended up with both of us in prison for life.
As Jimmy’s cancer grew worse, he began chemotherapy. Jimmy mentioned to me how the IGI would “show up” at the clinic and comment that he could have contact visits with his wife before he died if he’d debrief. He refused but that’s how he found out the cancer was terminal! Jimmy loved his wife more than anything and he wouldn’t tell her everything about the head games and bullshit like waking up from surgery still under anesthesia being questioned by IGI, but I had warned him of that because it happened to me and at least three other prisoners.
After one of the surgeries, Jimmy was returned to his cell after a brief stay at the Pelican Bay prison infirmary. Those cells are completely bare except for a bed and all you can do is lay there and wait. On the second night back in his cell, he awoke to a bad pain. He said it was a little after 2 a.m. and the staples had opened along his abdomen and he was bleeding. He was holding his intestines in, calling for the C/O. The C/O came and saw the blood and said he’d call the RN on duty.
The C/O came back approximately 30 minutes later with a roll of toilet paper. Jimmy was sitting on the blood-covered cement floor holding a towel soaked in blood against his stomach. The cop tossed Jimmy the toilet paper and said the medical staff would not come until the next shift and there was nothing he could do. Jimmy held his stomach closed in pain until almost 6 a.m. when the medical finally came and they rushed him to the hospital. He asked that I keep it to myself because that was his style.
I was pissed! He had requested two hardship transfers to Corcoran because of its medical facility and he’d be able to see his wife and family more before he died. Both were denied and he was told to debrief and then he’d be transferred but he steadfastly refused. The cancer spread and the gang unit increased the head games, telling the medical staff to confiscate his shaded prescription glasses. But luckily, a Dr. Williams stepped in and told the medical staff to leave Jimmy alone as he was at end stage cancer. Jimmy chose to stop the chemotherapy and die. We’d talk through a steel door and discuss everything and nothing and plan out his funeral. He died in December of 2010 and I am proud and honored to have been his friend.
Shortly after Jimmy’s death, I was told that approximately eight of the older prisoners had been approved for transfer to the SHU medical facility at New Folsom, but the gang unit had those transfers stopped citing that those prisoners, all in their 60s and 70s, had not successfully completed the debriefing, thereby issuing a death sentence to all of these prisoners and denying adequate medical care.
I am 53 years old with incurable illnesses, Hep-C and Crohn’s disease, so I am participating in the hunger strike to expose how prisoners are being mistreated and medical treatment withheld as a coercion tactic.
The abuses, physical and psychological, the intimidations and harassments have a very well documented history here at Pelican Bay State Prison. They should speak for themselves.
Early 1990: Rumors of abuses at PBSP SHU come to light. The prison opens doors to media tour.
1995: Rumors of abuses citing C/Os extracting prisoners from their cells, stripping them naked and leaving them hogtied in the cold cells and on the cement yard overnight. Prison opens doors to media tours.
1998: C/Os accused of setting up inmates, opening cell doors in SHU.
2001: Prisoners began hunger strike to change debriefing process as it was not legal! Promises were made, Castillo case settled and reworded to be used against prisoners. Prison opens doors to media tours.
2006: California Inspector General’s Office issues memo for media release citing their investigation exposed that the PBSP internal affairs would avoid finding staff misconduct on excessive use of force and that some changes had been made but more are needed.
During this hunger strike, prisoners have been threatened with “progressive discipline,” which means the prisoners’ property will be taken out of the cells and they will only be allowed a pair of shower shoes and a pair of underwear until the administration deems the prisoner as “programming.”
The warden had a staff meeting before the last hunger strike telling staff that he would ignore the hunger strikers, which he did, violating the CDCR regulations and allowing prisoners to become ill. Grievances were returned unprocessed, so it never happened.
That is Pelican Bay State Prison. So now you know why I participate in the hunger strike.
The Pelican Bay warden opened the doors of the prison to a media tour on Aug. 17, following the first phase of the hunger strike, as wardens have in the past whenever the prison fell under public attention. A few mainstream reporters were escorted to a few parts of the prison, though not where the prisoners who organized the strike are housed, and they were prohibited from speaking with prisoners. They were told that this prisoner had decided to “debrief.” – Photo: Julie Small, KPCC
Send our brother some love and light: Alfred Sandoval, D-61000, Pelican Bay State Prison, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Please continue to support the California Hunger Strikers. See their five core demands below and sign the petition here if you haven't yet already.
Imagine a concrete room no more than eight by ten feet. It has no windows, only a perforated steel door facing a solid concrete wall. Fluorescent lights stay on 24 hours a day.
Now imagine being locked in that room.
This is the reality for 1,111 people locked in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of California's Pelican Bay State Prison. The SHU comprises half of the prison. It is explicitly designed to keep prisoners in long-term solitary confinement under conditions of extreme sensory deprivation. Men are locked into their cells for at least 22 hours a day. Food is delivered twice a day through a slot in the cell door. They are allowed five hours a week of exercise in a cement yard the length of three cells with a roof only partially open to the sky.
Prison administrators place men in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term because they have been accused of being prison gang members, often by confidential informants and highly dubious evidence. Prisoners who have been "validated" as gang members are released from the SHU into the general prison population only if they "debrief" or provide information incriminating other prisoners. Debriefing can be dangerous to both the prisoner who debriefs and his family on the outside. In addition, prisoners are often falsely identified as gang members by others who debrief in order to escape the SHU. One does not necessarily need to be a gang member to be sent to the SHU: jailhouse lawyers and others who challenge inhumane prison conditions are disproportionately sent to the SHU. Mutope DuGoya is one of those men: he states that, in 2001, despite his work with Code 4, the prison's Scared Straight program and his record of remaining free of violations for six years, he was placed in SHU on the word of a confidential informant. (Letter from DuGoya, dated September 21, 2011.) Another prisoner, who has been in SHU for 21 years, writes, "Because I am here with people who the CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] have labeled as being gang-involved, the CDCR uses that to confirm that I am involved with a gang." (Letter from person in Pelican Bay SHU, dated September 26, 2011.)
These atrocities are not limited to Pelican Bay. California holds nearly 4,000 people in SHUs and nearly 14,500 in other forms of segregation within its prison system. Over 240 of these people are women, who are often guarded and watched by male staff, even when they are undressing, showering or on the toilet. Transgender and transsexual prisoners are often likely to be placed in isolation.
Pelican Bay State Prison opened in December 1989. Almost immediately, prisoners began filing complaints about abusive conditions.
In 1993, over 3,500 prisoners signed onto Madrid v. Gomez, a class-action lawsuit that charged prison officials with abuse and violation of their human rights. In 1995, the federal court issued injunctions aimed at eliminating excessive force, improving health care and removing prisoners with mental illness from the Security Housing Unit. Although he stated that conditions "hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable," the presiding judge stopped short of declaring the physical structure of long-term solitary confinement unconstitutional.
In 1994, Steven Castillo, who charges that prison administrators placed him in SHU in retaliation for his hunger strikes and numerous lawsuits against CDCR, filed Castillo v. Alamedia. Seven years later, in 2001, Castillo and approximately 1,000 other prisoners at Pelican Bay and a second California prison launched a six-day hunger strike, protesting the prison's gang policy. The strike was suspended after California State Sen. Richard Polanco intervened and vowed to help broker a resolution. Although Polanco's office convened several meetings between corrections officials and prisoners over the next year, no changes resulted. In 2002, Castillo and 60 prisoners at Pelican Bay again launched a hunger strike. The strike lasted three weeks, but no changes in CDCR's debriefing policy occurred.
In 2004, ten years after Castillo v. Alamedia was filed, a settlement agreement was reached that, ostensibly, would reshape the debriefing policy governing release from SHU. However, the substantial changes promised never happened and, seven years later, conditions in SHU remain fundamentally unchanged.
In 2010, prisoners at Pelican Bay drafted and sent a Formal Complaint about conditions to lawmakers, prison and CDCR officials and then-Governor Schwarzenegger. "CDCR's response was 'file a grievance if you haven't already,'" recalled Todd Ashker, a co-author of the Complaint. "Then we were locked down, even more, in our cells from July 2010 to February/March 2011." During that time, the prisoners agreed that "something had to be done ... It was agreed, a peaceful protest via hunger strike was our best option, the goal being to expose the illegal policies and practices to the mainstream media (and thereby masses of people) and, with outside support, pressure/force meaningful changes!" (Letter from Todd Ashker, dated September 25, 2011.)
On July 1, 2011, SHU prisoners began a hunger strike with five core demands:
- Eliminate group punishments for individual rules violations;
- Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria;
- Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement;
- Provide adequate food;
- Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.
"No one wants to die," stated hunger-striker DuGoya. "Yet under this current system of what amounts to immense torture, what choice do we have? If one is to die, it will be on our own terms."
Over the course of the three-week hunger strike, at least 1,035 of the SHU's 1,111 inmates refused food. The strike spread to 13 other state prisons and involved at least 6,600 people incarcerated throughout California.
Outside prison walls, family members, advocates and concerned community members took action to draw attention to the hunger strike. In Oakland, supporters held a weekly vigil on Thursday evenings. On July 9, supporters organized demonstrations in cities throughout the US and Canada. On July 18, 200 family members, lawyers and outside supporters from across California converged upon CDCR headquarters in Sacramento, delivered a petition of over 7,500 signatures in support of the hunger strikers and then marched to Governor Brown's office to demand answers. That same day, supporters in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City and Philadelphia also held solidarity rallies.
On July 14, two weeks into the strike, CDCR Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan spoke to representatives of the Pelican Bay hunger strikers. He promised that their demands would be addressed and that the CDCR would enact positive changes over time.
On July 20, Kernan and other CDCR administrators again met with hunger strike representatives. Again, Kernan made assurances about positive changes to SHU and stated that he would provide specifics about their demands in a couple of weeks. The hunger strike representatives met and discussed Kernan's proposals. They decided to temporarily suspend the hunger strike to allow CDCR a grace period to fulfill their promises.
The next month, on August 19, prisoner representatives met with Kernan and other administrators. Kernan had no specific plans regarding the hunger strikers' core demands, but, as the prisoner representatives noted, offered only "very vague, general terms, about CDCR staff working to come up with some type of step down program for inmates to get out of SHU, which does not require debriefing-informant status." The representatives asked that specific details be provided on paper to all SHU sections. Kernan agreed to begin providing documentation within two weeks.
Sparked by the hunger strike, its ensuing publicity and community pressure on legislators, the California Assembly's Public Safety Commission held a hearing on SHU conditions on August 23. Former SHU prisoners, family members, attorneys, advocates and psychiatrists testified about the need for substantial changes to SHU policies and practices. CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan, who was a negotiator with the hunger strike representatives, also testified.
On August 31, SHU staff issued memos stating that prisoners would be allowed to have handballs on the yard and the ability to purchase sweatsuits. If they remained free of disciplinary violations for one year and gained committee approval, they would be allowed to have a yearly photo taken and to purchase art pens and drawing paper from the prison canteen. None of the core demands were addressed.
In addition, many strike participants were issued a disciplinary memo stating, "Your behavior and actions were out of compliance with the Director's Rules and this documentation is intended to record your actions and advise that progressive discipline will be taken in the future for any reoccurrence of this type of behavior."
Prison officials have retaliated against the hunger strikers in other ways. According to Carol Strickman, an attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, "Prisoners are receiving serious disciplinary write-ups, usually reserved for serious rules violations, for things like talking in the library or not walking fast enough. It's clear that prison officials are trying to intimidate these men and to make them ineligible for any privileges or changes that may be forced by the strike."
On September 2, a memo entitled Gang Management Proposal (dated August 25) was issued to the four principal representatives of the hunger strike. Hunger striker Antonio Guillen wrote that the proposal is, "by far the most punitive and restrictive program I have ever seen. It is way worse than what we have in place now and that's saying something because the current program is, in part, what prompted the hunger strike." It also widens the criteria from "'traditional prison gangs' " to "anyone they consider to be problematic." (Statement from Guillen that came with a letter dated September 27, 2011.) Kernan himself alluded to this during his testimony on August 23: "We believe that the current process, which targets six prison gangs, needs to be modified and what we really need to do is identify security threat groups ... our policies target just the prison gangs today and we're not capturing the inmates that perhaps should be segregated from our population."
Despite these threats, prisoners throughout California resumed their hunger strike on September 26. By the third day, nearly 12,000 were participating. The strike spread not only to 12 prisons inside California, but also to prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma that are housing California prisoners.
In response, the CDCR classified the strike as an organized disturbance and transferred hunger strikers form the SHU to Administrative Segregation, where they lose access to all of their personal possessions and are denied access to their mail (including legal mail). According to recent interviews with the men, they have only a jumpsuit, a mattress and a thin blanket. The transfer could also negatively affect parole decisions. The retaliation has caused the number of hunger strikers to drop. In addition, hunger strikers at other prisons report that the CDCR has been undercounting the number of participants, refusing to mark men as hunger strikers if they drink liquids or touch the food tray.
Prison officials have also retaliated against outside supporters: Carol Strickman and Marilyn McMahon, executive director of California Prison Focus, had been involved in extensive discussions with corrections officials, including Kernan and leaders of the strike. On September 29, the Department of Corrections placed them under investigation, alleging that they "violated the laws and policies governing the safe operations of institutions within the CDCR." Both attorneys are banned from all California prisons until the investigation is concluded. Attorneys who were able to visit reported that the CDCR has the air conditioning on high in 50-degree weather.
On October 13, prisoners at Pelican Bay ended their nearly-three week hunger strike after the CDCR guaranteed a comprehensive review of every prisoner in California whose SHU sentence is related to gang validation under new criteria. Two days later, hunger strikers at Calipatria State Prison stopped their strike to allow time to regain their strength.
"This is something the prisoners have been asking for and it is the first significant step we've seen from the CDCR to address the hunger strikers' demands," says Carol Strickman, a lawyer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, "But as you know, the proof is in the pudding. We'll see if the CDCR keeps its word regarding this new process."
Victoria Law is a writer, photographer, mother, and Contributing Author for New Clear Vision. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated Women (PM Press, 2009), the editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison, and a co-founder of Books Through Bars — NYC. She is currently working on transforming Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind, a zine series on how radical movements can support the families in their midst, into a book.
Friday, October 14, 2011
When he arrived at the scene, Jay said. “We saw mass fighting all over the yard.”
Sixteen inmates were taken to area hospitals to be treated for injuries, according to a statement released about 8 p.m. by the operator of the private prison, Corrections Corp. of America. One had been returned to the prison by evening. The statement also said that 30 inmates were treated at the facility.
No staff injuries were reported, the statement said.
Officers contained riot
Jay said he saw weapons in use by the brawling inmates, but he couldn't identify what they were. Knowing prison culture, Jay said, he would speculate they were homemade weapons.
Smaller incidents have happened at the prison, Jay said, but he was only aware of one other time when local law officers were called in to help.
Ambulance crews from nearby towns such as Elk City and Erick provided medical care.
At 5 p.m., after as many as a dozen patients had been taken to the hospital, seven ambulances remained lined up outside the gates.
Jay said at least 11 ground ambulance runs were made from the prison.
Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said at least two injured prisoners were taken by medical helicopter to Midwest Regional Medical Center. Midwest City police were asked to provide security until prison employees arrived, Clabes said.
Inmates also were airlifted to OU Medical Center, a spokesman said, but he referred further questions to corrections authorities.
“Right now, we don't know if this was racially motivated, or they had a beef with the facility or what,” Jay said.
Deherrera did not release any information about a possible reason for the riot.
Sayre police escorted ambulances to the Sayre hospital, and Elk City police provided security for ambulances that took injured inmates to the hospital in Elk City, Sayre Police Chief Eddie Holland said.
“We'll be here as long as it takes,” Holland said about 4 p.m. “Right now, the whole place is a crime scene.”
Relatives of prison employees, gathered at the county barn about two miles away shortly after the riot broke out, spent the afternoon pacing and waiting for their cellphones to ring.
A Beckham County dispatcher said local law officers and ambulance crews were called about 11:50 a.m. to assist in the riot at 1605 E Main St.
Deherrera said public safety was never threatened. She did not say how long it took the staff to contain the riot.
Dale Denwalt, a reporter for the Daily Elk Citian, said a sheriff's deputy provided details about the riot to the waiting relatives.
A source inside the prison said 530 people are employed there but did not release numbers on how many were at work when the riot broke out.
Louis Thompson, 20, of Elk City, said his mother, Cherie, is a correctional officer with CCA.
He said he heard about the riot from his sister and was pacing across the street from the prison throughout the afternoon, worrying about his mother's safety.
“She said they had a couple of small riots, but nothing very big,” Thompson said.
“She said she could feel something was about to happen, and it did. I just hope she's all right.”
Deherrera said the prison was being placed on complete lockdown, with all inmates confined to their cells and movement restricted until further notice.
“When I arrived a little bit after 12:30, the situation from outside the facility seemed calm,” Denwalt said. “There were some inmates who were in the courtyard sitting against the wall, and the guards were obviously watching them.”
According to the Oklahoma Corrections Department, North Fork can house up to 2,500 male inmates.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
PRISONER HUNGER STRIKE SOLIDARITY
This post below is ominous. It comes from CaliforniaWatch, founded by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Both of the agencies in question are pretty prominent and well established in the area of fighting for prisoner rights - they're also serious antagonists of the system out there. They would be the ones to go after if the state wanted to intimidate everyone else into backing off the Pelican Bay prisoners - they've been a resource for other activists all across the country over the years.
So, defy the state of California - or whatever state you're fighting prison systems in: Support the California prisoners on hunger strike demanding to be treated like human beings. Don't just sign a petition: tune in and follow along, look for local solidarity actions, help local prisoners get their stories told - just take it one step further than you have before. What's been happening at Pelican Bay is a whole lot bigger than California...so is this investigation.
By the way, the strike is now 12,000 prisoners big and growing...
- in Solidarity from Arizona Prison Watch
Just days after thousands of California inmates renewed a hunger strike, two Bay Area attorneys closely involved in mediation efforts got a surprise: They were under investigation by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for allegations of misconduct and unspecified security threats.
The attorneys – Marilyn McMahon, executive director of California Prison Focus, and Carol Strickman of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children – have been banned from state institutions until the investigation is resolved, according to temporary exclusion orders signed by Corrections Undersecretary Scott Kernan on Sept. 29.
The investigation will determine whether the attorneys “violated the laws and policies governing the safe operations of institutions within the CDCR,” the order states.
The document does not provide details about the allegations. It cites a section from California Code of Regulations that reads:
"Committing an act that jeopardizes the life of a person, violates the security of the facility, constitutes a misdemeanor or a felony, or is a reoccurrence of previous violations shall result in a one-year to lifetime exclusion depending on the severity of the offense in question."
Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton confirmed the department had banned "some specific attorneys" from one facility for alleged misconduct. She declined further comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
The move is another indication that the corrections department intends to handle the current protest differently from an earlier hunger strike, which ended July 20 after officials agreed to some concessions, including a review of policies governing the state’s controversial Security Housing Units, where some inmates have spent decades housed alone in windowless cells.
Since then, strike leaders have accused corrections officials of failing to carry out their promises.
“CDCR has responded with more propaganda, lies and vague double-talk of promises of change in time," reads a statement from the leaders posted on an advocacy website. The inmates vowed to continue the protest indefinitely, “until actual changes are implemented.”
But corrections officials say they’ve kept their commitments and claim the protests are the work of dangerous gang leaders.
“Unlike in the first instance where we certainly evaluated their concerns and thought there was some merit to it, this instance appears to be more manipulative, and it certainly has the possibility of being a real disruption to the Department of Corrections and the security of its staff and inmates,” Kernan said.
A memo signed by Kernan and distributed to inmates Sept. 29 warned the department was treating the new hunger strike as a “mass disturbance” and said any prisoner who joined the protest would be subject to disciplinary action.
General-population inmates identified as strike leaders will be locked in special segregation units normally used as punishment for major rules violations, according to the memo.
Strickman and McMahon have been involved in extensive discussions with corrections officials, including Kernan, and leaders of the strike, who are housed in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit.
Neither attorney was available for comment.
Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, condemned the sanctions against the attorneys and said he expected the department would place similar restrictions on other advocates in order to further isolate leaders of the hunger strike.
“They’re trying to move us out of the way,” he said.
Nearly 3,400 inmates at six prisons have refused state-issued meals for three consecutive days, according to the most recent data from the corrections department.