End Long Term Isolation, Solitary Confinement, and other Torture in U.S. Prisons

Support Prisoner Hunger Strike and Five Core Human Rights Demands

Read More Articles and Calls to Action In List on Bottom of Page

About CMU's (Communication Management Units)

Free Bradley Manning

Read More Articles and Calls to Action In List on Bottom of Page

Georgia Prisoner Strike


"Prisoners Are Human Beings! Meet the Five Demands Now!" Rally Cries of People in Solidarity With Hunger Striking SHU Prisoners [VIDEOS, Words from Hugo Pinell included]

Three weeks with No Food, Solidarity Strengthens

Letters from Hugo Pinell and other hunger strikers – Rally to support the hunger strikers
July 15, 2011

Hunger striker Hugo Pinell, held longer in solitary than any other prisoner in the U.S., writes to Kiilu Nyasha

Solidarity and commitment
June 30, 2011

A matter of life and death
July 18, 2011
by Dorsey Nunn

I am writing because it is a matter of life and death and I am afraid. I have been on a mediation team for the last couple of weeks on behalf of the prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison and the talks have broken down.

Prisoners in Pelican Bay have not eaten in 18 days. I have been told that the prison hospital is full with prisoners who are being hydrated intravenously because some have started to refuse water. Others are having a problem just keeping their water down at this point. Members of the prisoner negotiation team have lost between 20 and 35 pounds. It is truly a matter of luck and or untiring spirit that nobody has died so far.

During the last conversation that I had with the prisoner negotiation team, they told me that nothing substantial was being offered. They felt disrespected but are staying committed to this course of action until CDC stops the torture. Some of them have been in solitary lockup for multiple decades with no possibly of getting out of the hole. They would rather die or continue to be tortured before they’d surrender their soul.

Many of them have been committed to their terms of segregation because of alleged gang labels or prison associations. Many of them are there because someone said something about them in an effort to avoid a similar fate of torture. Many of them are there because they took the courageous stance to demand their humanity back and to organize with others to reclaim their human rights by demanding the CDC transform the conditions of confinement for the next generation.

Many of them are there because they took the courageous stance to demand their humanity back and to organize with others to reclaim their human rights.

The people who are leading this action in prison are surprisingly old. The prison officials demand that they betray fellow inmates by declaring their “gang activity” as a sign of their disassociation. Many of them have elected not to betray other prisoners or have simply not had any information to give prison officials.

Just imagine if someone demanded that you surrender that core light in you. Some of you may not be able to denounce your sexual orientation, some of you may not be able to denounce your race, some of you may not be able to denounce your family or your god, and you certainly would not be able to betray people you know.

Many of us have been told for years and years that Pelican Bay is where they house the worse of the worst, but I ask how much worse than you or I do you have to be to merit torture? Imagine yourself losing your color because of lack of sunlight, imagine the artificial light being left on in your bathroom-sized space 24 hours a day, making sleeping difficult. Imagine the insulation in your cell was there to stop the sound of human voices and your only human touch was during the course of a search or the process of handcuffing you. What makes these accumulated acts over the course of decades not acts of violence, not acts of torture?

Many of us have been told for years and years that Pelican Bay is where they house the worse of the worst, but I ask how much worse than you or I do you have to be to merit torture?

Imagine that you can’t imagine when you will be released. I was on Democracy Now a couple of days ago and when I looked at the video I could see how much this situation has weighed me down. I am only sending this email to people who know me, and I think you can see the worry and the sadness in my face in this video.


I do not want people to die, but a handful of people can’t stop the state. This is one of the few times that I have seen prisoners in the state of California put their differences aside in order to stop the torture. Prisoners have had the audacity to try to change their conditions through peaceful means. I am afraid that the only one who can stop people from dying at this time is the governor.

The only one who can stop people from dying at this time is the governor.

If you are a minister, I am asking you to pray. I am asking you to ask other ministers to pray and possibly consider participating in an act of civil disobedience. If you are a person who knows the governor, I ask you to make contact on behalf of the mediation team. I don’t know that the prisoner negotiation team will not have disappeared or if they have not been disappeared already.

If you are a civil rights leader, I am asking you to insert yourselves in this struggle of life and death. If they break the hunger strike, I ask you to engage in stopping the program of torture at Pelican Bay. If you are an activist, I hope you joined us in Sacramento on Monday. We need the governor to intervene because the prisoners no longer trust the courts or their guards to stop the torture.

It is absolutely shameful that when we thought enemy combatants where being tortured in Guantanamo Bay, politicians flocked to Cuba. But politicians are ignoring the torture on our shores, in our front yard and in Pelican Bay.

When we thought enemy combatants where being tortured in Guantanamo Bay, politicians flocked to Cuba. But politicians are ignoring the torture on our shores, in our front yard and in Pelican Bay.

Where are our civil and human rights leaders at this most critical time? If we are not convinced that certain people deserve their humanity based on their past actions, does that strip us, world citizens, of our responsibility as humans? In other words, do the actions or perceived actions of others determine our inhumanity?

My last request is that you pray for the team of mediators and their organizations, which includes me. We are not in prison, but we know that the state will come.

Dorsey Nunn is co-founder of All of Us or None, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and one of the mediators between the prisoners on hunger strike and the California Department of Corrections. He can be reached at dorsey@prisonerswithchildren.org.



Link to "Confronting Confinement" 2006 Report from The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons:

August 23rd: Hearing on Torture and the Pelican Bay SHU!

Sacramento        Tues, August 23rd:

Legislative Hearing on Torture & the SHU at Pelican Bay. 

Please  join us and support a statewide mobilization to Sacramento on August  23rd for an informational legislative hearing held by the CA State Assembly's Public Safety Committee!

Support Statewide Mobilization to Sacramento August 23rd

   Day of Action to Support the Hunger Strike & 5 Core Demands! Family and community members across the West Coast will mobilize to Sacramento for a rally and legislative hearing at the State Assembly. Rally starts at 11:30 am on the South Steps of the State Assembly Building. Hearing starts at 1:30 pm, room to be announced.


If you're in California or on the West Coast: 

  1. Join the Statewide Mobilization to Sacramento! Come to Sacramento on August 23rd for a day of action to support the hunger strike and the 5 Core Demands! If you need a ride, contact prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com as soon as possible.

  2. Pressure your Legislators! Call and/or visit your legislators and urge them to attend the hearing on August 23rd, as well as visit the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and other prisons

  3. Make Some Noise! Organize demonstrations, events, rallies in a city near you targeting your legislators' local offices leading up to the hearing or during (if you're legislators are not attending)!

  4. Support Transportation for supporters across the state!

  • Contact prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com if you can drive a car from where ever you are in CA to Sacramento and have room for more passengers. 

  • For carpools from the Bay Area, meet at West Oakland BART station at 10am. For more support with transportation (from the Bay Area) call 415.637.8195; (from Southern California) 714-290-9077; from Humboldt Area call 707.633.4493 or email prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com. **Driving & parking directions, as well as outreach flyer, coming soon.**

  • You can also donate funds to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity so that families and community members across CA can get to Sacramento on August 23rd. Donate by going to California Prison Focus' website, on the left-hand side there's a donate button that will link you to CPF's paypal account. Or, write a check and mail it to California Prison Focus/ 1904 Franklin Suit 507/ Oakland CA 94612. Make sure to put a note on your check or paypal transaction "hunger strike" or "coalition."

If you're outside of California:

  1. Support transportation for supporters across the state! Donate funds to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity so that families and communities members across CA can get to Sacramento on August 23rd. Donate by going to California Prison Focus' website, on the left-hand side there's a donate button that will link you to CPF's paypal account. Or, write a check and mail it to California Prison Focus/ 1904 Franklin Suit 507/ Oakland CA 94612. Make sure to put a note on your check or paypal transaction "hunger strike" or "coalition"

  2. Pressure your Legislators! Contact your state legislators and urge them to get every CA state legislator they know to attend the Legislative Hearing on the 23rd, as well as visit hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and other prisons.

  3. Make some Noise! Organize local rallies, demonstrations and events in solidarity with the hunger strike near or on August 23rd to help spread awareness about the strike, the hearing, and local struggles against imprisonment.

**For Supporters Everywhere: We encourage all supporters to continue spreading the word about the strike and the upcoming hearing, through emails, facebook, text-messages, twitter--all tools of social media and communication. We also encourage supports to continue writing prisoners and sharing words of support, encouragement, and updates on the strike and statewide mobilization to Sacramento for the hearing. Click here for more info to write to the hunger strike representatives.


Chicago, IL

12 noon: Demo @ Federal Plaza (Adams & Dearborn).
Join us as we demand better conditions in Pelican Bay & Prisons all across the country! From sexual assault, torture, and shootings by the Chicago Police Department to the huge numbers of people of color who have been locked up from our city, Chicagoans know first hand how brutal the criminal justice system can be. We must stand in solidarity with the California prisoners and show our local officials that we will not stand for injustice in our own community either!


Manhattan, NY

4:30-6:30PM. Demo. Governor Cuomo’s Office: 633 Third Avenue, Manhattan (Two blocks from Grand Central Station, and the 4/5/6/7 trains) [or S Shuttle]. As hundreds of Californians, including family members of the strikers, mobilize to Sacramento for the Legislative Hearing, we are rallying at Governor Cuomo’s office to demonstrate that the fight against torture and mass incarceration is not limited to California. We honor the strike in California, as we prepare to defend future struggles in New York. Make some noise to bring the struggle in Pelican Bay to the streets of New York City! Contact: nysprisonerjustice@gmail.com

Hartford, CT
6:30-8:30 p.m: To show our solidarity, Connecticut activists have been fasting, one or two per day, since August 1st. Join us August 23rd to honor the National Day of Action in Solidarity and the culmination of the rolling fast here in Connecticut. Hear the stories of local fasters and about the campaign to end torture in America’s prisons, from California to Connecticut and beyond! Event @ La Paloma Sabanera, 405 Capitol Avenue. For more information, contact Sara Ferah, 860-897-3489, serenthi@hotmail.com. Sponsored by Connecticut in Solidarity with California Prisoners.

For regular updates on the hunger strike and efforts to support it, visit prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.


CA Prisoner Hunger Strike Starts July 1st!

California Prisoner Hunger Strike Starts July 1st!

Sign the Online Petition!
Sign this petition and pass it on to your friends to support the prisoners demands! We will be sending the petition to the Warden at Pelican Bay, the Secretary of the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and Governor Jerry Brown on June 28th.
Stay Informed & Spread the Word!
  1. Pass the blog on to everyone you know!
  2. Check out the facebook page and share with your friends!
  3. Write letters to people you know in prison and their family members to make sure they know about the hunger strike! 
Attend Solidarity Demonstrations, Events and Actions!
Solidarity Actions & Events  are happening in the US & Canada during the strike!
Check out our blog for more info on when and where
Organize a Solidarity Event, Demonstration or Action!

Don't see an action or event near you? Organize one!
Click Here for more info

Dear Friends,


On July 1st, prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California will begin an indefinite hunger strike to protest the tortuous, inhumane and cruel conditions of their imprisonment. The hunger strike is spreading, with prisoners in the SHU at Corcoran State Prison joining the strike in solidarity with those at Pelican Bay.

The hunger strikers need your support to make sure their voices are heard!  


Help Publicize this Action!
Pelican Bay strike
Image by Rashid Johnson at Red Onion Prison (VA)

 when Georgia prisoners in prisons across the state went on a work strike in December 2010, mainstream media barely covered it.

We need to make sure that as many people as possible know about the Pelican Bay hunger strike!

Click here to read their demands!

Please spread the word far and wide to your friends, families, and networks, all over the US and internationally. You can refer people to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity blog, a place for updates on organizing efforts inside and outside the prison; a location for research, history and analysis relevant to the strike; and a hub for ways people can be in solidarity.


Supporting the Strike, Building an Abolitionist Movement for Liberation
Attica Uprising, 1971

This courageous action of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay falls within a undying legacy of prisoner-led resistance throughout the world, inside both men and women's prisons in the US, and throughout the world. As such, these struggles are connected to global struggles for liberation and self-determination. 

Supporting prisoner-led resistance in prisons across the country is about supporting those who are living and fighting through the most expansive and sophisticated prison system in world history. The fact that people can resist from inside US prisons, let alone from withing Security Housing Units, is a testament to the struggle of life against the forces of death and disappearance. This deserves our solidarity, dedication and support.

We understand that supporting the Pelican Bay prisoners is to be connected across the prison walls that are meant to disappear so many of our loved ones, friends and neighbors. We understand our support to be connected to the fight against the devastation of communities from which so many prisoners are rounded up and imprisoned. We understand our support to be connected to combating the violence of policing. We see our support connected to the struggle for affordable housing, more jobs, better education, relevant and empowering programs for youth and formerly incarcerated people, sustainable health-care, and overall community self-determination.

Together, our support of the Pelican Bay prisoners is part of building a movement to abolish the prison industrial complex in its entirety, and in so doing creating the world we want and need.

In Solidarity & Struggle,

Critical Resistance


Contact Info!

For more information, contact Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com

or call Critical Resistance: 510.444.0484

webblock_hunger strike.jpg41.27 KB



(Submitted July 12, 2011)   An indefinite hunger strike has kicked off on July first by Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) prisoners. They have been joined by prisoners in the Corcoran and Folsom SHUs. Huge amounts of domestic and foreign support have been organized for these prisoners. In order to win this struggle, however, every available resource must be brought into play. We are at a historical juncture in which prisoners can take control over their lives, to have some say in the conditions of their existence, or else continue to be mere pawns acted upon by external forces and watch things get even worse.

 Starting IMMEDIATELY defendants/prisoners can start the process of improving their conditions of existence by implementing a peaceful work strike in every prison in the state. Defendants may draft demands as each facility sees fit, but the first demand on the list must be to implement the core demands of the prisoners in the SHUs.  The longest prison work strike in U.S. history was at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla in 1978—it lasted 47 days. It resulted in the release of the Walla Walla Brothers from the SHU, the Director of Corrections Harold Bradley being fired, the warden removed, and the associate warden of custody transferred to a youth facility. Work strikes can result in positive change!

 In the recent Georgia strike prisoners in every prison went on a statewide peaceful work strike. The prisoners were supported by their families and friends who helped spread the word of the planned strike between prisons, and who found supportive groups in a wide variety of
communities to bring information about the prisoners’ conditions and attention to their demands.

 Plaintiffs/prisoners want you to do the same thing here in California

 It is up to you to get this message to everyone you trust at your prison and to spread the word across all yards. You are being asked to tell other prisoners that starting IMMEDIATELY, no work will be performed.

 No work means no kitchen, no hospital, no anything, no exceptions!!

 Moreover, there must be no violence. Anyone advocating violence is a provocateur; listening to such people will only result in defeat. The struggle must be solid and protracted. Plaintiffs on the outside will provide support by amplifying your voice. If you are not the person to
get this done, then give this document to someone you think is.

 Let’s recap:
 1. Effective IMMEDIATELY prisoners initiate a peaceful work stoppage at all prisons.
 a. Nobody works; no exceptions.
 b. The Walla Walla record is 47 days (it will take time to change public consciousness).
 c. There must be no violence at all, in any way.
 d. The first demand must be to eliminate indefinite SHU placement and the validation process.
 e. First demand amended is “debriefing” as it is known in SHU prison policy, will no longer be tolerated or permitted and considered a crime committed by the institutions that seek it as a means of control.

 2. The strike is over when prisoners win, or are defeated.
 a. If local demands are not met the strike may continue at that individual facility.

 The first step of becoming a part of prisoner history is to communicate the essence of this document to others on the inside. This message is going into prisons across the state, by this and other means.

 This is NOW a nationwide effort!! please repost repost repost!!!!
 Send this out to everyone in every prison by every means possible.

 Please do copy and paste, but do not edit this post!

Hunger Strike Grows; CA Prison System Lies about Numbers

Hunger Strike Grows and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Lies about Numbers  July 3, 2011 by    3 comments
The Pelican Bay Hunger Strike is clearly starting strong as more units in Pelican Bay and other prisons are joining.

On the first day, 43 food trays were refused (out of 52) in Pod D1 of Pelican Bay SHU. The nine prisoners who have not refused to eat are much older and already have serious health concerns. The prisoners also said that other units had similar numbers of nearly 100% participation.

On the second day of the hunger strike, the action spreads throughout Pelican Bay SHU into General Population (GP).

The strike has also spread to Corcoran and Folsom State Prisons, where more than 100 prisoners have joined the hunger strike in solidarity with the demands at Pelican Bay.

After releasing the “4th of July Menu” to persuade prisoners from striking, the CDCR has told the LA Times that less than 24 prisoners are on strike, which is simply untrue.

One prisoner informed us: “In Tehachapi SHU in 2007 me and six other guys did a hunger strike. Staff flipped out. When we went to the yard they placed lunches in our cells and photographed it. They rigged scales between weigh-ins. And they used my medical, chronic-care issues to say that not eating was akin to “suicidal behavior” and placed me on suicide watch.”   [Suicide watch involves isolation and deprivation--and can be used as a method of punishment.]

These tactics demonstrate the CDCR is scared that this hunger strike is powerful and growing, and is not taking the prisoners demands seriously.

Please, take a few minutes to call the CDCR and the warden and urge them to honor the prisoners’ demands!




LINKS to past Redwood Curtain CopWatch postings on Prisoner Hunger Strike:

CA Prisoner Hunger Strike Starts July 1st!

CA Prisoner Hunger Strike Starts July 1st!
Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners' Formal Complaint & Final Notice http://redwoodcurtaincopwatch.net/node/776

If Five Demands Not Met, Pelican Bay Strikers Will Go Back on Hunger Strike

Mon, August 1, 2011
We received a letter from Todd Ashker at Pelican Bay dated July 24, 2011. He says what the hunger strikers did was to give the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) a temporary respite, a grace period of 2-3 weeks from July 20th, to give the CDCR's top administrators the opportunity to come up with some substantive changes in response to their five core demands. If they don't follow through they plan to go back on hunger strike.

"It's very important that our supporters know where we stand, and that CDCR knows that we're not going to go for any B.S. We remain as serious about our stand now as we were at the start, and meant what we said re indefinite hunger strike peaceful protest until our demands are met. I repeat - we're simply giving CDCR a brief grace period in response to their request for the opportunity to get [it] right in a timely fashion! We'll see where things stand soon enough!!"      Alice Lynd

Vigil in Solidarity with Prisoners- Oakland, 7/28/11

Please join or support the Statewide Mobilization to Sacramento, August 23rd, for the Legislative Hearing on Torture and the SHU at Pelican Bay!

Indiana: Solidarity with Wabash Valley SHU Protests. Emergency call-in days August 1 and 2!


From NYC Anarchist Black Cross  

The call-in days are Monday, August 1 and Tuesday, August 2nd.  Wabash Valley administration can be reached at (812) 398-5050.   The Indiana Department of Corrections commissioner can be reached at (317) 232-5711

On the morning of 7/16, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood was stabbed by other prisoners.  The attack took place at Pendleton Correctional Facility in the Maximum Security area of the prison.  The administration used the stabbing as a justification for putting every prison in the state on lockdown and conducting system-wide searches, raids, and beatings.  Since the lockdown began, inmates at the Secure Housing Unit at Wabash Valley had been denied access to water for bathing, sanitation, and cleaning their cells.

In response, a protest took place at the SHU last week.  Inmates initiated a response to the administration's refusal of basic sanitation needs. The inmates flooded the range and have begun a campaign of noise disturbance.  In response, the guards cut off all water and electricity to the SHU...

Inmates threw a t-shirt over the security camera on the range and bombarded the guard pod with feces and piss thrown from their cells:
“If we have to live in filth, so do you.”  Electricity and water were turned back on at 4 am, after many hours without either. Their demands for sanitation and clean water were finally addressed later that evening.

As a condition of coming off this brutal lockdown, the prisoncrats have instituted an intervention by the Internal Affairs Security Threat Group officers to subject the entire prison to interrogations and forced debriefing, including photographing of tattoos and forced declarations of organizational allegiances. The prison officials have said that they won't come off lockdown until everyone has been subjected to these measures.

Struggles in prison can't sustain themselves if, on the outside, they only encounter the deadening silence of social submission.  By remaining passive on the outside, we give the prison system more room to do whatever it wants to the prisoners in struggle.  The inmates at Wabash Valley are protesting to end the system-wide lockdown, to defend their access to basic needs and their dignity.  Without solidarity, this protest could be drowned in beatings and blood, so let's break the social silence that allows the Secure Housing (isolation) Units and prison to play their normal, murderous role.  Indeed, raids against the rebellious blocks are ongoing right now.

Close the Secure Housing Units and isolation regimes – Isolation is always torture!

Solidarity with the hunger strikers in California prisons and the protests spreading in the Indiana prison system!

Down with prison-society!

In support of the prisoners' struggle, an Anarchist Solidarity Initiative in Bloomington is making the following call:

For active and subversive solidarity with the prisoners, to be practiced by whoever feels affinity with their struggles.

For specific call-in days on Monday, August 1 and Tuesday, August 2nd. Wabash Valley administration can be reached at (812) 398-5050.   The Indiana Department of Corrections commissioner can be reached at (317) 232-5711

We demand, in solidarity with the prisoners:
-A restoration of access to water and sanitation.
-An end to the system-wide lockdown and brutal searches.
-An end to forced debriefing and interrogation.
-That no prisoner faces repercussions for their participation in protests.

The Department of Corrections is constantly planning to expand the prison system.  Last year, it contracted with GEO Group to build a new private prison.

It's Not Over: Abolish Long-Term Solitary Confinement!

Support Still Needed!

  excerpt of letter from prisoner at CCI Tehachapi; July 21, 2011

...As far as we last heard it’s been like 12 prisons that are involved. Here there are a lot of people on strike - all races, Pelican Bay and Corcoran for sure...
... All they do is weigh us and take our vitals (blood pressure, temp., and heart rate), but of course they weigh us in chains to weigh us down and they allow the c/o's to operate the scale. I am at 171 on my last weigh-in, down from 185. They attempt to take my blood, which I refuse; I'm weak as it is, if I do that I’ll fall out.


They truly don't care and they are perfectly content in watching us pass rather than admit fault and make changes to a policy that is brutal and baseless. I can’t take my medication anymore because I have to take it with food… I asked for help and they just ignored me.

They also took my shoes when I got here and my feet hurt. (*He had only been at CCI 2 weeks before the strike started, and he was never given any shoes!)


Help get the truth out there. I pray some attorneys get involved. Let them know the CDC is without truth and will lie to keep this issue from ever getting coverage. I am here validated for no actual action. This policy of validating people for no reason robs us of our lives, so we are on a hunger strike in which we could pass because in this environment we've already passed. This is not a life.


I have no food and no meds (that I can take). All they do is weigh me. They don't treat us (example; Ensure, Gatorade, nutrients of some sort). Nothing.


So I remain strong in the hopes that change will come. I get sad when I watch the news and they talk about stuff with no meaning and ignore us. I am an American citizen and when [prisoners] in Guantanamo Bay had a strike they covered it, all networks, beginning to end, but we are just forgotten.


Contact all media networks and let them know this is a peaceful protest and we have been given no other option for relief rather than to hunger strike in the hopes that someone, ANYONE, will care enough to step in and help us.

One might think that us as prisoners must be held under duress and extreme conditions in order to refuse the most basic necessity; food. I choose to remain on strike for I have been robbed of my life, my ability to be a father to my son, a son to my parents, a lover to my love, a friend to friends, and to experience life in the minimum of its meaning.


I was sentenced to life in prison at 18 for an action I committed, but now I am validated for no actual action committed by me. And I’ll be held here in the SHU until I die or debrief. Just imagine if anyone out there could be put in jail just for someone’s accusation. It’s unheard of. But in here its common practice for we are forgotten. We are the tragic aftermath of an angry committee.


Some believe we don't deserve common decency or compassion because we didn't show any when we committed our crime. To those people I say, in life wrongs are committed. I don't justify anything. But this country was founded on mass genocide and yet that is forgotten.


Now that civil rights have passed the oppression that must be has moved behind these walls of the new “concrete slave ship".


I am only a man who prays that I will be judged by my actions and my disciplinary file, not by the words of faceless informants and a confidential file that I can’t see. We must defend ourselves against the unknown. It’s literally impossible.

My feet still walk the trail of tears. I am in my soul still a believer in justice and the good in people. 

I believe if society really knew what happened in here they'd be appalled.



July 12 Update: Prisoner Hunger Strike


According to a source at Pelican Bay State Prison, who prefers to be anonymous, the medical conditions for many strikers have deteriorated to critical levels, with fears some prisoners could start to die if immediate action isn't taken. For at least 200 prisoners in the SHU at Pelican Bay, medical staff have stated:

"The prisoners are progressing rapidly to the organ damaging consequences of dehydration. They are not drinking water and have decompensated rapidly. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up. Some are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for 3 days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated."

Since the hunger strike has spread to at least a third of CA's prisons, family members have informed Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity of their loved one's conditions. They have reported hunger strikers have lost 20-30 pounds, are incredibly pale, and that a number of prisoners fainted and/or went into diabetic shock during family visits this past weekend. Some prisoners have been taken to the prison hospital in at least Corcoran and Pelican Bay.


TODAY: Take Action! Call NOW!

Governor Jerry Brown: 916-445-2841                                                                             "Hi my name is _________ . I'm calling about the statewide prisoner hunger strike that began at Pelican Bay. I support the prisoners & their reasonable "five core demands." I am alarmed by the rapidly deteriorating medical conditions of the hunger strikers & the inaction of the CDCR. I urge you to make sure the CDCR negotiates with the prisoners immediately & in good faith, before prisoners are force-fed or even die. Thank you."

***Also call your legislators and urge them to make sure the CDCR negotiates with the prisoners in good faith.***

CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate: 916-323-6001
"Hi my name is _____. I'm calling about the statewide prisoner hunger strike that began at Pelican Bay. I support the prisoners & their reasonable "five core demands." I am alarmed by the rapidly deteriorating medical conditions of the hunger strikers & the inaction of the CDCR. I urge the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners immediately & in good faith, before prisoners are force-fed or even die. Thank You."

Other Ways to Support the Hunger Strike:


The prisoners need international support! No matter where you are geographically, you can help amplify the prisoner's voices and demands:


  • Check out the blog and Attend Solidarity Events & Demonstrations!
  • Sign the online petition! 
  • Organize a Solidarity Event/Action in a city or town near you!
  • Share this information with everyone you know through phone calls, emails, facebook, twitter, and more!
  • Use grassroots & mainstream media to raise awareness and amplify the prisoner's demands!    
  • If you have a loved one locked up and want support contacting them about the hunger strike, reach out to the coalition by sending an email to prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com. It is important that they have updates on the status of the hunger strike both at Pelican Bay and across California, including how people are showing solidarity & support for the hunger strike outside. 



Thank you for your support!



In Struggle,

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity*  

For Immediate Release--July 12, 2011


Medical Conditions Reach Crisis in Pelican Bay Hunger Strike

Advocates Demand Access to Strike Leaders, Negotiations

Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Office: 510 444 0484
Cell: 510 517 6612

What: Press Conference
When: Wednesday, July 13; 11:00am
Where: San Francisco California State Building, at Van Ness Ave. and McAllister Street

Oakland—According to advocates working on behalf of prisoners on hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU), medical conditions for many strikers have deteriorated to critical levels, with fears some prisoner could start to die if immediate action isn’t taken. Prisoners at Pelican Bay have been on hunger strike for nearly two weeks and have been joined by thousands of other prisoners throughout California’s vast prison system. Some of their main demands revolve around
health conditions in Pelican bay’s Security Housing Unit, while the entire California prison system is under federal receivership due to grave health conditions throughout its facilities.

A source with access to the medical condition of the hunger strikers, who asked to remain anonymous told lawyers with the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition that health of the prisoners on hunger strike is quickly and severely deteriorating, saying, “All of the medical staff has been ordered to work overtime to follow and treat the hunger strikers. Some [strikers] are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for three days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated. The staff has taken them to the [prison hospital] and given them intravenous glucose when allowed by the prisoners. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up.”

Prisoners participation in the strike in other prisons in California have also reported that medications, including those for high blood pressure and other serious conditions, are being withheld from prisoners on strike. Some prisoners have participated for limited periods of time or have joined other prisoners in “rolling” strikes, due to their already poor medical conditions.

“This situation is grave and urgent,” says Carol Strickman, staff attorney for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a legal representative of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. “We are fighting to prevent a lot of deaths at Pelican Bay. The CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] needs to negotiate with these prisoners, and honor the request of the strike leaders to have access to outside mediators to ensure that
any negotiations are in good faith.”

The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition is urging journalists to do further investigation into the health conditions at Pelican Bay, while also pushing state politicians to visit the prison itself. The coalition is also encouraging members of the public to pressure Gov. Brown and the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners. Taeva Shefler of the Prison Activist Resource Center, another member of the solidarity coalition says, “The question for the CDCR is: will they continue to jeopardize prisoners’ health and safety rather than sit at the same table and talk?”
Hunger strike supporters will hold an emergency press conference Wednesday at 11:00 am outside the State Building in San Francisco. Supporters, including family members of those held at Pelican Bay, will also continue to hold rallies and other events in the coming weeks. 

For information on upcoming events, visit www.prisonerhungerstikesolidarity.wordpress.com

*Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity is a coalition based in the Bay Area with international supporters of prisoner rights advocates, lawyers, community members and anti-prison activist organizations. The coalition and hunger strike
was initiated by prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison. Coalition partners include: Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, All of Us or None, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, California Prison Focus, Prison Activist Resource Center, Critical Resistance, Kersplebedeb, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Revolution Newspaper, American Friends Service Committee, BarNone Arcata, and a number of individuals throughout the United States and Canada. To get in contact with the coalition, email: prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com. For more info, check out our blog

July 8 RALLY (Eureka) TO SHOW SOLIDARITY With Prisoners Hunger Strike

Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (Crescent City, California) will begin an indefinite hunger strike July 1, 2011 to protest the cruel and inhumane conditions of their imprisonment.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
has been found guilty of constitutional rights violations by federal courts, and its practice of long-term isolation, particularly at Pelican Bay, has been identified by human rights monitors as constituting a form of psychological torture.

The lives of the prisoners who say they are going to participate in the strike are at great risk.


A coalition of grassroots human rights activist groups across California – "Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity"– believes the prisoners' demands are reasonable and urges more people to call on Governor Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate, and Pelican Bay Warden Greg Lewis to meet the prisoners' demands and avert the necessity of the hunger strike. The prisoners' have developed five core demands which you can learn about here: www.prisons.org, or are summarized at the bottom of this e-mail.


To show support for the prisoners you can sign an on-line petition at: www.change.org/petitions/support-prisoners-on-hunger-strike-at-pelican-bay-state-prison.


Please join us (Bar None) on Friday, July 8, from 5 -7 pm (one week into the strike) for a rally in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse in Eureka to show support for the striking prisoners and to press state and prison officials to meet their five core demands.

Anyone who has a loved one behind bars, or is concerned about human rights violations in prison, is invited to join the rally. Please wear orange, the color of prison clothes, to show solidarity with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prisoners and others who have experienced human rights violations while incarcerated.  

Organizations across the United States and in Canada will also rally in solidarity with the prisoners during the strike. *


We also invite you to join us Wednesday, July 6 to make signs and silkscreen t-shirts to wear at the rally. We will also have more information about the conditions at the SHU at Pelican Bay and the demands of the prisoners for people who would like to have a more in depth conversation prior to the rally. We will be meeting at a house in Arcata from 6-9 pm. The apartment is a bit difficult to find, so Call to let us know if you want to come and we will get you directions. Bring a t-shirt to silkscreen and some food to share.


For more information about the rally on July 8, or the coalition that is supporting the strikers, please contact Jessica Whatcott at 707-826-1517 or jessicawhatcott@yahoo.com.


Briefly the five core demands of the prisoners are:


1. Eliminate group punishments

Instead, practice individual accountability. When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race.  This policy has been applied to keep prisoners in the SHU indefinitely and to make conditions increasingly harsh. 


2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.


With false or highly dubious evidence, prisoners are accused of being active or inactive members of prison gangs, and are then sent to long-term isolation (SHU). They can escape these tortuous conditions only if they "debrief," or provide information on gang activity. Debriefing produces false information (wrongly landing other prisoners in the SHU, in an endless cycle) and can endanger the lives of debriefing prisoners and their families.


3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement. 


This bi-partisan commission specifically recommended to "make segregation a last resort" and "end conditions of isolation."   

Yet as of May 18, 2011, California kept 3,259 prisoners in SHUs and hundreds more in Administrative Segregation waiting for a SHU cell to open up.  Some prisoners have been kept in isolation cells with no human contact, no exposure to natural sunlight and other sensory deprivation for more than 30 years.


4. Provide adequate food. 

Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food that do not conform to prison regulations.  There is no accountability or independent quality control of meals.


5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates. 

The hunger strikers are pressing for opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities..." Currently these opportunities are routinely denied, even if the prisoners want to pay for correspondence courses themselves. All of the “privileges” asked for, including one phone call per week, and permission to have sweat suits and watch caps, mentioned in the demands are already allowed at other so-called “super maximum” prisons.

***Info on Actions, throughout North America, in Solidarity with the prisoners who plan to hunger strike can be found here:  http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/take-action/demonstrations-actions-events-in-the-us-canada/


You can organize solidarity actions where you live too. 


Mon, July 18th- Mobilize to Sacramento; Demonstrate Outside Dept. Of Corrections!


This MONDAY , July 18th from 1-3pm. Demonstration outside CDCR Headquarters  1515 S. St.   Sacramento

RIDES from East Bay: Meet at West Oakland BART, 9:30 am

Meeting at NOON in Sacramento at Freemont Park on 15th & Q

For more info, for rides: Call Manuel (415-637-8195) or Linda (510-219-0297).

If you are in Humboldt or Del Norte County and want to go to Sacramento, please immediately contact Redwood Curtain CopWatch at 707-633-4493.


On July 1st, prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison  Security Housing Unit (SHU) began an indefinite hunger strike to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. The UN has characterized their imprisonment as ‘inhumane and degrading’.  At least 6,600 prisoners across 13 prisons in CA joined the hunger strike in solidarity with the demands from the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU).  Thousands of people both inside and outside prison are supporting their struggle.   But if demands are not met soon, people will begin to die….

Force CDCR to grant the hungerstrikers' demands.

The 5 Basic demands are:

1. End “Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse

2. Abolish Debriefing Policy & Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria: People inside prisons should not be categorized and punished as gang members just because another person says they are part of a gang in order to get out of the SHU.

3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety & Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations regarding an End to Long-term Solitary Confinement; people want adequate natural sunlight, quality health care and treatment

4. Provide Adequate & Nutritious Food: Not use food as punishment

5. Expand & Provide Constructive Programming & Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Prisoners: (i.e. visitation, phone calls, mail, radio, etc)

Drastic, urgent, situations require drastic, urgent measures, so we are asking you to take a courageous stance to meet the courageous efforts of people inside who are willing to sacrifice their lives so that others do not have to got through what they have had to endure for 20, 25 30+ years.

Read July 15th update here: Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers Reject Proposal: The Strike Continues!



List of Actions for August 1: Day of Protest and Solidarity with the Prison Hunger Strikers

In support and respect for the courageous prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons all around California, whose July 2011 hunger strike challenged the inhumane conditions of the Security Housing Units [the SHU] and inspired the support of people far and wide—we now call on people of conscience everywhere across the U.S. and beyond, to join in an International Day of Protest and Solidarity with the Prison Hunger Strikers on Monday, August 1, 2011. 


The Hunger Strikers achieved real success: the conditions of systematic abuse and torture in the SHU—and widespread thru the prison system—were dragged into the light of day. Their original five core demands have now been acknowledged—although not yet met—by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which promised to consider them. On Monday, August 1 many diverse people and organizations will publicly speak out and act in support of these demands. Prisoners must gain the human rights and civil rights demanded by their very humanity—and by ours outside the prison walls too, wherever we may be.   We insist there must be NO RETALIATION by the authorities against individual prisoners, groups of prisoners, prisoners’ family members or attorneys or other advocates, in the wake of the Hunger Strike. (And we will be paying attention.) Let us show on August 1 that the prisoners do not stand alone, through our demonstrations, rallies, religious services, fasts, call-the-governor-days, art and music, taking to the airwaves thru talk show and other call-ins, and many other public, visual, and creative expressions. Send word of your plans to prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com and follow news and information at  prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com



Convergence, 11am-2pm:  State Building, 300 S. Spring St.  Contact: Keith James (213) 840-5348



Rally and Speakout, 12pm, State Building (Van Ness &McAllister)
March to 455 Golden Gate Ave, for short Rally at offices of Gov. Brown and State Attorney General
March back to State Building for Closing Rally

Contact: sf@worldcantwait.org or (415) 864-5153This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Rally, 4:30pm, State of Illinois Building (Randolph & Clark, Chicago Loop)

Contact: chicago@worldcantwait.org


Rally & Speak Out, 4-6pm, south side of Union Square (14th St. Manhattan)

Contact: World Can't Wait NYC (866) 973-4463


5pm, Seattle Federal Bldg (915 2nd Ave between Marion & Madison
6:15pm, Weslake Park (4th Ave & Pine)

Contact: Revolution Books rbsea@yahoo.com or (206) 325-7415


In support and respect for the courageous prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons all around California, whose July 2011 hunger strike challenged the inhumane conditions of the Security Housing Units [the SHU] and inspired the support of people far and wide—we now call on people of conscience everywhere across the U.S. and beyond, to join in an International Day of Protest and Solidarity with the Prison Hunger Strikers on Monday, August 1, 2011. 


The Hunger Strikers achieved real success: the conditions of systematic abuse and torture in the SHU—and widespread thru the prison system—were dragged into the light of day. Their original five core demands have now been acknowledged—although not yet met—by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which promised to consider them. On Monday, August 1 many diverse people and organizations will publicly speak out and act in support of these demands. Prisoners must gain the human rights and civil rights demanded by their very humanity—and by ours outside the prison walls too, wherever we may be.   We insist there must be NO RETALIATION by the authorities against individual prisoners, groups of prisoners, prisoners’ family members or attorneys or other advocates, in the wake of the Hunger Strike. (And we will be paying attention.) Let us show on August 1 that the prisoners do not stand alone, through our demonstrations, rallies, religious services, fasts, call-the-governor-days, art and music, taking to the airwaves thru talk show and other call-ins, and many other public, visual, and creative expressions. Send word of your plans to prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com and follow news and information at  prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com

Solidarity / Protest Events posted on to the events page here.

Wherever you are, make August 1, a Day of Protest and Solidarity with the Prison Hunger Strikers, a day that counts. 

World Can’t Wait is calling for all supporters internationally to hold demonstrations, rallies, community events, music shows, etc in support of the hunger strikers to continue building momentum for the legislative hearing on August 23rd in Sacramento. 


Protests Grow in Solidarity With California Prisoners As Hunger Strikes Enter Third Week, Democracy Now! July 15, 2011


Thousands of inmates in at least 13 prisons across California’s troubled prison system have been on hunger strike for almost two weeks. Many are protesting in solidarity with inmates held in Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s first super-maximum security prison, over what prisoners say are cruel and unusual conditions in "Secure Housing Units." We play an audio statement from one of the Pelican Bay prisoners and speak to three guests: Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of "All of Us or None" and executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and one of the mediators between the prisoners on hunger strike and the California Department of Corrections; Molly Porzig, a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition and a spokesperson for Critical Resistance; and Desiree Lozoya, the niece of an inmate participating in the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike, who visited him last weekend.

Molly Porzig, a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition and a spokesperson for Critical Resistance.
Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of "All of Us or None." He is also the executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. Nunn was incarcerated from 1971 to 1982 in San Quentin Prison in California. He is one of the mediators between the prisoners on hunger strike and the California Department of Corrections.
Desiree Lozoya, is the niece of an inmate participating in the Pelican Bay hunger strike.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to California, where thousands of inmates in at least 11 prisons across the state’s troubled prison system have been on hunger strike for almost two weeks. Many are protesting in solidarity with inmates held in Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s first super-maximum security prison.

The hunger strike began on July 1st in the Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, when inmates began refusing meals to protest what they say is cruel and unusual conditions. Prisoners in the units are kept in total isolation for 22-and-a-half hours a day, a punishment some mental health experts say can lead to insanity and is tantamount to torture.

Democracy Now! obtained a recording of an audio statement that one of the Pelican Bay inmates, Ted Ashker sic, made to his legal team in the secure prison’s Secure Housing Unit, which is referred to as the SHU. You will need to listen closely as he explains his reasons for joining the hunger strike.

TODD ASHKER: The basis for this protest has come about after over 25 years—some of us, 30, some up to 40 years—of being subjected to these conditions the last 21 years in Pelican Bay SHU, where every single day you have staff and administrators who feel it’s their job to punish the worst of the worst, as they’ve put out propaganda for the last 21 years that we are the worst of the worst. And most of us have never been found guilty of ever committing an illegal gang-related act. But we’re in SHU because of a label. And all of our 602 appeals, numerous court challenges, have gotten nowhere. Therefore, our backs are up against the wall.

A lot of us are older now. We have serious medical issues coming on. And we believe that this is our only option of ever trying to make some kind of positive changes here, is through this peaceful protest of hunger strike. And there is a core group of us who are committed to taking this all the way to the death, if necessary. None of us want to do this, but we feel like we have no other option. And we’re just hoping for the best.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Todd, not Ted, Todd Ashker, one of the prisoners in Pelican Bay’s Secure Housing Unit who is on hunger strike. California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson, Terry Thornton, responded to the hunger strike, saying, quote, “This goes to show the power, influence and reach of prison gangs.” A prison guard told MSNBC that prisoners are kept in the SHU for their own safety.

PRISON GUARD: Inmates that were placed into the SHU housing unit were placed in here, for the most part, because of violence, and that violence could be against other inmates or against officers.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, activists who support the strikers dismiss allegations of gang ties. They describe the conditions inside the prison’s highest-security special isolation wing as inhumane.

In May, the federal Supreme Court ruled that California must reduce its prison overcrowding to be able to provide inmates with adequate healthcare. In a five-to-four ruling, the court said conditions in California’s prison system are, quote, “incompatible with the concept of human dignity, causing needless suffering and death.”

Supporters of the hunger strikers protesting these conditions say, as the prisoners continue to refuse food, their health has deteriorated to critical levels.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by three guests. In Oakland, California, we’re joined by Dorsey Nunn, who is co-founder of All of Us or None. He’s also executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. Nunn was incarcerated from 1971 to '82 at San Quentin. He's one of the mediators between the prisoners on hunger strike and the California Department of Corrections.

Also joining us from the University of California, Berkeley, is Molly Porzig. She’s a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition and a spokesperson for Critical Resistance.

And in Arizona, we’re joined by Desiree Lozoya. She is the niece of a prisoner participating in the Pelican Bay hunger strike. She went to the prison last weekend and visited her uncle.

Desiree, let’s start with you. Tell us what your uncle explained to you, why he’s on hunger strike, and what’s happening at Pelican Bay.

DESIREE LOZOYA: Well, basically, just as Todd had explained in his video clip, they’re just wanting to be treated better. They’re cold. They’re losing weight. And like he had explained, a lot of these prisoners are trying to be—basically gang-labeled. However, there’s nothing to be labeling them for. For instance, my uncle was an interstate transfer to Pelican Bay. He was supposed to be transferred closer to home. However, he was still transferred 17 hours away from us. And then, as soon as they saw a tattoo on his hand, they labeled him right away. Although he has had no write-ups, has gotten into no trouble, they automatically put him in the Ad-Seg, which is now called the new SHU. They are now expanding that. And so, that’s where he sits.

AMY GOODMAN: Because they said the tattoo indicates he’s a member of a gang?

DESIREE LOZOYA: Yes. And the tattoo, he ended up getting when he was a teen. He was only 18 years old when he received the tattoo. It was in no gang affiliation whatsoever.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And we’re also joined by Molly Porzig. She’s a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. Molly, talk about how this has spread to the rest of the California prison system.

MOLLY PORZIG: Right. So, on the first day of the hunger strike, thousands of prisoners across the state of California, more than 6,600 prisoners that we know of across at least 13 prisons, joined the hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners at the Pelican Bay SHU and their demands. What’s really significant about that is that people are risking their own lives in joining this action, while being in very similar, or even the same, brutal conditions as the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay. And that speaks to the fact that while this struggle speaks to particular conditions at Pelican Bay and in the SHU, it’s also part of the larger system within California, which was just mentioned that has been condemned by the Supreme Court as inhumane and cruel, due to severe medical neglect and overcrowding.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering, Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of All of Us or None, if you could explain how this strike has spread and how you are negotiating between the prisoners and the prisons.

DORSEY NUNN: I think this strike has spread, just like anybody else that supports injustice. So for them to consider—I heard in your clip when he said the 6,000 people that’s supporting this strike is—demonstrates the influence of gang leaders. I think it demonstrates the need for justice. Just as Martin marched and people followed Martin, people followed Gandhi, people are actually striking because they are being tortured. So I think that this strike has spread because torture is a threatening thing to anybody in the California Department of Corrections.

People are being tortured. Some parts of what I know, as a formerly incarcerated person who have did time within the California Department of Corrections, that they are guilty of torture. It’s like being locked—it’s not "like." People are being locked up in the bathroom for 23, 24 and 30 years. It may not have been torture maybe the first 30 days or the first 60 days, but when you start getting into multiple decades, then we can call it torture.

When you start extracting information in Pelican Bay or Guantánamo Bay, the purpose is the same. You’re torturing people. And I think under international standards, it can be referred to as that. I think the thing that is troubling, that this thing is happening on the shores of the United States. We never did have to get into renditions if we were going to allow torture in northern California.


DORSEY NUNN: So this thing is spreading.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Dorsey Nunn, what’s been the response of prison officials or government officials? Have they attempted to negotiate or mediate through you or with the inmates?

DORSEY NUNN: I think that we entered discussions. I wouldn’t necessarily call it "negotiating." We entered discussions, you know. So I guess if I was in a cage with a 600-pound gorilla, you couldn’t necessarily call it a dance.

AMY GOODMAN: And where do you—

DORSEY NUNN: You know, so I—you know, what you—

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Dorsey.

DORSEY NUNN: You know, what brings me into this studio this morning at 5:00 in the morning is that I’m scared people are going to start dying. You know, the only model that these guys got left is the model of Bobby Sands and the Irish strike. That’s their model. So these guys—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by that.

DORSEY NUNN: You know, somebody needs to think about what would drive human beings—yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Dorsey, you’re talking about—you’re talking about fasting to death, if you’re talking about Bobby Sands.

DORSEY NUNN: Yeah, that’s what they’re talking about. And that’s what they’ve been like—that’s what I’m frightened of. So what brings me into your studio is, I think they’re betting on the compassion of people who live in the state of California, people who live in the United States. And what’s frightening to me is that I don’t know if that compassion really exists.

MOLLY PORZIG: I mean, just to add to that, to back up to the question of what has the response of officials been, I mean, it’s very, very clear that the CDCR is more than willing, if not wanting, people to start dying. They want this to go away quickly and quietly. They pride itself on Pelican Bay being the end of the line, not only for people in California, but to be a model for the United States, and really the world, in terms of how to repress political organizing and resistance and any sort of defiance to any sort of establishment.

And I think that, you know, what the challenge is for supporters outside of prison is that we need to be tirelessly working at, in a very urgent way, taking the risks that we can to match the courage of these hunger strikers, because, like Dorsey is saying, people—it’s not just that we’re afraid of in a few weeks people dying. People are getting to that point now. And we need to be acting more. You know, historically, people have used civil disobedience to prevent mass death. And that’s exactly the moment that we’re in right now. That’s exactly what these hunger strikers and thousands and thousands of prisoners across the state of California are doing. Some prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary are also joining this. You know, so this is really, really huge.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.

MOLLY PORZIG: And if people start dying, if it gets to that point—OK.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, but I thank you so much, all, for being with us. We will certainly follow this hunger strike. We’ve been joined by Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of All of Us or None, by Molly Porzig with Critical Resistance, and thank you to Desiree Lozoya, who joined us from Arizona.

Stand With the Prisoners. Help Them In Winning Their Demands!

Call Every Day!

Gov. Jerry Brown   (916) 445-2841

Secretary Matthew Cate  (916) 323-6001

Call and say this:

“Hi my name is _____. I’m calling about the statewide prisoner hunger strike that began at Pelican Bay. I support the prisoners & their reasonable “five core demands.” I urge the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners immediately & in good faith. Thank You.”

For more updates, go to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Blog

Please sign the online petition.  

Read Prison Focus #37 (lots of hunger-strike-related content)





UPDATE: July 11, 2011

For more updates, go to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Blog

We support the prisoners participating in this indefinite hunger strike in order to win their fundamental human rights.  We call on California Governor Jerry Brown and CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate to talk with the prisoners and grant their demands. 

Write letters to state officials or call them, and tell them

"No one has to die, start negotiations now!!"


Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of Prisoner Rights!
(May 23, 2011)

On May 23, 2011 the Supreme Court handed down a decision that finally gave teeth to the 8th amendment, declaring once and for all the current conditions in California State Prisons constitute nothing less than cruel and unusual punishment.  While this is a big step in favor of recovering the humanity of so many people behind bars, our struggle does not end here.  This decision will continue to focus the spotlight on California prisons, especially as we help prisoners expose the inhumane treatment in the Security Housing Units around the state during the hunger strike at Pelican Bay.  Get involved with us and work for justice today!


~California Prison Focus  http://www.prisons.org/


Look up your elected officials here and urge them to pressure the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners and honor their demands!

Sample Script for Phone Calls:

“Hi my name is _________ and I live your district. I’m calling about the statewide prisoner hunger strike that began at Pelican Bay. I support the prisoners & their reasonable “five core demands.” I urge you to make sure the CDCR negotiates with the prisoners immediately and in good faith. Thank you.”


Solidarity_flyer_Humboldt.doc417.5 KB
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THURS & FRI Calls for Prison Hunger Strikers and Leonard Peltier!

Call every Thursday and Friday until the demands are met!

Call for the CA Prison Hunger Strikers!

Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (California) began a hunger strike on July 1, 2011 to protest the cruel, inhumane and tortuous conditions of their imprisonment. At least 6,600 prisoners across the state of CA have joined them in solidarity with their demands. Though Pelican Bay prisoners have accepted an offer from the CDCR which grants night caps (beanies), wall calendars, and some educational program opportunities, the rest of their demands have not been met and prisoners at Calipatria, Corcoran and Tehachapi remain on strike.

Support the hunger strikers by contacting the CDCR and urging them to negotiate with the prisoners and honor their 5 demands!


Make Calls to:

Secretary Matthew Cate, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Phone: (916) 323-6001

CDCR Public Affairs Office: (916)445-4950

CA Governor Jerry Brown: (916) 445-2841

Sample Script for Phone Calls:

“Hi my name is _________ . I’m calling about the statewide prisoner hunger strike that began at Pelican Bay and continues today at Tehachapi, Corocoran and Calipatria. I support the prisoners & their reasonable “five core demands. I am alarmed by the rapidly deteriorating medical conditions of the hunger strikers. I urge you to make sure the CDCR negotiates with the prisoners who continue to hunger strike, immediately & in good faith, before prisoners are force-fed or even die, and I urge you to ensure that the CDCR keeps good on the offer it has made to Pelican Bay prisoners. Thank you.”

Please sign the online petition.  




Call for Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier!

10am-2pm Pacific (1pm-5pm Eastern)

(Info below abridged and adapted from alert launched into cyberspace 
by Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee)


On June 27, the 66-year-old Leonard Peltier was thrown in "The Hole" at USP-Lewisburg where he purportedly will stay for the next six months. According to what is currently known, Leonard's cell was searched that day. A guard allegedly was shocked by a wire(s) in the cell. The guard claimed "assault." Leonard wasn't present during the search, having already been removed to "The Hole".

Reference "Leonard Peltier #89637-132" being unfairly put in (administrative) segregation or detention-- and for an unfairly long amount of time.


USP Lewisburg at 570-523-1251 and ask for Warden Bledsoe

Dr. Thomas Kane, Acting Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)-
(202) 307-3250 (Director)


(202) 307-3198 (Switchboard)

Call every Thursday and Friday until the demands are met!  Call other days of the week too and don't limit yourself to calling!


"...there will not be a better time to challenge the legality of warehousing people in isolation than now. ..."

Excerpts of letter from Zaharibu Dorrough (in Corcoran State Prison)

Dec. 8, 2011

... I honestly believe that there will not be a better time to challenge the legality of warehousing people in isolation than now.

As a result of the hunger strike and the efforts—the magnificent efforts—of people like you, the public is now aware of how their tax dollars are being wasted.  ...That has to be the context in which it is framed to the larger public. How their tax dollars are being wasted is the one thing that every citizen out there has in common with one another.  Regardless of how they might feel about humanity of citizens in prison/isolation.  Strategically that has to be the starting point for progressives to build around.


Historically, injustice has had a tremendous headstart....we are always playing catch-up, we must work that much harder to not let citizens forget. To constantly strengthen our relationships with one another.


Forging coalitions with like-minded progressives.  Putting faces to the stories of torture and abuse.


There are human beings dying –being driven to suicide—as a result of the isolation that they are being subjected to.  That people are being housed under such conditions would be shameful under any circumstance. That it happens in what is referred to as the world’s greatest democracy...is appalling. Conditions that are responsible for literally driving people crazy and to suicide is what isolation is intended to accomplish.

...there is still a lot of work to be done in the nation educating itself in a way that will allow us to develop the kind of strategies and tactics that will make it possible to effectively and permanently deal with the abuses and disrespecting of humanity that is an all too common part of this nation’s history.  Hate and indifference (and it goes by many names: racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, religious bigotry, classism) are the tools that are used by those in positions of authority to maintain power....


Hate and indifference is so entrenched in our cultural psyche that we actually believe that, personally and institutionally, [we can still be] fair and just.  We believe this because we have never been taught or encouraged to consider that our growth and development, individually, collectively, and institutionally, has occurred within the same racist, sexist, homophobic, classist... hateful and indifferent circumstance in which we have lived. It is who and what many of us are.


... we are taught that the beauty of the free market economy is that everyone is given equal access to the market to compete for jobs and economic prosperity. But...we compete against one another for the smallest portion of the economic pie.  Hate and indifference is responsible for the fierce and extreme competition...


Torture is a form of violence that has always been used by totalitarian governments to subordinate the larger society to its will.


...In order for this to succeed, it is necessary for th larger society to be convinced that their interest and the interest of those who are in positions of power are one and the same.

Hate and indifference has robbed us of our ability to look at each other and see a reflection of ourselves.  We see slave, homeless, whore, faggot, red or blue, inmate, prisoner...alien!  These are a few of the objects that we designate for one another.  Our silence sends a clear message of our acceptance of this.


The protests (of which the hunger strike is a part) that are taking place throughout the country and world is a demonstration that many of us are determined to not only hold onto our own humanity, but to reclaim it collectively.


We are on a course in which hate and indifference will not define who we are.  ...There is a renewed sense of hope.  And after more than 23 years in isolation, hope is what has kept me amongst the living.


There are things that have to do with simple human honor.  To resist and not surrender!



Michael (Zaharibu) Dorrough  

"SACRAMENTO: ABOLISH THE SHU TODAY!" (CA legislative hearings Oct. 2013)

"When Will Solitary End?" by Carlos Marvin Argueta Jr.


When Will Solitary End?

I sit in solitary confinement,

Monitored and evaluated,

Psychologically tested,

Tortured in more ways than I care

To remember or burden you with,

With hopes I’d crack and beg,

Beg to be let out of this torturous place

And crack, losing the bit of sanity I have left

Like so many others before me and so many others

Yet to fall, fall prey to the prison’s administrators,

To the countless tactical torturous games they play.


I am but one of a few hundred who still stand strong,

Fighting to survive, accumulating deep embedded scars

With each passing day, learning to be resilient to all

That’s thrown and piled up against me

In such a difficult, miserable place.


Lonely and deprived of so much, I sit here

Beyond desperate for a helping hand, for something,

Someone, for a movement, for human rights lawyers

And all the advocates out there to put an end

To this heinous practice of solitary confinement

And take me away from this place with my dignity intact.

I hope it’s soon, before many more fall prey

And lose themselves in this dungeon of hell and misery

That’s been in place for far too long.



My actions will soon come

Hoping that they’ll draw the attention needed

To end this heinous practice

Once and for all.

The practice of solitary confinement.

The day quickly approaches when I’ll refuse to eat,

When my body and mind will be tested

And sacrificed for the greater good,

For this peaceful protest, this hunger strike

That’s my only form of seeking relief,

My last outcry for help

And support,

To come together and end these death dungeons.



What will it take to realize that time is essential

To one’s sanity within these circumstances,

To one’s self-respect and humanity?

What will it take to end solitary confinement?

Is 33 suicides in these dungeons last year alone enough?

Enough, for you, my captors?

Or shall I succumb in this hunger strike as well,

Before you realize something is amiss here?

What will it take?

Please, tell me, tell us, what?



Carlos Marvin Argueta Jr.


...on the Class Action Lawsuit Against CA's Use of Prolonged Solitary Confinement

(Telephone press briefing held on May 31, 2012)  

“My name is Marie Levin. I am the youngest sister of Ronnie Dewberry.

“Ronnie has been held in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison since 1990. That is truly cruel and unusual punishment.

“When I heard about the inhumane conditions in the SHU, I broke down crying uncontrollably.

“Ronnie lives in a cramped, windowless cell for at least 22.5 hours a day. He is let out of the cell only to exercise alone in a concrete enclosure and to shower 3 times weekly.

“He is allowed no phone calls and they only receive one package per year.

“His food is often cold and rotten.

“Ronnie has chronic stomach problems, swollen thyroid glands, and a severe Vitamin D deficiency. He also suffers from high blood pressure and has at times been denied his medication.

“He says that being in the SHU feels like psychological torture.

“This is traumatizing knowing that a loved one is suffering and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“Ronnie and I are 10 months apart, and we were very close growing up.

“At first, he was in [a] prison near our family and we were able to visit regularly. I was able to visit him regularly.

“Since he was transferred to Pelican Bay in 1990, I have seen him only 5 times. The drive is almost 8 hours in a car in travel…very expensive.

“There is much time between visits that each time Ronnie looks much older.

“After the long, costly trip, we are only permitted to visit for 1 hour through a piece of glass. I have not been able to hug my brother in over 2 decades.

“My mother has had several strokes and is now paralyzed, speaks with difficulty, and suffers from dementia. She longs to see her only son but she is no longer able to make the long and difficult trip.

“Though Ronnie is eligible for parole, he will not be paroled while he is in the SHU.

“I fear our mother will pass away before she and Ronnie can see each other again.

“In 2001, our oldest sibling, Carol, suffered kidney failure and Ronnie set about trying to donate a kidney for her. He was able to get tested and found out that he was a compatible donor. But the prison would not allow him to make the donation.

“For years, Ronnie fought for permission to save his sister.

“Carol died in 2010 in a pool of blood, bleeding out after a dialysis treatment. She was 59-years-old.

“I am very grateful for this lawsuit and for all of the support that has been given to Pelican Bay prisoners since the hunger strike.

“The movement to end these barbaric conditions has lifted Ronnie’s peers as well. For the first time in a very long time, I felt hopeful that Ronnie’s situation might change for the better.”


Transcript of Remarks by Marie Levin, family member of Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Ronnie Dewberry, on the Ruiz v. Brown class action lawsuit challenging California’s use of prolonged solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison

Read more: Lawsuit challenges California’s prolonged solitary confinement policy

Learn More:

12, 000 Hunger Striking Prisoners! FACEBOOK links & VIDEO

Prisoner Hunger Strike Grows to Nearly 12,000!

Numbers released by the federal receiver’s office show that on September 28th, nearly 12,000 prisoners were on hunger strike, including California prisoners who are housed in out of state prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. This historic and unprecedented number shows the strength and resolve of the prisoners to win their 5 core demands and is a serious challenge to the power of the California prison system and to the Prison Industrial Complex in general.

Prisoners are currently on strike in Pelican Bay State Prison, Calipatria, Centinela, Corcoran, Ironwood State Prison, Kern Valley State Prison, North Kern State Prison, and Salinas Valley State Prison. Throughout the last week prisoners at California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, Pleasant Valley State Prison, San Quentin as well as West Valley Detention Center in San Bernadino County were participating.

The receiver’s office and the CDCR begin monitoring prisoners who have refused food for 72 hours or for 9 consecutive meals. Representatives of the hunger strikers have previously stated that this will be a rolling strike, allowing prisoners to come off strike to regain strength. Because of this, numbers will likely fluctuate throughout the duration of the strike.

Watch a short video about solitaritary confinement produced by the American Friends Service Committee.



Please use this to spread the word and support the Hunger Strike!



Here's a link to the Friday (9/31) KPFA's Hard Knock Radio show with voices from SHU prisoners and their families:



13 Reasons to Shut Down California SHUs*

1. SHUs don’t work.

Rates of gang activity, yard violence, illegal drug sales and assaults on staff are increasing in California, while decreasing in other states. Maryland has recently closed its SHU.

2. SHUs add violence to the prison system.

The psychologically brutal and degrading conditions of long term SHU confinement encourages violence and harassment by guards and enrages inmates.

3. SHUs cause short, medium, and long term psychological breakdown and social deterioration.

SHU inmates have no physical contact with anyone for years on end and rarely are able to talk to anyone else in the prison.

4. SHUs do not serve public safety.

Inmates are often released directly from the SHU to the general public without skills that would help them survive. They are thus often less well equipped than nonSHU inmates to function in society. Staff working in SHU units have higher rates of drug use, family breakdown, and spouse/child abuse.

5. SHUs are enormously expensive.

SHUs costs twice as much to run as ordinary prison, primarily due to salaries of guards. Closing all SHU facilities in California would save $150 million a year.

6. SHUs destroy families.

Visits are limited to 1 to 2 hours, sometimes even shorter depending on the number of visitors and visiting booths available, even though family members come from very long distances to visit such as out of state. Visits are behind glass with no physical contact with any family members including children, and are only allowed on the weekends.  Inmates receive no phone calls. Family ties are often unraveled by SHU incarceration.

7. SHUs serve no real penological interest.

There is no evidence that SHUs help maintain order.
SHU inmates are not tracked to learn about reoffense rates or adjustment in prison or society.

8. SHUs normalize torture and brutality in the rest of society.

Allowing such torture in our society in one area breeds and fosters it in other areas of our government and society.

9. SHUs keep California and the U.S. out of step with the international community of civilized nations.

SHUs violate United Nations human rights treaties that the U.S. has signed and ratified as guidelines for our legal structure.

10. SHUs are overused and misused.

SHUs provide prison officials with opportunities to exercise abuse of power. Many inmates are assigned to SHU as gang members on false or trivial evidence in an attempt to demonstrate power and control over all inmates.

11. SHUs are a dumping ground for the mentally ill.

While prohibited by the U.S. court from housing the mentally ill in the Pelican Bay SHU, many inmates with mental illness are held captive in SHUs at Corcoran, Tehachapi and Valley State Prison for Women.

12. SHUs cause physical deterioration.

The lack of sun, fresh air, and ordinary physical movement and exercise takes its toll. Medical care is much more difficult to deliver, and doctors and nurses adopt custodial attitudes and deny care as further punishments to sick inmates. Those inmates with serious illnesses suffer excessively from SHU confinement.

13. SHU staff routinely sexually harass women inmates.

Male custodial staff view women while bathing, dressing, and at toilet as they walk the tiers, and in some cases verbally harass and intimidate women with sexual references. The strife and trouble in California prisons can be lowered, and the high recidivism rates can go down.
What works to reduce conflict, lawlessness of staff and inmates, and brutality in prisons? Inmates who don’t need to be in prison should be released, including those inside for victimless drug offenses, two and three strikers in for petty crimes, men and women who committed crimes primarily caused by their mental illness, the elderly, the very sick, and battered women who defended themselves or committed a crime under threat of assault.
The remaining inmates need literacy training, job training, education, support groups, and other activities that help them find a stake in their own future and the future of their communities. That is the way to clean up our prisons and make them a positive force in our communal life.

*Security Housing Units or SHUs are free standing prisons within prisons designed to isolate and punish inmates who have broken rules or who are assigned there for administrative reasons. Inmates are locked in their 9’ by 6’ cells 23 hours a day. The only window available is opaque, allowing for only a few hours of exposure to direct sunlight over the course of a week.Inmates eat their meals in their cells. There are no work or vocational training opportunities, and no educational programs. Many inmates without funds to buy one do not have a TV or radio. No congregate religious services are permitted. Thousands of inmates live in the SHUs for years on end with indeterminate SHU sentences based on draconian antigang regulations. Five thousand men and women are housed in California’s SHUs.


For further information, contact
California Prison Focus
1904 Franklin Street, Suite 507
Oakland, CA 94612,
(925) 8367222,
contact@prisons.org, www.prisons.org


150,000 Calls to Support CA Hunger Strike! (call began Feb 2012)

Support 150,000 Calls for CA Prisoners through Facebook
Invite all your Facebook friends to the 150,000 Calls for Prisoners event page (click here).

Prisoners and support broke a mainstream media silence that refused to cover prisoner resistance accurately, as US and international press-- including Democracy Now, The New York Times, the LA times, Al-Jazeera & many others-- consistently followed the strike.

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity is calling for a 150,000 calls (phone calls, emails, letters & faxes) on the California Legislature in support of the hunger strike and the strikers' five core demands.

The CA hunger strikers struggle is far from over. As prisoners try to recover from two rounds of the strike,you have a chance to again stand with the hunger strikers in solidarity and to continue building pressure.  

One hunger striker held in the Pelican Bay SHU explains how important this support outside prison has been to the prisoners' struggle:

"Everyone knows that outside support sealed the deal from the start to the end of the hunger strike. Let's not ever forget this. One of the most important insights that emerged from the hunger strike is that complete unity amongst prisoners protesting as one voice is a strong, powerful tool that even the CDCR and public cannot ignore or quell. Change is possible and sometimes we must all stand as a group to protest, stand together and inspire others to join in challenging injustice. To do otherwise we give up our rights as humans to be treated fairly."

Click here to read prisoners' statements and analysis on conditions in CA's prisons and why prisoners are committed to this struggle.

Family Members Fight Back!

Family Members of prisoners in the SHU & ASU have worked tirelessly to amplify their loved ones voices and win the prisoners five core demands. Click here to watch videos of family members sharing their loved one's experiences and how prison has impacted their families.

Call Your Representatives NOW!

Sample Phone Script

"Hello, my name is ____________and I'm a resident of CA. I am calling in support of the hunger strike that spread across CA's prison system. Thousands of prisoners went on hunger strike in July and Sept/Oct to protest torturous and inhumane conditions in Security Housing and Administrative Segregation Units in CA prisons. I strongly urge you to:

  • Visit Security Housing Units (SHUs) and Administrative Segregation Units (Ad-Seg) and speak to prisoners who participated in the hunger strike;

  • Attend any informational meetings or legislative hearings about prison conditions and the hunger strike where the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition may be presenting;

  • Hold the CDCR to its commitment to the hunger strikers by revising the regulations in a meaningful way;

  • Demand that CDCR treat the prisoners as stakeholders in its process to develop these regulations;

  • Vote for the repeal of the prison media ban (AB 1270).

Thank You."



Write & Fax Your Representatives NOW!

Visit the coalition's website to download & print the open letter and send to your representatives!



Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com 


Accused WikiLeaks Whistleblower Bradley Manning Testifies He Thought He Would "Die in Custody"

Friday, November 30, 2012   on  Democracy Now!

Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, has testified for the first time since he was arrested in May 2010. Speaking Thursday at a pretrial proceeding, Manning revealed the emotional tumult he experienced while imprisoned in Kuwait after his arrest in 2010, saying, "I remember thinking, ’I’m going to die.’ I thought I was going to die in a cage." As part of his testimony, Manning stepped inside a life-sized chalk outline representing the six-by-eight-foot cell he was later held in at the Quantico base in Virginia, and recounted how he would tilt his head to see the reflection of a skylight through a tiny space in his cell door. Manning could face life in prison if convicted of the most serious of 22 counts against him. His trial is expected to begin in February. He has offered to plead guilty to a subset of charges that could potentially carry a maximum prison term of 16 years. "What’s remarkable is that he still has this incredible dignity after going through this," says Michael Ratner, who was in the courtroom during Manning’s appearance. "But I think all these prison conditions were — sure, they were angry at Bradley Manning, but in the face of that psychiatric statement, that this guy shouldn’t be kept on suicide risk or POI, they’re still keeping him in inhuman conditions, you can only ask yourself — they’re trying to break him for some reason. The lawyer, David Coombs, has said it’s so that he can give evidence against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks." Ratner is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. [includes rush transcript]


Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. He recently returned from attending part the pretrial hearing for Bradley Manning.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, has testified in a courtroom for the first time since he was arrested in May 2010. Speaking Thursday at a pretrial proceeding, Manning revealed the emotional tumult that he experienced while imprisoned in Kuwait after his arrest in 2010, saying, quote, "I remember thinking, ’I’m going to die.’ I thought I was going to die in a cage."

As part of his testimony, Manning stepped inside a life-sized chalk outline representing the six-by-eight-foot cell he was later held in at the Quantico base in Virginia, and he recounted how he would tilt his head to see the reflection of a skylight through a tiny space in his cell door.

Manning could face life in prison if convicted of the most serious of 22 counts against him. His trial is expected to begin in February. He has offered to plead guilty to a subset of charges that could potentially carry a maximum prison term of 16 years.

On Thursday, Democracy Now! spoke about Manning’s case with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently residing inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he sought refuge nearly six months ago.

JULIAN ASSANGE: What is happening this week is not the trial of Bradley Manning; what is happening this week is the trial of the U.S. military. This is Bradley Manning’s abuse case. Bradley Manning was arrested in Baghdad, shipped over and held for two months in extremely adverse conditions in Kuwait, shipped over to Quantico, Virginia, which is near the center of the U.S. intelligence complex, and held there for nine months, longer than any other prisoner in Quantico’s modern history. And there, he was subject to conditions that the U.N. special rapporteur, Juan Méndez, special rapporteur for torture, formally found amounted to torture.

There’s a question about who authorized that treatment. Why was that treatment placed on him for so long, when so many people—independent psychiatrists, military psychiatrists—complained about what was going on in extremely strong terms? His lawyer and support team say that he was being treated in that manner, in part, in order to coerce some kind of statement or false confession from him that would implicate WikiLeaks as an organization and me personally. And so, this is a matter that I am—personally have been embroiled in, that this young man’s treatment, regardless of whether he was our source or not, is directly as a result of an attempt to attack this organization by the United States military, to coerce this young man into providing evidence that could be used to more effectively attack us, and also serve as some kind of terrible disincentive for other potential whistleblowers from stepping forward.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, now under political asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy. He was speaking about Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Assange’s website, WikiLeaks. Manning testified Thursday at this pretrial proceeding for the first time since he was arrested more than two years ago.

For more. we’re joined by Michael Ratner. He’s president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and he just got back from attending the pretrial hearing of Bradley Manning yesterday at Fort Meade.

Michael, describe the scene in the courtroom.

MICHAEL RATNER: You know, it was one of the most dramatic courtroom scenes I’ve ever been in. I mean, for days we’ve been waiting to see whether Bradley Manning was going to testify, and it’s testimony about the conditions he was held in really for almost two years, but certainly the part in Kuwait and Quantico. And we didn’t have—we’ve seen him in the courtroom, but we didn’t see him ever take the stand. So we’re sitting in this small courtroom. There’s all of these guys in these formal-dress blue uniforms. I mean, they look like those Custers or Civil Wars with those little things on their shoulders, epaulets. And then, all of a sudden, we come back from lunch, and David Coombs, Bradley’s lawyer, says, "Bradley Manning will come to the stand."

And you could have heard—I mean, the room was just mesmerized by what was going to happen next. And he says to Bradley, "I know you may be a little nervous about this. I’ll ease you into it." When Bradley opened his mouth, he was not nervous. I mean, he was—the testimony was incredibly moving, emotional roller coaster for all of us, but particularly, obviously, for Bradley and what he went through. But it was so horrible what happened to him over a two-year period. But he described it in great detail in a way that was articulate, smart, self-aware. I mean, he knew what was going on. He tried to make it so that they wouldn’t keep him on the suicide risk, they wouldn’t keep him on preventive injury status, where he didn’t have clothes and all of that. And he couldn’t do it. And he kept trying it, and they kept lying to him. And it was really dramatic.

What came out—what it began with was really his arrest in late May of 2010. He was almost immediately taken to Kuwait. And that’s where—really where they got him in a way that really, for a period of time, almost destroyed him. They put him into cages that he described as eight-by-eight-by-eight. There were two cages. He said they were like animal cages. They were all—they were in a tent alone, just these two cages, side by side. One of them had whatever possessions he may have had; one of them, he was in, with a little bed for a rack and a toilet, dark, in this cage for almost two months. He was taken out for a short while and then, without explanation, put back in the cage, meals in the cage, etc., all of that.

And then—wait until you hear this. They would wake him at night at 11:00 p.m., 10:00 or 11:00, and his day—or night—was all night, and he was allowed to go back to sleep at 12:00 or 1:00, noon, the next day. So when we think about what happened to people at Guantánamo or sensory deprivation or what McCoy says in his books on torture, what are they trying to do except destroy this human being?

And he said, "For me, I stopped keeping track. I didn’t know whether night was day or day was night. And my world became very, very small. It became these cages. And I’m person," he said—this was really, I thought—all of us really were interested in it. He said, "I’m someone who likes current events. I take a broader view of the world." And he gave an example of the oil spill in the Gulf. And he said, you know, "When that ended," and he said, "my world all of a sudden was totally confined to these cages." And that was almost two months in Kuwait, something that none of us really knew about for this period. And he went on to talk about then what happens when he went to Quantico.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Michael, you’re describing a person who was the exact opposite of some of the portraits of him that have come out from some supposed supporters of his, but also people who have had grudges against him, of being an unstable—an emotionally unstable person. The sense that you got of how intelligent and how clear he was about what was happening to him?

MICHAEL RATNER: Even one of the psychiatrists who testified and who was one of the psychiatrists who said this guy should never have been put on prevention of injury or suicide risk when he was at Quantico—that was right after Kuwait—said he’s highly intelligent. And you could see that. And the image was just at the—as you’re saying, Juan, was the opposite of what I would have thought going in there, of this sort of—of this person who couldn’t make their way in the world, of who just, you know, was unable to really function. This person was articulate, strong, self-aware, as I said, and it was—and very sympathetic. I mean, very sympathetic. And not even a shade that he shaded anything, not anything close to, you know, mendacity, lies, nothing. This was incredible testimony.

AMY GOODMAN: The psychiatrist who treated Bradley Manning while he was in prison at Quantico Marine brig testified on Wednesday that commanders there consistently ignored his medical advice and continued to impose harsh restrictions on Bradley Manning, even though he posed no risk of suicide. Captain William Hoctor said he treated prisoners at Guantánamo but had never encountered military officials so unwilling to heed his medical advice. He testified and said, "I had been a senior medical officer for 24 years at the time, and I had never experienced anything like this. It was clear to me they had made up their mind on a certain cause of action, and my recommendations had no impact," he said. Michael Ratner?

MICHAEL RATNER: No, yesterday when I was in court, they put up another—they put another psychiatrist on, the defense did, Ricky Malone, who had been head of like—very substantial psychiatrist, head of Walter Reed at some point, in forensic psychology. And he said essentially the same thing. He said, "I went in there. I treated Bradley Manning. I gave him, you know, a sleep medication when he needed sleep. And I went to the person who ran that brig, and I kept saying he does not have to be on POI," that’s short for preventive injury, "he doesn’t have to be on suicide risk watch."

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what that means when he’s put on those.

MICHAEL RATNER: Right, I’m glad you asked that, because this was so dramatic. They showed a video at some point at the trial of what—of where Bradley Manning was kept. And he’s kept—there’s no natural light. If he presses his face to the screen—it’s not really bars, it’s like a square screen—he could see the reflection of light on the floor at the end of the hall. Immediately across from his cell is the observation booth that looks right into him, so even if he goes to the bathroom and sits on the toilet, they see everything he does. There’s a bright light on him—again, sensory stuff, if you look at that—24 hours a day.

They show in the video, when they—when they actually—something happens where they decide they’re going to put him—he’s always on POI, but they’re going to put him back on suicide risk. And they showed the video of—it’s videoed—of him passing his clothes through the mail, through the little hatch, out of the prison. And then, that—

AMY GOODMAN: Like a mail slot.

MICHAEL RATNER: Like a mail slot. And that night, he’s standing there stark naked. They only show you the top, but he’s standing there stark naked in front of these really beefy, big marines in camouflage. That’s the scene you see.

And then there’s another video showing, asking—he’s trying to ask, "Why am I here? What did I do wrong?" And they’re lying to him. One of them says—one of them, who’s—you know, who’s playing like Mutt and Jeff, he’s saying, "Well, you’re a great—if I had a hundred, you know, defendants like you—or prisoners like you, it would be—you know, I would be great." They’re lying to him all the time.

And what comes out, because as that video—as that clip you read, Amy, of the psychiatrist, is that it never happens, really never happens, that the head of a brig disregards psychiatric information like they were given about Bradley Manning. And here they did. And so, the question you have to ask yourself is, where was that order coming from? We know there was a three-star general involved. How much did it go up to the Pentagon?

AMY GOODMAN: Who was the three-star general?

MICHAEL RATNER: I don’t remember his name.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is, of course, all under President Obama.

MICHAEL RATNER: Right. Right, that’s correct. I mean, this was—and that cell, when he’s in that cell—I mean, when we talk about the light on, when he sleeps on that little bunk and his—he’s facing—he has to face the light so they can observe him. If he turns over to avoid the light, they come in, and they wake him up. That’s night. Day—what happens during the day? He’s in that cell 23-and-a-half hours a day, maybe 20 minutes of what they call sunshine exercise, which is just nothing. And what can he do? Because he’s on duty, supposedly, he has to either stand or he can sit on that metal bunk with his feet on the ground and can’t lean against anything. That’s 10 or 15 hours a day of what you have to call sensory deprivation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Michael, I’d like to ask you about—given that he’s been under these conditions now for two-and-a-half years, it’s not surprising that he would be attempting to try to negotiate some kind of a plea deal on a reduced sentence. Could you talk about that part, that aspect of what happened with the court?

MICHAEL RATNER: Yeah, yeah. Let me back up on that for one second, because he was in Kuwait 'til end of July 2010. He then was taken to Quantico ’til April or so of 2011. That's the nine months that this hearing is really about and whether the charges should be dismissed because of the serious misconduct and torture and cruel treatment by the government.

So, then he was taken to Leavenworth. And just as an illustration of how he did not have to be treated like he was treated at Quantico, they put on the head of Leavenworth brig by telephone yesterday, and she said, "Well, as soon as he got here, he went right into medium security." And that’s the best you can do when you’re pretrial. Then, you mix with the population. You get—you get all your hygiene items.

There’s a scene in this—in this—and he talks—where he has to actually beg for a piece of toilet paper. He has to stand in front—at Quantico, stand there with no shirt on, with his boxers, and said, whatever, "Corporal something, this is Corporal Manning, or Private First Class Manning, can I have a piece of toilet paper?" And he has to stand there at attention, while he’s begging for a piece of toilet paper.

Your question, Juan, what the lawyer has said, David Coombs, the lawyer for Bradley Manning, has said, they are trying to force Bradley Manning into testifying if he knows anything, which we—you know, probably falsely, because we don’t think there’s anything there—but against my client, Julian Assange. They are trying to break Bradley Manning.

What’s remarkable is that he still has this incredible dignity after going through this. But I think all these prison conditions were—sure, they were angry at Bradley Manning, but in the face of that psychiatric statement, that this guy shouldn’t be kept on suicide risk or POI, they’re still keeping him in inhuman conditions, you can only ask yourself—they’re trying to break him for some reason. The lawyer, David Coombs, has said it’s so that he can give evidence against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

AMY GOODMAN: So this pretrial hearing, where does it lead? There—he is talking about these conditions that many have said amount to torture. What could it lead to?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, the lawyer, David Coombs, has asked for two things. He said, "I’ve asked for dismissal of all the charges, because the government essentially has dirty hands." They can’t do this to people and still go charge them with crimes. And that has happened rarely, but it has happened, where the government engages in such bad conduct that they’re saying, even if it’s not about the truth of what happened and the facts, we’re going to get rid of the case.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And he’s also asked for 10 days’ credit for every day that he was held in those kind of conditions?

MICHAEL RATNER: Right. So he’s held, I think, some 293 days. He would get credit for almost—you know, a number of years off his sentence. In the end, he’s asked for 10 for one, understanding that he may not win ultimate dismissal.

But what it also really did is it showed us how this government—and when Julian Assange said yesterday on your show, Amy, this is really about the U.S. being on trial, that’s what this is. This is how the U.S. treats—treats people who, in my view, have taken heroic actions around disclosing secrets of this government.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does this possible plea mean, where he admits that he gave documents to WikiLeaks but will not plead guilty to aiding the enemy?

MICHAEL RATNER: Right, I want to explain it as simply as I can.

AMY GOODMAN: And we only have 30 seconds.

MICHAEL RATNER: OK, I’ll do it. OK, what it means is—he said, "I’ll accept responsibility for mishandling of documents." Potential sentence, the judge said, is 16 years. If the judge accepts the plea, the prosecutor does not have to. Or the prosecutor can accept the plea but can still prove that he aided the enemy and try and get a more severe sentence.

So the question here is going to be, is the prosecutor going to stop at the 16 years maximum sentence, or is the prosecutor going to go on and try and get Bradley Manning life? My opinion, of course, is the prosecutor ought to stop. Bradley Manning, you know, is someone who has disclosed some of the most important secrets of our government having to do with torture and wars and U.S. complicity in human rights violations.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, just came back from the pretrial hearing where Bradley Manning testified for the first time in court.

Rush Transcript This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.Donate >

Attica: 41 Years Later

A new commentary from Mumia Abu-Jamal: recorded 8/26/12

Listen to  Attica: 41 Years Later



Bonnie Kerness: Pioneer in the Struggle Against Solitary Confinement

November 8, 2012  by Solitary Watch Guest Author Lance Tapley

In 1986 Ojore Lutalo, a black revolutionary in the Trenton State Prison — now the New Jersey State Prison — wrote to Bonnie Kerness’s American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) office in Newark. His letter described the extreme isolation and other brutalities in the prison’s Management Control Unit, which he called a “prison within a prison.”

“I could not believe what he was telling me” about the MCU, she says. She reacted by becoming “this lunatic white lady” calling New Jersey corrections officials about Lutalo.

Kerness immediately went to work trying to stop MCU guards from harassing prisoners by waking them at 1 a.m. to make them strip in front of snarling dogs leaping for their genitals — to arbitrarily have them switch cells. She got this practice stopped.

Lutalo’s letter also began to open her eyes to the torture of solitary confinement, which in the mid-1980s was just starting to spread across the country as a mass penological practice. Coordinator of the AFSC’s national Prison Watch Project, Kerness had worked on prison issues since the mid-1970s. Now she became an anti-solitary-confinement activist. In 2012, she has been one longer and more consistently than, possibly, anyone else.

“I try not to use the word ‘pioneer’ lightly,” says David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, “but it certainly applies to Bonnie. She did the groundwork for the progress and success we are now having.”

Corey Weinstein, a California physician who also was a pioneering activist against solitary confinement, says Kerness made a huge contribution early on by bringing a human-rights vision to the effort. It provided “the intellectual framework that we could grasp onto” to understand what was happening.

Reflecting on how difficult it has been for solitary confinement to be publicly recognized as torture, Stuart Grassian, a Massachusetts psychiatrist — another trailblazer who is credited with identifying long-term isolation as the cause of a devastating psychiatric syndrome — observes: “How frightening it is to see people choose not to see what’s in front of them.”

Many years ago Bonnie Kerness chose to see what was in front of her.

 A child shocked by injustice

Kerness looks much younger than her 69 years, and dresses stylishly — though her wardrobe is purchased at thrift shops, she says. She makes sweeping gestures when she speaks in her East Coast urban twang.

Born in Manhattan, she grew up in the Bronx and Queens. Her working-class family was not political, but at 12 years old she was shocked to see on the television news “kids my own age” being beaten for trying to integrate schools in the South. This glimpse of injustice would lead to her life’s work.

When she was 14, in 1956, she began doing volunteer social work in the Lower East Side, where for the first time she met community organizers. Five years later, she became one herself, traveling the South for the civil rights movement, working with the NAACP and other groups.

She portrays herself then as “a young white kid who went south with very little political understanding.” But in addition to on-the-job training, she received what might be called an elite community-organizing graduate-school education: a year in the mid-1960s at Tennessee’s Highlander Research and Education Center, formerly the Highlander Folk School, a legendary social-justice leadership school which Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King had attended.

“I have a special feeling for my generation,” Kerness says — the activist sixties’ generation. “We each had something outside of ourselves” to be devoted to.

In the early 1970s she went up from the South to New Jersey and got work with the AFSC in a housing campaign. She and others noticed that many poor people had a father or other family member in prison. This perception led to the founding of aNew Jersey prisoner-rights effort that ultimately morphed into Prison Watch.

In her teenage years in Queens, she had completed two years of college. She began taking courses again, eventually getting a master’s in social work from Rutgers. She also became active in the women’s, gay rights, and anti-Vietnam War movements.

And she married and divorced. She has three biological children, an adopted child, and “one of my lovers had three African-American children” she helped raise. Now she tends out on seven young people she all calls her grandchildren — one of whom interrupts an interview in the tidy AFSC office in downtown Newark with a call to grandma to ask if she will pay for a pizza with her credit card.

Kerness’s life outside her work — half-time, theoretically, now that she’s officially retired — revolves around her grandchildren.

The “discovery” of solitary confinement

After Lutalo’s letter revealed the horrors of the Trenton MCU, to better understand the control-unit phenomenon Kerness got in touch with the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown. In 1983 the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, became the first prison in modern times to adopt near-total confinement of all inmates to their cells — thus, the first supermax.

Kerness credits Nancy Kurshan, a prominent sixties and seventies radical and founder of the Marion anti-lockdown group, with helping guide her initial work, as did several former Marion prisoners. Kerness soon founded the AFSC’s Control Unit Monitoring Project, focusing first on the 80 to 90 African-American politicized prisoners in the Trenton unit.

As she began getting letters from inmates in other states who told stories similar to Lutalo’s, she contacted organizations around the country that were beginning to be alarmed by the rise of these draconian units. This new kind of imprisonment seemed so bizarre, “People weren’t sure what they were looking at,” Kerness says.

And while she worked to build opposition to solitary confinement, she saw it rapidly become common. Only a handful of sizeable control units existed in the mid-1980s, but fewer than 15 years later more than 40 states had them. Many were large, free-standing supermax prisons.

Kerness also watched in dismay as control units and supermaxes became dumpsters into which society threw the mentally ill. The arbitrariness of the supermax regimen became clear. “You’re there because we want you there,” she says of the ultimate criterion for who is put into isolation.

As citizen campaigns specifically against control units began popping up spontaneously, Kerness made connections with them and helped them — in California, Wisconsin, Illinois, Massachusetts. In 1994, she helped bring 40 activists from around the country to the AFSC offices in Philadelphia to found the National Campaign to Stop Control Unit Prisons, which held public meetings on solitary confinement in several states.

Solitary: first among other issues

Kerness has been involved with many other prison issues, including sexual abuse, restraint chairs and beds, the overuse of stun guns and pepper spray, and prison privatization.

Her work has been particularly devoted to solitary confinement, she says, because “we’re so well known on this issue.” Her daily duties include answering mail and telephone calls, sending out reams of requested material, contacting the news media, mentoring student interns, giving talks to college and community groups, and writing articles and reports.

Her AFSC reports include, as editor or author: “The Prison Inside the Prison: Control Units, Supermax Prisons, and Devices of Torture” (with Rachael Kamel, 2003); “Survivors Manual: Surviving in Solitary” (4th printing, 2008); and “Torture in United States Prisons: Evidence of Human Rights Violations” (Second Edition, 2011).

Although she praises several Quaker activists who encouraged her, she expresses frustration with the AFSC for starting national anti-solitary-confinement campaigns only to shut them down. After four years the AFSC unaccountably “pulled the plug,” she says, on the National Campaign to Stop Control Unit Prisons. Similarly, after a well-attended “StopMAX” conference in Philadelphia in 2008, the substantial national effort that was supposed to grow out of it never materialized.

An official at the AFSC’s national headquarters in Philadelphia, Clinton Pettus, says the organization, “like most nonprofits, went through a period of financial constraint a few years ago,” and was forced “to do more with less” in its solitary-confinement work. The result: “We partner with like-minded groups and individuals to form state-based coalitions that build grass-roots campaigns.”

Kerness also generally faults the national organizations involved with prison reform for not making better connections between the American domestic prison system and the American foreign war machine. The organizations don’t recognize, she says, that there’s a worldwide class and racist oppression coming from the top of the economic pyramid.

“The people who run the country own the means of production,” she says, and this rich elite is ultimately responsible for the “war against the people here” — which she sees as a campaign of social control — and American wars against the people of other countries. Both here and abroad, she says, the primary targets are black and brown people.

A partner in activism

Kerness began helping Ojore Lutalo in 1986, but he has been, during the many years he spent on the inside, and since 2009, when he was released from prison, a professional partner in conveying to the world the horrors of solitary confinement.

He has vast knowledge of the subject. He spent 22 of his 28 years behind bars in isolation in the Trenton MCU. Now 66, he volunteers twice a week in the AFSC Newark office at a desk across a small room from Kerness. And he speaks beside her when she goes to colleges and community groups.

Lutalo got in touch with Kerness to protest what he says were the prison’s “corrupt” practices, including inadequate food and medical care and arbitrary denials of visitors. But the corruption also was more fundamental. Lutalo spent so many years in solitary, he says in an interview, not because he broke prison rules, but for “entertaining political thoughts the administration didn’t approve of.”

He presents proof, showing a 2008 letter from prison officials stating he was being kept in the MCU because his “radical views and ability to influence others poses a threat to the orderly operation of this Institution.” Serving time for armed robbery and assault with intent to kill, he had been a member of the Black Liberation Army, an underground, revolutionary offshoot of the Black Panthers.

Kerness has written of Lutalo: “During the quarter century that we monitored Ojore Lutalo in isolation, he was never assaulted either physically or chemically. The ‘no-touch’ torture he endured consisted of sleep deprivation, screeching sounds, extreme silence, extreme cold and heat, intentional situational placement, humiliation — a systematic attack on all human stimuli.”

“The goal was to break me psychologically,” Lutalo says.

He didn’t break. But maintaining sanity during decades of solitary confinement is exceedingly difficult, he says. He saw many prisoners “wiped out” by the isolation. He says his political commitment kept him sane. His creation of political art — collages that combine drawings and newspaper clippings — was especially helpful.

With Kerness’s assistance, Lutalo’s plight and the conditions at the MCU became known. Reporters interviewed him; documentary films appeared; a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the unit’s African-Americans. In 1995 the lawsuit was settled, and the court appointed a special master to review each prisoner’s case.

Eventually, after years, most inmates were released into the prison general population. Lutalo spent several years in the general population, but was put back into the MCU because, Kerness says an official told her, of a request by the federal Department of Homeland Security. He was released from it only when his prison term ended.

A harsh state

Although Kerness’s work has often been on the national stage, the Trenton MCU has continued to be a major concern. The state’s prison system has “always been one of the toughest” on prisoners, she says, and the MCU is still being used “unconscionably” for mentally ill prisoners. But, she adds, it’s difficult to know what’s going on in it and anywhere else in “an extremely closed”New Jersey system.

As if to prove that point, when the New Jersey Department of Corrections is asked about the number of prisoners held in solitary confinement, a spokesman replies by email: “New Jersey does not utilize solitary confinement in any of its prisons.”

This is a common response from corrections departments, since “solitary confinement” is not a bureaucratic phrase. Further inquiry produces an admission that “administrative segregation (ad seg) . . . is utilized as a punishment for inmates and entails the loss or reduction of certain privileges.” The spokesman, Matthew Schuman, adds that “the vast majority of inmates in ad seg are double-bunked. Even those in single cells have opportunities to interact with other inmates, so ad seg is distinctly different from solitary confinement.”

Kerness, however, counts over 329 ad seg beds at the Trenton prison that “we’re pretty sure are isolation cells.” In addition, she’s “positive” there are 96 solitary-confinement cells in the MCU. Ad seg beds in four other prisons total 994, she says. These may or may not be doubled-bunked, but they’re “locked down.” Then there are special needs and protective custody housing units about which, she says, little is known.

Jean Ross, a volunteer prisoner-rights attorney based in Princeton, agrees with Kerness that New Jersey’s prison system is unhelpful in providing information, isolates many inmates, and is a harsh system for prisoners.

Ross is specifically challenging, in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of inmates, the conditions in the “falling apart” West Compound of the 178-year-old Trenton facility. Ross says it has poor ventilation, excessive heat and cold, leaking pipes, rodent and insect infestations, and fire-safety lacks, among other deficiencies.

Kerness also was involved in bringing to light the particularly vicious conditions that alleged gang members suffered in a “high risk” Security Threat Group Management Unit of Newark’s huge Northern State Prison. Reports of the “use of physical, chemical, and psychological abuse” came to her “during the entire 12 years” the gang unit remained open, she writes in “Torture in United States Prisons.”

The unit was finally shut down in 2010 after inmate Omar Broadway, a Bloods gang member, used a camera smuggled in by a guard to secretly film abusive treatment of prisoners. His video, with scenes of guards pepper-spraying and beating inmates, was shown at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival and, in 2010, on Home Box Office. Kerness says many of the Northern State prisoners were transferred to ad seg units in other New Jersey prisons.

The future of anti-solitary work

Kerness welcomes the embrace in recent years of the anti-solitary cause by mainstream groups such as the National Religious Campaign Against Torture — “they’re doing dynamite.” She believes describing solitary confinement as torture is the angle to accentuate. She has written that American legitimization of torture presents the country with “a spiritual crisis.”

She sees welcome developments, too, in law schools, especially with their students. She hopes “we will begin to see lawyers with a more progressive” bent. At present, progressive lawyers are “still a very small group.”

But most important to the anti-solitary battle, she says, are “the people inside,” such as Lutalo, who stimulated her activism.

As for her future, “I wouldn’t know how else to live,” Kerness says, other than a life of activism, despite the slowness of change. Years ago, “I almost did give it up because I was alone.” This was “right at the moment I met Ojore.”

Hers has been a difficult crusade, too, because it’s “always been a struggle financially.” To be an activist for social change “costs money personally” — those collect calls received at home from prisoners, for example.

In a telephone interview, Ross, who has worked with Kerness on prison issues for 10 years, sums her up: “She’s very smart. She’s very articulate. She writes very well because she thinks very well. She has a passion for justice. She’s not afraid to confront the most difficult problems.”

Later, by email, Ross adds: “Because she has persisted in this difficult and stressful work for so long, she brings the wisdom of memory.”

Kerness says she’s not discouraged, but she’s no Pollyanna about ending widespread solitary confinement. During her decades of work on prison issues she saw the American prison system become ever more repressive. “I can only hope,” she says of the future.

Whatever the future, “I will spend as much time as I can” working on these issues. “If there’s activism in you, you do it until you drop.”


Commemorate the CA Hunger Strike! Continue Solidarity Action

July 2012 marks the first anniversary of the CA Hunger Strike 

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A Hunger Striker reflects on the strike & the work forward

Read a statement from Kijana Tashiri Askari, a hunger striker at Pelican Bay State Prison, explaining the challenges and advances of last year's CA Hunger strike and how the strike relates to struggles inside and outside of prison around the world. 

Family Members Speak Out

Listen to family members reflect on what's changed since the CA hunger strike was launched, hopes for the struggle forward and how the strike relates to fighting prison and jail expansion throughout CA. (Note: More videos coming soon!)

The CA Hunger Strike: One Year Later

In July 2011, a few dozen prisoners held in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay launched a hunger strike to protest the torturous conditions of their imprisonment. In the first four days of the July strike, at least 6,600 prisoners throughout the state's prisons joined in solidarity with the five core demands from Pelican Bay, while in torturous conditions themselves. This round of the strike lasted nearly four weeks, as the CA Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR)  went into negotiations with hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay and conceded to very small changes (providing cold weather caps or sweats to some prisoners, proctored exams, the chance to take a photo for family, wall calendars, etc). The CDCR promised to make more substantial changes later. Prisoners resumed the strike on September 26th, after it was clear the CDCR would not make substantial changes regarding the rest of their demands. When resumed, the strike doubled in size, reaching nearly 12,000 prisoners throughout the state in maximum and minimum security prisons as well as county jails and detention centers.

While Security Housing Units (SHUs) and other methods of solitary confinement have been the topic of multiple international human rights abuse cases and scrutiny for years, this hunger strike reminded the world torturous conditions are central part of maintaining the prison industrial complex. The hunger strike also exposed the leading reason Department of Corrections use to justify torture--gang validation, a process that further criminalizes and dehumanizes poor/working class and prisoners of color and their families, and leads to more resources poured into everyday policing.

In March 2012, the CDCR imposed a modification of the “validation” & SHU placement process, in response to the hunger strike, which was rejected by a collective of prisoners housed in Pelican Bay’s SHU who were involved in the hunger strike. Amnesty International responded to the changes, saying: “California’s prison isolation units remain inhumane despite department’s proposals to amend policies”. These proposed changes involved expanding the profile for gang validation/SHU placement, in turn expanding the prison system’s reliance on SHUs instead of shrinking it, as the prisoners ultimately demand.

Over the past year, people worldwide have supported the hunger strikers by coordinating events, rallies and demonstrations, as well as calling the CDCR and their legislators to negotiate with the prisoners and their approved outside mediation team, and to bring large-scale attention to this issue. Events and rallies in solidarity with the hunger strike have been held in dozens of cities internationally.

Throughout this struggle, family members have played a major role in supporting the strike, visiting & corresponding with their loved ones, sharing vital information and organizing events, mobilization and lobby days to Sacramento to pressure legislators to get involved. Soon after the strike began, a group of family members in Southern CA joined forces in support their loved ones and started an organization--CA Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC). Continuing to support their loved ones, the five core demands and to push the struggle against solitary confinement forward, CFASC has been working closely with Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity and CURB (CA United for a Responsible Budget). Recently while planning their future work supporting prisoners and fighting to abolish solitary confinement, CFASC members shared their reflections of the anniversary of the strike--what's changed since the strike, what their hopes are and how this strike relates to fighting prison and jail expansion at large. 
The actions of the CA hunger strikers are undeniably related to other prison strikes against extreme isolation, political and religious persecution, overcrowding, and deplorable health conditions. Recently in the US, prisoner hunger strikes have been waged in Virginia, Illinois, Georgia and Ohio.

In commemorating the CA hunger strike, we know this struggle is a protracted one, and continuing to resist the forces of disappearance and death is necessary.

Determined Mass Support Outside the Prison Walls is Urgently Needed.

Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) are resuming their heroic hunger strike on Monday, September 26th. They are demanding to be treated as human beings; to end barbaric conditions of imprisonment, and to end long term solitary confinement  – internationally recognized as TORTURE.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is not only refusing to meet the prisoner's demands, it is retaliating against hunger strikers and mounting a public relations campaign to defend the conditions of torture in the SHU.

We have a moral responsibility to stand with the prisoners and their just demands.

Determined mass support outside the prison walls is urgently needed.



Solidarity Event with CA Prisoner Hunger Strike Every Thursday on Arcata Plaza, "5PM FOR THE 5 DEMANDS!"

In Solidarity with the current California Prisoner Hunger Strike which resumed on July 8, 2013, Peoples' Action for Rights and Community and Redwood Curtain CopWatch invites you to visit the weekly informational demonstration on the Arcata Plaza, “5PM for the 5 Demands.”

These solidarity events are every Thursday from 5-8pm to share information and encourage everyone's participation in winning the 5 Human Rights Demands for California prisoners, as set forth by men in extreme isolation in Pelican Bay State Prison. The central demand: End Long-Term Solitary Confinement.

Come learn more, pick up literature, write a letter, oppose torture, and share your human rights solidarity this Thursday, 5PM for the 5 Demands, on the Arcata Plaza.

Check out : prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com


The United Nations and experts throughout the U.S. and the world consider it torture to confine someone for over 15 days in extreme isolation, and also to do cruel and inhumane things to someone to extract information.  Both of these condemned practices are commonplace in CA state prisons. Prisoners are held in extreme solitary confinement for decades.

Free Speech Radio [AUDIO]: Aug 23rd Rally and Legislative Hearing On Torture in Pelican Bay SHU


Prisoner advocates rally in Sacramento for reform of system

Wed, 08/24/2011 

This summer prisoners across California went on a hunger strike to protest what they call degrading treatment in the state’s facilities. Yesterday, a committee at the State Capitol heard from prisoners’ families and those formerly incarcerated on the conditions in isolation units - one of the primary concerns of prisoners at Pelican Bay.
For FSRN, George Lavender reports.

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4:30 minutes (4.12 MB)

French judge seeks access to Guantanamo over torture claims

  PARIS: A French judge has requested access to Guantanamo to probe claims by three Frenchmen that they were tortured at the notorious jail which US President Barack Obama once promised to close.

Judge Sophie Clement wants permission from the US authorities to inspect and copy all documents relating to the three men and to interview all persons who had contact with them there, according to legal documents seen by AFP.

The judge requested access to "all documents relating to the justification and modalities of (US) armed operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to the treatment of persons arrested during these operations," the documents said.

The three Frenchmen who made the accusations -- Mourad Benchellali, Nizar Sassi and Khaled Ben Mustapha -- were arrested in late 2001 on the Afghan-Pakistani border and sent to Guantanamo.

They were allowed to return to France in 2004 and 2005 and were detained for periods of between 11 and 17 months.

They were sentenced by a French court to one year in prison on terrorism charges in 2011 but have said they will appeal that decision.

A lawyer representing two of the men, William Bourdon, said Judge Clement's request to US authorities was "without precedent and should enable us to identify those responsible for this arbitrary detention and torture."

Benchellali said that soon after his arrest he was taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan where he says he was beaten and forced to strip, and then made to lie on top of other naked men while US soldiers took photos.

Ben Mustapha said he was subjected to sexual abuse in Kandahar, which judge Clement said in the legal documents might lead to rape charges.

All three former inmates told of gruelling interrogations during which they were beaten. They also said that they were put in cells and subjected to blasting music from several sources to deprive them of sleep.

Ben Mustapha said interrogators would provoke inmates by trampling on the Koran or throwing the Muslim holy book into buckets of prisoners' excrement.

The US base at Guantanamo, Cuba, accepted its first prisoners from the battlefields of the US-led "war on terror" on January 11, 2002, four months after al-Qaeda flew hijacked jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Obama declared within a few hours of taking office in January 2009 that he would shutter the camp within a year, saying it was used as a recruiting tool for terrorists, and detrimental to US national security.

But in the face of deep opposition in Congress to moving inmates to the US mainland or holding civil trials for key al-Qaeda suspects, Obama has failed to live up to his vow.

A decade on, 171 prisoners remain there, most in legal limbo, some awaiting transfer abroad, and at least 40 may never face justice but are deemed too dangerous to ever be freed.

A dozen European countries from Ireland to Albania have accepted more than 50 former inmates who are either citizens, former residents or, in many cases, cannot be returned to their home countries for fear of ill-treatment.


HUNGERSTRIKE UPDATE, DAY 35 for Humane Conditions in CA Prisons

Please read and take action now. If you are in the Humboldt region, please come to the Arcata Plaza on Thursday in Solidarity with the Hunger Strikers, 5PM FOR THE 5 DEMANDS!  There are Solidarity events all over CA and the world. Check out the calendar on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website  & create your own events!

Before you read the Hungerstrike News, please sign these petitions:

FOUR PETITIONS TO SIGN! (don't worry about accidentally signing a petition twice; it won't let you)










Vol. 3 #26, August 11, 2013 

Day 35 Countdown for Humane Conditions

Carol Strickman, Mediation Team
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Some California prisoners got good news on Friday: the Federal Communications Commission agreed to limit how much companies can charge for phone calls made from behind bars. But this welcome reform does not affect SHU prisoners. Why? Because SHU prisoners in California are not allowed to call home. Lack of family phone calls is one of the reasons why California’s SHU cells are characterized as solitary confinement – the harsh deprivation of family and social ties.

Prisoners in the SHU are not even allowed to write letters to their loved ones, if their loved ones are also incarcerated. The letters they are allowed to write are copied and scrutinized by gang investigators for evidence of gang involvement. And gang investigators find “gang involvement” everywhere they look – even in the drawings of a five year old girl who sends her artwork to her daddy. Imagine a little girl getting her drawing back from the prison because it is considered gang-related. Gang investigators will even reach out to family members and friends who write to SHU prisoners, warning them that they face possible investigation themselves merely for corresponding with a SHU prisoner.

SHU prisoners in long-term solitary confinement value their family relationships above all else. So that is what SHU prisons try to destroy. Consider this: a mother with two sons in prisons (one in general population and one in SHU) cannot write to both. Why? Because she knows that gang investigators will link her sons to each other through her address, thereby jeopardizing the son in general population with gang validation and placement in SHU.

This is the meaning of cruel and unusual punishment. How long would you tolerate these sorts of attacks on you and your family? Would you be driven to hunger strike because of these and other cruelties?

CDCR has created the conditions that drive prisoners to desperation. Whether it be a lonely suicide in an isolation cell or a united peaceful protest, the message is clear: SHU prisoners have been pushed beyond the limit of what human beings should have to bear. It is horrifying to witness CDCR’s response to the current hunger strike: crank up the cruelty and let them die.

Today is Day 35.

On behalf of the Mediation Team,
Carol Strickman, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, (510) 289-7225


Hunger Strike Mediation Team
Dr. Ronald Ahnen, California Prison Focus and St. Mary’s College of California
Barbara Becnel, Occupy4Prisoners.org
Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
Irene Huerta, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
Marilyn McMahon, California Prison Focus
Carol Strickman, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children
Azadeh Zohrabi, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children

Please Also Read Intense Informative Countdown Reports
Day 34:  http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/day-34-countdown-for-humane-conditions/
Day 33:  http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/day-33-countdown-for-humane-conditions/

SHU isolation cell to be installed on State Capitol South Steps Aug. 14

by D’Andre Teeter, San Francisco Bay View

The Stop Mass Incarceration Network and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, in support of the California prison hunger strikers and their five demands, invite the public to visit an installation of a life-sized mock Security Housing Unit (SHU) cell on the California State Capitol South Steps in Sacramento.

The cell will be on display – and you can walk right in to see how it feels – from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 14. A press conference, featuring Assemblymember and Public Safety Committee Chair Tom Ammiano, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, people formerly incarcerated in California Department of Corrections (CDCR) SHUs, SHU prisoners’ families, and other voices of support and conscience will be held at noon.

Read more.

California’s Continuing Prison Crisis

New York Times Editorial, August 10, 2013

California has long been held up as the land of innovation and fresh starts, but on criminal justice and incarceration, the Golden State remains stubbornly behind the curve.Over the past quarter-century, multiple lawsuits have challenged California’s state prisons as dangerously overcrowded. In 2011, the United States Supreme Court found that the overcrowding had gotten so bad — close to double the prisons’ designed capacity — that inmates’ health and safety were unconstitutionally compromised. The court ordered the state to reduce its prison population by tens of thousands of inmates, to 110,000, or to 137.5 percent of capacity.

CDCR Medical Phone Numbers for Families

Family members who want to call the CDCR to ask about loved ones inside have two options. Please note that these are not for general public use. CDCR is now saying that family members should receive information within 24 to 72 hours. Inmate medical inquiry line: (916) 691-1404. Hunger Strike Hotline: (916) 324-3397.

CDCr Public Hotline on Prisoner Strike

The California prisoncrats have set up a new 'public hotline number' for people to voice your concerns on the hunger strike: 916-324-3397.

Phone now, phone often, phone angry - CDCR has blood on its hands!


  • Strike the Prisons is a one-shot broadsheet produced by some comrades, to explain and draw attention to the current prison strikes. Copies are available for ten cents each plus postage (five cents each if you get a bundle of over 2500); email info@striketheprisons.com. Copies can also be printed or read online from the pdf available at http://kasamaproject.org/files/prison_edition.pdf.
  • Interested in writing to prisoners? Learn more about the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition's Human Rights Pen Pal program; email cws@igc.org for more info!


Family of Support for those with Loved Ones in Prison (FOS) is a new collective forming in Oakland. We are family members and people directly impacted by a loved one’s incarceration. We are forming out of a need for a community of support, information and social action by and for each other. We meet twice a month in Oakland. Children are always welcome. This collective is just forming, so we do not currently have any formal materials, website or agenda. Come be part of our collective and help create the community you want to belong to. Or just come by to get support.

Email us for more information: familyofsupport@riseup.net

News from Various Sources
(Good and Bad)


Action Calendar

August 14

  • Sacramento, CA: SHU Isolation Unit Installation Co-Hosted by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano; 8am – 8pm @ South Steps, State Capitol, Sacramento (map). Press conference at noon. More information: http://stopmassincarcerationbayarea.tumblr.com

  • San Francisco, CA: Solidarity vigil/leafleting; 12:30pm – 1:30pm @ Spear and Mission, San Francisco (map). Contact Email: katrap40@gmail.comContact Phone: 510-381-1287.

August 15

  • Arcata, CA: Thursdays "5pm for the 5 Demands!"; 5pm – 8pm @ Arcata Plaza, Arcata, CA. Informational Demonstration set up to educate about the struggle to End Long Term Solitary Confinement and other tortures in CA prisons and to build Solidarity with the Hunger Striking Prisoners!

Hungerstrike News is a regular source of information and media clippings about the unprecedented 2013 prisoner hunger and work strikes.

While this newsletter exists in solidarity with various other initiatives to support the prisoners' struggle, it is an autonomous initiative. For more background information and news about the current struggle, see:

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

The Rock Newsletter

California Prison Focus

Solitary Watch: News from a Nation Under Lockdown

Hungerstrike News July 4, 2013

To see this at its original posting site: http://kersplebedeb.com/?wysija-page=1&controller=email&action=view&email_id=7&wysijap=subscriptions 


Vol. 3 #1, July 4, 2013


"What to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?"

Frederick Douglass


Welcome to Hungerstrike News, a regular source of information
and media clippings about the upcoming 2013 prisoner hunger
and work strikes, set to begin on July 8th.

If you have news regarding the upcoming strikes, or know of
events related to the struggle, please let us know by emailing hstrikenews@yahoo.ca

While this newsletter exists in solidarity with various
other initiatives to support the prisoners' struggle, it
is an autonomous initiative. For more background
information and news about the current struggle, see:


On the Cusp of the 2013

Prison Strikes

We are nearing the start of the 2013 prisoner strikes in
the united states,  set to begin in just six days.

This will be the next chapter in the book of resistance that -
for many of us -  began in 2011, when thousands (and at one
point, over 12,000) people held in California prisons went on
hunger strike, for 21 ...

Read online.


Pelican Bay Short Corridor

Collective: How many will die

when hunger strike resumes?

Introduction by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike
Solidarity Coalition

After a mediation meeting June 19 ordered by a federal judge
between prisoners being held in solitary confinement at Pelican
Bay State Prison and the California Department of Corrections
and Rehabilitation (CDCR), prisoners issued the following

Wednesday’s mediation stems from a federal lawsuit filed on
behalf of  prisoners at ...

Read online.


Prepare to Stand in Solidarity

with Striking Prisoners:

the Pledge of Resistance

The Pledge of Resistance is a commitment people are being asked
to take before this next strike begins, promising at least once a week
to make a phone call, send a fax, or write an email, responding to the
inevitable crises that we know a mass hunger strike will entail.  Those
taking the Pledge are asked to provide their contact information (email),
and will be contacted every week with an action alert by the Hunger
Strike Solidarity coalition.

Signing up to the Pledge of Resistance is one concrete way that
people can act now – before the strike begins – to signal their
willingness to act on behalf of the prisoners once this engagement

As such, i strongly encourage everyone to sign this pledge, and to
act accordingly.

The Pledge can be signed online at the website of Californians
United for a Responsible Budget


The 2011 Hunger Strikes

Remembered: Resistance
Against Neocolonial

Imprisonment and Torture

To understand what may be about to occur in prisons across the
united states – a potential hunger and work strike of unprecedented
scope – it is necessary to look back two years, to 2011.

In California, 2011 witnessed one of the most impressive prison
struggles in recent memory. For 21 days in July and 17 in
September/October, thousands of ...

Read online.


News from Various Sources
(Good and Bad)


Action Calendar

July 5

  • San Franscisco: Model SHU Cell, Vigil, Rally and Rolling Fast in support of July 8 California Prisoner Hunger Strike; 10am-7pm @ Union Square, with Press Conference
    & Rally 1pm. Contact: 510-926-5207 / 


  • Portland, Oregon: Stand With Prisoners on Strike! Public Transit Canvassing;
    5:00pm - 7:00pm @ Lloyd Center/NE 11th Ave MAX Station (Stop ID 8374). E-mail: 
    Phone: (503) 893-2914. 
    Read more.

July 6

  • San Franscisco: Model SHU Cell, Vigil, Rally and Rolling Fast in support of July 8 California Prisoner Hunger Strike; 10am-7-pm, Justin Herman Plaza,
    Rally at Noon.

    Contact: 510-926-5207 /

July 7

  • Oakland to Crescent City: 7pm - meet at MacArthur BART, Oakland to travel to
    Pelican Bay State Prison (look for Stop Mass Incarceration banner).
    Contact: 510-926- 5207 / 


July 8

  • Crescent City: demonstration outside Pelican Bay State Prison.
    Rideshares leaving Eureka and Arcata (approx 75 miles south of
    Crescent City) in the morning, returning that night. (map)
    Contact: (707) 442-7465 or parc.office@gmail.com - for rideshare,
    meet-up locations, and other information.
  • Berkeley: UC Berkeley Rolling Solidarity Fast Kicks Off: 
    1pm – 2pm @ Bancroft and Telegraph, Berkeley, CA (map).
    Information: students@stoptortureca.org
  • Norwalk: Candlelight Vigil; 7pm - 8pm @ 12700 Norwalk Blvd,
    Norwalk, CA 90650 (map)
  • Portland, Oregon: Pelican Bay Prisoner Hunger & Work Strike Rally; Mon, July 8, 7:30pm - 9:30pm @ Chapman Square Park,
    SW 3rd & Main, Downtown Portland, Oregon (map);
    Rally begins at 7:30pm followed by mobile dance party and
    noise demo!!! @ Chapman Square Park across from the Justice
    For more information contact: stand.with.the.prisoners@gmail.com
  • Seattle, Washington: Demonstration in Solidarity with Cali &
    Chehalis Prisoner Strikes; noon @ King County Jail (5th and James). 
    Read more
  • Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Letter writing to hunger striking prisoners at Pelican Bay; 7pm @ 67 Cartier. 
    Read more
  • Everywhere: This is the day the prisoner strikes kick off; there is a call
    for people everywhere to take action this day to bring attention to the prisoners' demands and struggle.
    More information: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

July 13

  • Corcoran: Caravans will leave from MacArthur BART in Oakland at 9:00 AM and Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood at 9:00AM. We will gather
    at Cesar Chavez Park in Corcoran (1500 Oregon) at 2PM and then
    march to 
    Corcoran State Prison  where our demands will be heard!

    Contact rachel@criticalresistance.org or 510-444-0484. Read more.

Isolated CA Inmates Continue Their Fight for Reform

SOLITARY WATCH: News from a Nation in Lockdown

Dec 30, 2011 by Sal Rodriguez    Since the widespread hunger strikes across California protesting the conditions of long-term solitary confinement in the California prison system, there have yet to be any indications of substantive change on the horizon.

According to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition, three hunger strikers have committed suicide–two in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing and another at Calipatria State Prison’s Administrative Segregation Unit. This has been denied by CDCR Terry Thornton who claims that none of the inmates participated in the hunger strike. According to family members of Johnny Owen Vick, one of the Pelican Bay inmates, Vick had been suffering from mental health issues for years before his September suicide and had at one point been in the SHU.  The father of Hozel Blanchard, Jr., the inmate at Calipatria State Prison, contrary to Thornton’s assertion, has insisted that his son had in fact been a hunger striker.

There have been reports of hunger striker leaders at Pelican Bay State Prison facing disciplinary action for their participation in the strikes. One hunger strike leader reported that:

On November 30th, myself and several other men here (whom CDCR has labeled as “leaders” of the peaceful-protests) received serious rule violations, charging us with causing a riot/mass disturbance and they referred it for felony – prosecution, to the local D.A’s office.

And further, that:

The Ad-Seg/ ASU units are bad news – I was never housed in them until being put in the one here – on Sept. 29th, this was CDCR’s retaliatory action against (15) of us here. We were all isolated on a tier, in strip cells with nothing but a set of clothes and fish kit (spoon, cup, bar of soap, etc…), with ice cold air blasting outta the vents!

Confinement in the ASU reportedly lasted until October 13th, the end of the Pelican Bay hunger strike.

Since this time, there has been difficulty maintaining the momentum sparked by the first hunger strike, which notably led in a historic California Assembly hearing on the matter with promises of future Public Safety Committee inquiries into the system of solitary confinement.

The frustration with the slow-moving CDCR has apparently led to ASU inmates at Corcoran State Prison to launch a hunger strike on December 28th (more information is forthcoming). A letter declaring the purpose of the hunger strike, along with a list of demands (similar in nature to the previous hunger strike demands) has been published on December 30th.

Dated December 22nd, the below letter is from the Pelican Bay Short Corridor–a group of inmates considered the leaders of the previous hunger strikes. It is reflective of the growing frustration and determination among inmates to see to it that their situation and cause remains in the publics awareness and urges individuals to keep the pressure on CDCR and the California government to fully address this issue.


Pelican Bay Short Corridor Update

(December 2011)

A Shout-out of respect and solidarity – from the Pelican Bay Short Corridor – Collective – to all similarly situated prisoners subject to the continuing torturous conditions of confinement in these barbaric SHU & Ad/Seg units across this country and around the world.

This is our update of where things currently stand and where we’re going with this struggle – for an end to draconian policies and practices – summarized in our “Formal Complaint” (and many related documents published and posted online, since early 2011)

As many of you know… beginning in early (2010), the PBSP – SHU Short Corridor Collective initiated action to educate people and bring wide spread exposure to – the (25+) years of ongoing – progressive human rights violations going unchecked here in the California Department of Corruption – via dissemination of our “Formal Complaint” to 100’s of people, organizations, lawmakers, Secretary Cate, etc… wherein, we also sought support and meaningful change.

The response by CDCR – Secretary Cate was “file an inmate appeal” (collectively, we’d filed thousands); therefore, after much reconsideration and dialogue, the collective decided to take the fight to the next level via peaceful protest action – in the form of hunger strike.

With the above in mind – beginning in early (2011)… we again sought to educate people about the ongoing torture prevalent in these prison systems – solitary confinement units; and pointing out our position that – the administrative grievance process is a sham, and the court system’s turned a blind eye to such blatantly illegal practices – Leaving us with no other meaningful avenue for obtaining relief, other than to put our lives on the line and thereby draw the line and force changes, via collective peaceful protest hunger strike action.

We believed this was the only – fully advantageous – way for us to expose such outrageous abuse of state power, to the world and gain the outside support needed to help force real change.

We requested support in the form of – asking people to write letters to those in power… we received more support than we ever expected – in the form of letters, rallies, and hunger strike “participants” – more than (18,000) similarly situated prisoners and some people on the outside!

All united in solidarity, with a collective awareness – that the draconian torture practices described in our “Formal Complaint” are prevalent across the land; and that – united in peaceful action, we have the power to force changes.

The hunger strike actions of (2011) achieved some success, in the form of – mainstream world wide exposure – solid, continuing outside support – some small improvements to SHU/Ad-Seg unit conditions … and assurances of more meaningful – substantive changes to the overall policies and practices re: basis for placement and amount of time spent, in such units – a substantive review of all prisoners files, per new criteria – and more change to the actual conditions in such units.

However, this fight is far from over! Notably, the second hunger strike action was suspended in mid-October … in response to top CDCR administrator’s presentation that the substantive changes be finalized… would be provided to “the stakeholders” (this includes our attorneys), within 60 days for comment. To date, CDCR hasn’t produced anything re: SHU/Ad-Seg policy changes; and PBSP’s Warden has not even replied to the (2) memo’s we’ve sent him concerning – additional program – privilege issues, per core demand #5 (see footnote #1 below)

Naturally, many people are not happy about CDCR’s failure to abide by their word – again – and they are asking… “what’s the next move in this struggle?”

Based on our collective discussions, our response is … people need to remain focused, and continue to apply pressure on CDCR, via letters, emails, fax, etc… summarizing the continuing core demands – immediately! There’s real power in numbers!! (see addresses to contact below, at footnote #2)

It’s important for everyone to stay objective and on the same page – remember… united we win, divided we lose. And, if we don’t see real substantive changes within the next 6 months… we’ll have to re-evaluate our position.

Additionally, now is a good time for people to start a dialogue about changing the climate on these level IV mainlines… As it stands now, these lines are warehouses, with all the money meant for programs – rehabilitation, going into guard pockets.

It’s in all of our best interests to change this in a big way, and thereby force CDCR to open these lines up and provide all of us with the programs and rehabilitative services that we all should have coming to us!!

Respect and Solidarity,

T. Ashker, A. Castellanos, Sitawa (s/n Dewberry), A. Guillen

-Dec. 2011-

Footnote#1: To date, we’ve received zero improvements re: core demand #5 … while Corcoran and Tehachapi have gained on canteen and dip-pull up bars – which, is all good. This is an example of what we pointed out in our “Formal Complaint” re: disparate treatment at PBSP-SHU compared to other SHU’s.

This is also a typical CDCR attempt to create discord and disruption to our unified struggle…we’re certain this feeble move will fail because all of us understand what our main objective is – an end to long term torture in these isolation units! It is our fundamental right to be treated humanely… we can no longer accept state sanctioned torture – of our selves! (and, our loved ones!) and we remain unified in our resistance!!

Footnote#2: Addresses of people to write

1. Tom Ammiano, Assemblyman    2. Gov. Edmund G. Brown

Capitol Bldg. Rm# 4005                   State Capitol, Ste #1173

Sacramento, CA 95814                     Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone# 916-319-2013                     Phone# 916-446-2841

Fax# 916-319-2113                         Fax# 916-558-3160

3. CDCR Sec. Matthew Cate       4. Carol Strickman, Attorney

1515 S. St. Ste. #330                 1540 Market St., Ste. #490

Sacramento, CA 95811                San Francisco, CA 94102

Phone# 916-323-6001                 Phone# 415-255-7036

Fax# 415-552-3150

Isolation: Californian, Palestinian, and Zapatista Prisoners On Hunger Strike!

CDCR Increases Isolation for California Prisoner Hunger Strikers

Families of hunger strikers were denied visits this past weekend, as the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) continues to crackdown on the hunger strike.

Before the strike resumed Under-Secretary of CDCR Operations, Scott Kernan, threatened an escalation of violence on hunger strikers. Since lawyers from the prisoner’s legal & mediation team have been banned from communicating with hunger strikers last week,rs pose a threat to CDCR’s security, denied visits are an added punishment that increase family members of hunger strikers have also been denied visits. While the CDCR claims families and lawyers pose a threat to CDCR’s security, denied visits are an added punishment that increase isolation for hunger strikers in an attempt to break the strike and conceal retaliation.

Families & community members are gearing up for another convergence to Sacramento Wednesday, October 5th, to protest the CDCR’s torturous conditions & practices.

Posted on October 3, 2011 by prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity

Here is a link to audio from KPFA , Oct 1, 2011:


  (7 1/2 minutes into the show)




12,000 Prisoners Resume Hunger Strike in California

Outrageous Retaliation by Prison Officials

by Larry Everest and Bay Area Revolution Writers Group

A very just, very significant and courageous battle is rapidly spreading in California’s state prisons—and beyond. On September 26, prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) resumed their hunger strike—in the face of vicious lies and attacks and retaliation by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and other state officials, including Governor Jerry Brown. They had been on a hunger strike from July 1-July 20, demanding an end to the horrifically inhuman conditions they face. On September 29, the CDCR admitted that 4,252 inmates in eight state prisons had missed nine consecutive meals since Monday, September 26, and that state prisons at Calipatria, Centinela, Ironwood, Pelican Bay, San Quentin, and Salinas Valley, as well as the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and state prison at Corcoran, had all reported inmates on hunger strike. (The CDCR won’t count a prisoner as being on hunger strike until he or she has refused nine straight meals.)

These officials figures, it turns out, underestimated the number of prisoner hunger strikers. On October 1, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity’s website reported, “Numbers released by the federal receiver’s office show that on September 28, nearly 12,000 prisoners were on hunger strike, including California prisoners who are housed in out-of-state prisons in Arizona, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.” (The website adds, “Representatives of the hunger strikers have previously stated that this will be a rolling strike, allowing prisoners to come off strike to regain strength. Because of this, numbers will likely fluctuate throughout the duration of the strike.”)

The strike has also reportedly spread to at least one county jail. The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported that 50 prisoners in the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, east of Los Angeles, are refusing to eat in support of the hunger strike in the prisons. (September 27, 2011)

More than 6,500 prisoners joined the three-week hunger strike in July. Prisoners at Pelican Bay suspended the strike on July 20 after prison officials promised they would meet some of the prisoners’ demands and address the main issues prisoners were raising. Then in September, prisoners wrote a statement saying these promises had not been kept: “We remain in SHU indefinitely, deprived of our basic human rights—based on illegal policies and practices, that amount to torture; torture of us, as well as our family members and loved ones on the outside. CDCR remains in denial, and continues to propagate the lies re: ‘worst-of-the-worst’ 3000 gang generals, etc.—in order to dehumanize/demonize us, so as to maintain the status quo... CDCR’s intent is to break us down, and coerce us into becoming state informants! A violation of international treaty law, period! This is not acceptable!” (Go to revcom.us/s/pelicanbay-hungerstrike-en.html for extensive coverage of the July hunger strike.)

These prisoners are now putting their lives on the line again, demanding to be treated as human beings—demanding that the CDCR end the barbaric, inhumane conditions of imprisonment throughout California prisons, particularly in the “Security Housing Units” or SHUs. There, thousands of prisoners are locked in solitary confinement in windowless cells, 7.6 feet by 11.6 feet, for 22 hours or more a day for years, denied human contact. There are 1,111 inmates confined to the SHU at Pelican Bay alone, where the average length of confinement is 6.8 years. More than 500 prisoners have been in the Pelican Bay SHU for more than 10 years; 78 have been in the SHU for more than 20 years!

The prisoners’ demands include an end to group punishment, abolishing the CDCR’s gang status and “debriefing” policies, ending long-term solitary confinement, providing adequate food and expanding constructive programming and privileges. (See “Prisoners at Pelican Bay SHU Announce Hunger Strike, Revolution #237, June 26, 2011, for the prisoners’ five demands.)

Vicious Retaliation Against Hunger Strikers

Prison officials were deeply shaken by the breadth and strength of the July 1-20 hunger strike. This courageous action brought to light the horrific conditions of solitary confinement—amounting to torture—and there was broad support for the prisoners’ just demands.

After prisoners announced the strike would be resumed, prison authorities issued two memos to 165,000 prisoners—warning them against going on strike, claiming they were making changes. Disciplinary warnings were issued to thousands of hunger strikers. Supporters of the strikers report that a number of prisoners lost their jobs as punishment for supporting the strike in July, that some received punitive disciplinary write-ups, and some prisoner negotiators were being singled out and threatened with transfers and subjected to cell searches.

A September 29 press release from the CDCR said it “will not condone organized inmate disturbances” and warned: “Participation in mass hunger strikes and other disturbances will result in CDCR taking the following action: Participation in a mass disturbance is a violation of state law, and any participating inmates will receive disciplinary action in accordance with the California Code of Regulations; and Inmates identified as leading the disturbance will be subject to removal from the general population and be placed in an Administrative Segregation Unit.”

Matthew Cate, Secretary of CDCR, interviewed by Berkeley’s KPFA radio on September 27, threatened prisoners: “If they still want to be on a hunger strike then there will be some consequences to that, because you can’t shut down prison operations with no consequences.” Cate repeatedly described the hunger strike as a “mass disturbance” and compared it to a riot. Attempting to justify why the media are not allowed access to the prisoners on strike—who are risking their lives to demand an end to inhumane conditions—Cates said it was “the same reason that we don’t allow media to have access to Charles Manson.”

On July 29 the CDCR released a revision to its Medical Services Program Policy and Procedures regarding a mass organized hunger strike—including criteria for when the force-feeding of inmates will take place. This could mean the CDCR plans to force-feed prisoners to break the hunger strike. The American Civil Liberties Union has written that “force-feeding contravenes U.S. domestic and international law and is universally considered to be a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” (Press Release: ACLU Calls For End To Inhumane Force-Feeding Of Guantánamo Prisoners, January 9, 2009)

In July, the CDCR repeatedly lied, saying the strike was organized by gangs. Governor Jerry Brown, who never said anything about the hunger strike in July, has now publicly attacked hunger strikers and given full backing to the CDCR’s policies and attacks on the prisoners, saying, “We have individuals who are dedicated to their gang membership who order people to be killed, who order crimes to be committed on the outside... My recommendation is to deal effectively with gangs in prisons.” (California Prison Officials Warn Inmates On Hunger Strike,” CBS San Francisco News, September 30, 2011)

Family members of prisoners participating in the hunger strike are having their visits cancelled. And the Prisoner Hunger Strike Coalition reports that Carol Strickman and Marilyn McMahon, both attorneys who have served on the hunger strike mediation team and have coordinated legal visits for prisoners in the SHU, have both been banned from prisoner visits by the CDCR. This is a further effort to isolate the prisoners and prevent the truth of their situation from being known outside prison walls. (“CDCR Bans Lawyers: TAKE ACTION NOW!” Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, September 30, 2011)

Think about what the draconian actions of the CDCR reveal: Who is defending crimes against humanity? Who is lying and justifying criminal violence against human beings? What does all this show about the utter illegitimacy of the prison system—and brutal nature of mass incarceration in the USA? For prisoners subjected to the most isolating conditions, sitting in their cells and refusing to eat is labeled a “mass disturbance.” Their demands simply to be treated as human beings are met with lies and threats of even more violence against them. This is completely outrageous and intolerable!

Carol Strickman put it like this: “We’re saying they are torturing the prisoners and we want them to stop the torture. The prisoners are so concerned about it that they are going to stop eating. If the response is to increase the torture, then they are just proving who they are and what their values are. This is a human rights issue and they are proving that they don’t see the prisoners as human.”

There is an urgent need for those on the outside to expose and oppose all these attacks on the hunger strikers and their supporters.

Strickman also told Revolution that there are other ramifications if prison officials declare the hunger strike a “mass disturbance”: “They could do lockdowns. That would prevent family visits. That means everybody in the prison can’t have visits. That would be another example of group punishment, and abolishing group punishment is one of the prisoners’ demands. So what they would be doing in response to the prisoners’ demands is to crank up group punishment—the behavior that is being protested. It means people can’t go to the law library, people can’t get medical visits, can’t do classes and programming. In women’s facilities they can’t go do their laundry. You can’t go to canteen. There are a lot of things that flow from a lockdown. That is a serious threat.”


Our brothers and sisters are locked up in brutal, inhumane conditions. Yet they have risen up—with great courage, unity and vision. They are shining a light on the nature of mass incarceration in the U.S., and this raises profound questions about the nature and legitimacy of the system responsible for all this. These courageous prisoners are setting an example for everyone who hates injustice. They urgently need our support. Their struggle can—and must—reverberate and gain support across the U.S....and the world!

People on the outside have the moral responsibility to act in a way commensurate with the justness of the prisoners’ demands, the urgency of the situation, and the importance of this struggle for humanity. What people on the outside do will be a big factor in what happens now that the prisoners have resumed the hunger strike.

Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike continues - now is the time for international solidarity!

The Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa'adat
www.freeahmadsaadat.org + info@freeahmadsaadat.org
Twitter: http://twitter.com/freeahmadsaadat
As Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike enters its second week, international solidarity is needed now, more than ever. Prisoners are being sent to isolation in increasing numbers, family visits are being denied, families threatened and identity cards confiscated, lawyer visits denied, and belongings and clothing confiscated.
International solidarity to support Palestinian hunger strikers is also growing:

Palestinian prisoners in several prisons, including Nafha prison, have reported in the past few days that they were threatened that family visits would be denied in retaliation for their participation in the hunger strike. Israeli prison officials told the prisoners that for each day they spent on hunger strike, they would be banned from family visitation for 1 month.

In addition, women prisoners participating in the hunger strike, Sumoud Kharajeh, Linan Abu Ghoulmeh, Duaa Jayyousi and Wuroud Kassem, were moved into isolation and solitary confinement, Linan Abu Ghoulmeh while under arbitrary administrative detention.

The Israeli occupation prison service also transfered prisoners from Departments 13 and 14 in the Nafha prison to other prisons; their location remains unknown. Two prisoners in Nafha, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who were abducted from Jericho prison with Ahmad Sa'adat have also been placed in isolation, Hamdi Qur'an and Basil al-Asmar.

During a family visit, Israeli occupation prison authorities confiscated the identity cards of the families of Palestinian prisoners Mahmoud Abu Wahdan and Raed Sayel. The families were told that because their imprisoned relatives refused to break their hunger strike, they were not allowed to visit them.

In the Ofer prison, Israeli authorities placed 9 detainees - members of the PFLP - in solitary confinement and confiscated all their personal effects, clothing and other belongings.

In Asqelan Prison, the Israeli prison administration prevented lawyers from visiting detainees. A lawyer who came to Asqelan to visit prisoners Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh, Allam Al-Kaabi, and Shadi Sharafa was banned from visiting the prisoners and informed that these three and all prisoners from the PFLP who are on hunger strike are prohibited from receiving lawyer visits.

The hunger strike has been growing as well. Earlier in the day 20 prisoners from the Fateh party joined the open hunger strike, including the oldest Palestinian prisoner, Fakhri Barghouti, who entered his 34th year in Israeli prisons, and Akram Mansour, who has been imprisoned for 33 years and is quite ill with cancer. Additional prisoners also plan to announce their joining the hunger strike in the next few days. In the Negev prison, Anas Al-Shanti was placed in solitary confinement. In Ramon prison, prisoner Basem Al-Khandaqjy, a member of Central Committee of the People's Party, joined the hunger strike.


1. Picket, protest or call the Israeli embassy or consulate in your location and demand the immediate freedom of Ahmad Sa'adat and all Palestinian political prisoners. Make it clear that you support the demands of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike! Send us reports of your protests at Israeli embassies and consulates.

2. Distribute the free downloadable Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa'adat flyer in your community at local events.

3. Write to the International Committee of the Red Cross and other human rights organizations to exercise their responsibilities and act swiftly to demand that the Israelis ensure that Ahmad Sa'adat and all Palestinian prisoners are freed from punitive isolation. Email the ICRC, whose humanitarian mission includes monitoring the conditions of prisoners, at jerusalem.jer@icrc.org, and inform them about the urgent situation of Ahmad Sa'adat.

4. Email the Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa'adat at info@freeahmadsaadat.org with announcements, reports and information about your local events, activities and flyer distributions.

The Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa'adat
Twitter: http://twitter.com/freeahmadsaadat

Hunger Strike By Zapatista Political Prisoners
On September 29, 2011 seven political prisoners started a hunger strike at the state prison located in the municipality of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. Another four are fasting for 12 hours per day for health reasons. The 11 participants are members of The Voice of El Amate and Innocent Voices, two organizations belonging to the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign.


List of OCTOBER 13 Events in Solidarity with Hunger Strike!

Los Angeles

Thursday, October 13th, 5-7pm: Vigil to Support the Hunger Strikers! 200 North Spring Street. Los Angeles, CA 90012 (We will be in front of City Hall, 1st and Spring Street on the North Steps). Click here for more info

San Diego

Thursday, October 13th, 5-7pm: Vigil to Support the Hunger Strikers! On the Corner of University & Fairmount in East San Diego. Click here for more info

Santa Barbara

Thursday, October 13th, 5-7pm: Vigil to Support the Hunger Strikers! Location TBD. Click here for more info

Long Beach

Thursday, October 13th, 5-7pm: Vigil to Support the Hunger Strikers! 415 Ocean Blvd. Long Beach, CA 90802 (This is the LB Courthouse which is connected to the Jail, we will be on the steps of the LB courthouse on Ocean Blvd). Click here for more info

Grass Valley

Thursday, October 13th, 5-7pm: Vigil to Support the Hunger Strikers! Location TBD. Click here for more info


Thursday, October 13th, 3-7pm: Rally and Reading of Prisoners' Letters to Support the Hunger Strikers!  Humboldt County Courthouse 825 5th St.  Click here for more info.

Chula Vista

Thursday, October 13,  6:00pm – 8:00pm: Vigil to Support the Hunger Strikers! Location TORRE FUERTE 1547 #D JAYKEN WAY

San Francisco

Thursday, October 13, 5-7 p.m.: Vigil at 24th  & Mission, SF.

MOTHERS DAY, May 13th: Mothers Smashing the Prison Industrial Complex & Mothers Speaking Out for Their Children in Solitary Confinement (Hear Audio)

Mother’s Day provides an opportunity to honor and celebrate our given and chosen families.  For those of us fighting the prison industrial complex, Mother’s Day can also provide an opportunity to reflect on the ways the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) attacks and disrupts our families. 

The good news is that all over the world moms are leading the charge against the PIC.

In the United States more than 1.7 million minors have at least one parent in prison.  As we all know, the effects of a parent’s imprisonment on family life can be devastating.  Children may be shuffled between family members, wind up in foster care, or forced into other vulnerable positions.  They may have infrequent visits with their parents if they get to see them at all.  Even if parents get out of prison, reunification with their kids may be difficult or impossible, and the stress of living with a felony conviction or under conditions of parole can add additional hardship to family life.  And the burden on those left to become primary caregivers—grandparents, sisters and brothers, family friends—heaps additional strain on networks already frayed by the daily pressures of life.  For families of imprisoned people, bad news abounds.

The good news is that all over the world moms are leading the charge against the PIC.  While the efforts of many parents to erode the hold the PIC has on their lives go unrecognized, just a few examples help us remember how many people are fighting in so many different, creative, and beautiful ways. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, for example have provided inspiration to people around the world as they held weekly vigils in honor of their children that had been disappeared by the Argentine dictatorship.  Their persistence and public presence in the face of crushing government repression kept the practice of disappearing activists and dissidents in public attention and through sharing their stories, many of the mothers became increasingly politicized, with a number of them taking up their children’s activism.

Mother-led and -initiated projects target all aspects of the PIC.  For instance, organizing efforts led by Iris Baez, Kadiatou Diallo, Doris Busch Boskey, Meshá Mongé-Irizarry, whose children were all killed by police helped draw attention to the violence and racism of policing. Organizations such as Resource Information for the Disadvantaged (RIHD), Mother’s Reclaiming Our Children (Mother’s ROC) and its organizational offspring, the Coalition against Three Strikes and Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes demonstrate how outrage and agitation around a single case of one mother’s son can be transformed into a powerful force against sentencing practices more broadly. The Center for Young Women’s Development’s Young Mothers United program, Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH) and support campaigns for hunger strikers from the North of Ireland, to Palestine, to Ohio help shine a light on the brutal conditions so many prisoners endure. Organizations such as Mothers on the Move remind us that prisons and jails are toxic for our communities.

While these few examples are just the tip of the organizing iceberg headed for the PIC, they offer us a useful reminder that even in the face of the substantial harms families face from imprisonment and policing, their fire to fight is often only stoked by that pressure.  This Sunday, when you’re thinking about the mothers in your life, don’t forget to raise a toast to the ones fighting for all of us.

from Critical Resistance: http://us4.campaign-archive2.com/?u=b64cbc94231b3bae71ab83686&id=27438158bb&e=ab920f7e87


After you celebrate Mother's Day, please take a moment to listen to the mothers' voices who speak out for their children who are in solitary confinement.     http://www.aclu.org/justice-mamas/

When a child is in solitary, a parent or loved one cannot touch the child.  Human contact (except with the prison guards!) is forbidden in all or most solitary confinement prisons in the U.S.  

The ACLU in New York has recorded these mama's voices (from all over the U.S.) and asks you to stand with them on Mothers' Day.  http://www.aclu.org/justice-mamas/

Mentally Ill Man Dies, Injured and Alone, in a Tulsa Jail Cell

November 5, 2012 by  

photo of Elliot Earl Williams

In a horrific story out of Oklahoma, lawyers representing the estate of a prisoner who was found dead in the Tulsa Jail have sued the local sheriff’s office and the jail’s private health care provider. In a motion just filed in federal court, attorneys have asked a judge to release a video made of the man’s final two days, during which he allegedly languished in an isolation cell without food, water, or medical attention.

As reported by the Tulsa World:

Elliott Earl Williams, 37, was pronounced dead in his cell at 11:21 a.m. Oct. 27, 2011, after allegedly going days without food and water…

According to the motion seeking release of the video and related documents, Williams–who had exhibited signs of mental illness–tried to hurt himself and ran into a steel door head-first after being placed in a booking cell upon arrival at the jail Oct. 22.

When detention officers and medical personnel refused to treat him, claiming he was faking paralysis, he was left on the floor of the booking cell for 10 hours and soiled himself, the motion states.

He was then transferred by gurney to the jail’s medical unit, where he was dumped in a shower and left for two hours. He was then moved to a medical unit cell, where he was left naked on a steel bunk with only a blanket, the motion states.

Williams remained in the cell, naked, immobile and with only a blanket, for the next three days, according to the motion.

He last ate on the morning of Oct. 23 and last drank any water–”other than a few drops he managed to lick off his fingers”–on the morning of Oct. 24, according to documents cited in the motion.

The next morning, on Oct. 25, Williams was dragged on his blanket to a video-monitored cell, according to the motion. The remaining 51 hours of Williams’ life were videotaped.

 Included on that tape, according to the motion, are numerous instances in which detention officers opened Williams’ cell door and threw Styrofoam food containers onto the floor of the cell.

On Oct. 26, the day before his death, no one entered his cell, according to the motion.

“On one occasion, he attempted to open one of the food containers that had been thrown into his cell the previous day, but his efforts to do so failed,” the motion states. “In the process of trying to open the food container, he spilled the cup of water. The empty cup was still in the cell when Mr. Williams died.”

Just after 8 a.m. Oct. 27, a doctor and a jail nurse found that Williams had little, if any, reflex in his feet. Vomit and saliva had pooled on Williams’ face, but he was provided no additional medical care, according to the motion.

Three hours later, detention officers entered Williams’ cell and found him not breathing and without a pulse.

“As a final demonstration of the complete lack of human respect shown Mr. Williams throughout his jail stay, two of the nurses took a corner of Mr. Williams’ blanket, lifting and pulling on it until Mr. Williams’ dead body was sent sprawling across the floor,” the motion states.

The State Medical Examiner’s Office found that Williams died from “complications of vertebrospinal injuries due to blunt force trauma” and “also found a pattern of dehydration,” the motion states.

The lawsuit, which claims that Williams’s civil rights were violated, is reportedly “one of several filed by the attorneys alleging inadequate care and supervision in the jail’s medical unit.” Health care in that unit–and throughout the Tulsa Jail–are provided by a private company called Correctional Health Care Management. Lawyers say that if the judge releases the video and other documents, they can show “a pattern of indifference and neglect toward inmates on the part of the Sheriff’s Office and the jail’s health-care provider dating back to 2007.”

In Williams’s case, it was clear by the time he reached the jail that he was seriously mentally ill. Police who arrested him for breaking things at a local Marriott Hotel wrote in the arrest report: ”It was readily apparent that the suspect was having a mental breakdown…The suspect was rambling on about God, eating dirt.” According to the Tulsa World, “At one point, Williams stated that he was going to kill himself that night and asked police to ‘shoot me twice,’ the arrest report states. After officers repeatedly asked Williams to sit down, he said to them, ‘What do I have to do to get you to shoot me?’ and began to approach one of them. Police then used pepper spray to subdue him.”

Williams was arrested on a charge of ”obstructing/interfering with an officer” and taken to the Tulsa Jail. What happened to him once he arrived there is a particularly awful example of what can happen to people with untreated mental illness once they enter the criminal justice system.

(h/t to Prison Legal News for alerting us to this story.)

Mon, FEB 20th - Occupy Day In Support of PRISONERS

Prisons have become a central institution in American society, integral to our politics, economy and our culture.

Between 1976 and 2000, the United States built on average a new prison each week and the number of imprisoned Americans increased tenfold.

Prison has made the threat of torture part of everyday life for millions of individuals in the United States, especially the 7.3 million people—who are disproportionately people of color—currently incarcerated or under correctional supervision.

Imprisonment itself is a form of torture. The typical American prison, juvenile hall and detainment camp is designed to maximize degradation, brutalization, and dehumanization.

Mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow. Between 1970 and 1995, the incarceration of African Americans increased 7 times. Currently African Americans make up 12 % of the population in the U.S. but 53% of the nation’s prison population. There are more African Americans under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

The prison system is the most visible example of policies of punitive containment of the most marginalized and oppressed in our society. Prior to incarceration, 2/3 of all prisoners lived in conditions of economic hardship. While the perpetrators of white-collar crime largely go free.

In addition, the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated that in 2008 alone there was a loss in economic input associated with people released from prison equal to $57 billion to $65 billion.

We call on Occupies across the country to support:

1.  Abolishing unjust sentences, such as the Death Penalty, Life Without the Possibility of Parole, Three Strikes, Juvenile Life Without Parole, and the practice of trying children as adults.

2.  Standing in solidarity with movements initiated by prisoners and taking action to support prisoner demands, including the Georgia Prison Strike and the Pelican Bay/California Prisoners Hunger Strikes.

3.  Freeing political prisoners, such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Lynne Stewart, Bradley Manning and Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, a Black Panther Party member incarcerated since 1969.

4. Demanding an end to the repression of activists, specifically the targeting of African Americans and those with histories of incarceration, such as Khali in Occupy Oakland who could now face a life sentence, on trumped-up charges, and many others being falsely charged after only exercising their First Amendment rights.

5. Demanding an end to the brutality of the current system, including the torture of those who have lived for many years in Secured Housing Units (SHUs) or in solitary confinement.

6. Demanding that our tax money spent on isolating, harming and killing prisoners, instead be invested in improving the quality of life for all and be spent on education, housing, health care, mental health care and other human services which contribute to the public good.

National Actions:


Statements from People in Prisons:



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Bradley Manning, Solitary Confinement and the Occupy 4 Prisoners

In the Hole

by BILL QUIGLEY Feb 23, 2012

Today US Army Private Bradley Manning is to be formally charged with numerous crimes at Fort Meade, Maryland.   Manning, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by members of the Icelandic Parliament, is charged with releasing hundreds of thousands of documents exposing secrets of the US government to the whistleblower website Wikileaks. These documents exposed lies, corruption and crimes by the US and other countries.  The Bradley Manning defense team points out accurately that much of what was published by Wikileaks was either not actually secret or should not have been secret.

The Manning prosecution is a tragic miscarriage of justice.  US officials are highly embarrassed by what Manning exposed and are shooting the messenger.  As Glen Greenwald, the terrific Salon writer, has observed, President Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers for espionage than all other presidents combined.

One of the most outrageous parts of the treatment of Bradley Manning is that the US kept him in illegal and torturous solitary confinement conditions for months at the Quantico Marine base in Virginia.  Keeping Manning in solitary confinement sparked challenges from many groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the ACLU and the New York Times.

Human rights’ advocates rightly point out that solitary confinement is designed to break down people mentally.  Because of that, prolonged solitary confinement is internationally recognized as a form of torture.  The conditions and practices of isolation are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention against Torture, and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination.

Medical experts say that after 60 days in solitary peoples’ mental state begins to break down.  That means a person will start to experience panic, anxiety, confusion, headaches, heart palpitations,sleep problems, withdrawal, anger, depression, despair, and over-sensitivity. Over time this can lead to severe psychiatric trauma and harms like psychosis, distortion of reality, hallucinations, mass anxiety and acute confusion. Essentially, the mind disintegrates.

That is why the United Nations special rapporteur on torture sought to investigate Manning’s solitary confinement and reprimanded the US when the Army would not let him have an unmonitored visit.

History will likely judge Manning as heroic as it has Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

It is important to realize that tens of thousands of other people besides Manning are held in solitary confinement in the US today and every day.  Experts estimate a minimum of 20,000 people are held in solitary in supermax prisons alone, not counting thousands of others in state and local prisons who are also held in solitary confinement.  And solitary confinement is often forced on Muslim prisoners, even pre-trial people who are assumed innocent, under federal Special Administrative Measures.

In 1995, the U.N. Human Rights Committee stated that isolation conditions in certain U.S. maximum security prisons were incompatible with international standards. In 1996, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture reported on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in U.S. supermax prisons. In 2000, the U.N. Committee on Torture roundly condemned the United States for its treatment of prisoners, citing supermax prisons. In May 2006, the same committee concluded that the United States should “review the regimen imposed on detainees in supermax prisons, in particular, the practice of prolonged isolation.”

John McCain said his two years in solitary confinement were torture. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” The reaction of McCain and many other victims of isolation torture were described in an excellent 2009 New Yorker article on isolation by Atul Gawande.  Gawande concluded that prolonged isolation is objectively horrifying, intrinsically cruel, and more widespread in the U.S. than any country in the world.

This week hundreds of members of the Occupy movement merged forces with people advocating for human rights for prisoners in demonstrations in California, New York, Ohio, and Washington DC.  They call themselves Occupy 4 Prisoners.  Activists are working to create a social movement for serious and fundamental changes in the US criminal system.

One of the major complaints of prisoner human rights activists is the abuse of solitary confinement in prisons across the US.  Prison activist Mumia Abu-Jamal said justice demands the end of solitary, “It means the abolition of solitary confinement, for it is no more than modern-day torture chambers for the poor.”  Pelican Bay State Prison in California, the site of a hunger strike by hundreds of prisoners last year, holds over 1000 inmates in solitary confinement, some as long as 20 years.

At the Occupy Prisoners rally outside San Quentin prison, the three American hikers who were held for a year in Iran told of the psychological impact of 14 months of solitary confinement.  Sarah Shourd said the time without human contact drove her to beat the walls of her cell until her knuckles bled.

When Manning was held in solitary he was kept in his cell 23 hours a day for months at a time.  The US government tortured him to send a message to others who might consider blowing the whistle on US secrets.  At the same time, tens of thousands of others in the US are being held in their cells 23 hours a day for months, even years at a time.  That torture is also sending a message.

Thousands stood up with Bradley Manning and got him released from solitary.  People must likewise stand up with the thousands of others in solitary as well.

So, stand in solidarity with Bradley Manning and fight against his prosecution.  And stand also against solitary confinement of the tens of thousands in US jails and prisons.  Check out the Bradley Manning Support Network, Solitary Watch, and Occupy 4 Prisoners for ways to participate.

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer who teaches at Loyola University New Orleans and works with the Center for Constitutional Rights.  A version of this article with full sources is available. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. You can reach Bill at quigley77@gmail.com 


My Guantánamo Nightmare, by Lakhdar Boumediene

My Guantánamo Nightmare   by LAKHDAR BOUMEDIENE   Jan 7, 2012

On Wednesday, America’s detention camp at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 10 years. For seven of them, I was held there without explanation or charge. During that time my daughters grew up without me. They were toddlers when I was imprisoned, and were never allowed to visit or speak to me by phone. Most of their letters were returned as “undeliverable,” and the few that I received were so thoroughly and thoughtlessly censored that their messages of love and support were lost.

Some American politicians say that people at Guantánamo are terrorists, but I have never been a terrorist. Had I been brought before a court when I was seized, my children’s lives would not have been torn apart, and my family would not have been thrown into poverty. It was only after the United States Supreme Court ordered the government to defend its actions before a federal judge that I was finally able to clear my name and be with them again.

I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.

When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I had never — for a second — considered this.

The fact that the United States had made a mistake was clear from the beginning. Bosnia’s highest court investigated the American claim, found that there was no evidence against me and ordered my release. But instead, the moment I was released American agents seized me and the five others. We were tied up like animals and flown to Guantánamo, the American naval base in Cuba. I arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.

I still had faith in American justice. I believed my captors would quickly realize their mistake and let me go. But when I would not give the interrogators the answers they wanted — how could I, when I had done nothing wrong? — they became more and more brutal. I was kept awake for many days straight. I was forced to remain in painful positions for hours at a time. These are things I do not want to write about; I want only to forget.

I went on a hunger strike for two years because no one would tell me why I was being imprisoned. Twice each day my captors would shove a tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach so they could pour food into me. It was excruciating, but I was innocent and so I kept up my protest.

In 2008, my demand for a fair legal process went all the way to America’s highest court. In a decision that bears my name, the Supreme Court declared that “the laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” It ruled that prisoners like me, no matter how serious the accusations, have a right to a day in court. The Supreme Court recognized a basic truth: the government makes mistakes. And the court said that because “the consequence of error may be detention of persons for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, this is a risk too significant to ignore.”

Five months later, Judge Richard J. Leon, of the Federal District Court in Washington, reviewed all of the reasons offered to justify my imprisonment, including secret information I never saw or heard. The government abandoned its claim of an embassy bomb plot just before the judge could hear it. After the hearing, he ordered the government to free me and four other men who had been arrested in Bosnia.

I will never forget sitting with the four other men in a squalid room at Guantánamo, listening over a fuzzy speaker as Judge Leon read his decision in a Washington courtroom. He implored the government not to appeal his ruling, because “seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty.” I was freed, at last, on May 15, 2009.

Today, I live in Provence with my wife and children. France has given us a home, and a new start. I have experienced the pleasure of reacquainting myself with my daughters and, in August 2010, the joy of welcoming a new son, Yousef. I am learning to drive, attending vocational training and rebuilding my life. I hope to work again serving others, but so far the fact that I spent seven and a half years as a Guantánamo prisoner has meant that only a few human rights organizations have seriously considered hiring me. I do not like to think of Guantánamo. The memories are filled with pain. But I share my story because 171 men remain there. Among them is Belkacem Bensayah, who was seized in Bosnia and sent to Guantánamo with me.

About 90 prisoners have been cleared for transfer out of Guantánamo. Some of them are from countries like Syria or China — where they would face torture if sent home — or Yemen, which the United States considers unstable. And so they sit as captives, with no end in sight — not because they are dangerous, not because they attacked America, but because the stigma of Guantánamo means they have no place to go, and America will not give a home to even one of them.

I’m told that my Supreme Court case is now read in law schools. Perhaps one day that will give me satisfaction, but so long as Guantánamo stays open and innocent men remain there, my thoughts will be with those left behind in that place of suffering and injustice.

Lakhdar Boumediene was the lead plaintiff in Boumediene v. Bush. He was in military custody at Guantánamo Bay from 2002 to 2009. This essay was translated by Felice Bezri from the Arabic.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on January 8, 2012, on page SR9 of the New York edition with the headline: My Guantánamo Nightmare.

NC Prisoner Hunger Strikers Call for Boycott and Solidarity Actions Against Canteen Profiteers


KEEFE Supply Company, in St. Louis, MO – Sells snacks and junk food.

American Amenities, located in Woodinville, WA – Sells hygiene items.

JM Murray Center, Inc. in Cortland NY – Sells toothpaste.

Four-in-One Co. Inc. in Mountainview, CA – Sells salad dressing and mayo.

Heinz Co. in Pittsburgh, PA – Condiments, etc.

Ascent Battery Supply LLC in Harland, WI – Sells batteries.

Medique Products in Ft. Myers,, FL – Ibuprofen and other medical supplies.


New Balance

Coca Cola

It goes without saying that the companies who sell their products in prison canteens make millions of dollars off the most perverse kind of monopoly capitalism imaginable.

July 20, 2012   Prisoners in North Carolina who began a hunger strike on Monday, July 16th, at three different facilities, are now calling for a boycott and actions against specific prison profiteers in solidarity with their strike. They are hoping that the boycott can spread on the outside as well as the inside.

Striking prisoners, several of whom are calling themselves the “Freedom Riders Movement,” have singled out the above companies specifically. The list includes headquarters of the companies; it is likely they have distribution and production centers all over.

It goes without saying that the companies who sell their products in prison canteens make millions of dollars off the most perverse kind of monopoly capitalism imaginable. Much of the money for their products, which due to budget cuts and the resultant decrease in calories rationed to prisoners over the last few years, comes from already poor families on the outside trying to help subsidize their loved one’s meager diets on the inside.

This kind of exploitation goes beyond “unjust” – it is disgusting and obscene at the most basic human level. NC prisoners and those who share affinity on the outside are encouraging folks on both side of the wall to follow the money trail and target the prison system where it financially hurts, and take actions to spread this hunger strike in both numbers and scope.


New from Solitary Watch: “Solitary 101″ PowerPoint Presentation

Our “Solitary 101″ PowerPoint, developed for the recent Midwest Coalition for Human Rights conference on Solitary Confinement and Human Rights, is now available online. The 60-slide PowerPoint includes sections on the history of solitary confinement, solitary as it is practiced in the United States today, and the growing movement against solitary confinement.

We encourage educators and advocates to use, share, and customize the presentation according to their needs (for non-commercial purposes only, with proper attribution to Solitary Watch). No advance permission is necessary, although we will appreciate hearing about how you are using the presentation, as well as any suggestions for improvement.

Solitary Watch’s ‘Solitary 101′ Powerpoint Presentation

Oct 14th EMERGENCY ACTION to Support CA Prisoner Hunger Strike, San Francisco

Medical condition of hunger strikers deteriorates, some days away from death

October 11, 2011

Join the emergency action to support the California Prisoner Hunger Strike on Friday, Oct. 14, 10:30 a.m.‐1 p.m., at McAllister and Van Ness in San Francisco and tell CDCR and Gov. Jerry Brown to meet the strikers’ five core demands

by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Hunger strike supporters were there in force when Occupy Oakland was launched Monday, Oct. 10, in Frank Ogawa Plaza at City Hall, redubbed Oscar Grant Plaza by the protesters. – Photo: Sharon Peterson

Oakland – With the second phase of a massive California prisoner hunger strike in its third week, prisoners have begun to report grave medical issues. “Men are collapsing in their cells because they haven’t eaten in two weeks,” says a family member of a striker at Calipatria state prison.

“I have been told that guards refuse to respond when called. This is clearly a medical emergency.”

In an effort to isolate prisoners perceived by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to be leaders, some prisoners at Pelican Bay have been removed from the Security Housing Unit (SHU) to Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg). The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition has received reports that prison officials have been attempting to freeze out strikers held in the Ad-Seg Unit at Pelican Bay, using the air conditioning system in conjunction with cold weather conditions where the prison is located.

Last week a hunger striker in Pelican Bay was taken to a hospital in Oregon after he suffered a heart attack. Prisoners have also been denied medications, including prescriptions for high blood pressure.

The CDCR has been treating the current strike, which began on Sept. 26, as a mass disturbance and has refused negotiations. “The prisoners are saying that they are willing to take this to death if necessary to win their demands,” says Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a member of the mediation team working on behalf of the prisoners.

“Any deaths that result from the men starving themselves will be on the hands of the CDCR. We are at a point where we are calling on the media to make inquiries on prison protocol if and when prisoners begin to die. If they want to avoid that kind of scenario, the CDCR can start negotiating.”

Prisoners at Corcoran have stated, “Due to what they have done here to us, some men have stopped drinking water completely, so we may well be close to death in a few days.”

“Due to what they have done here to us, some men have stopped drinking water completely, so we may well be close to death in a few days.”

Prisoners and advocates have expressed serious concerns about the state of medical care in Corcoran, Calipatria, Pelican Bay and Salinas Valley, where the strike continues. Dr. Michael Sayre, who is the chief medical officer at Pelican Bay, was sued successfully by a prisoner in 2009 for knowingly disregarding his severe medical needs. In addition, Sayre was also investigated and disciplined surrounding the death of a prisoner in Washington State in 1992 during surgery.

“The California prison system is in federal receivership in part due to the substandard medical care provided inside,” says Terry Kupers, M.D., a member of the mediation team and an expert on prison health issues. “It is my professional opinion that the hunger strikers are not receiving the care that they need and that their conditions could be exacerbated by the CDCR, especially if force-feeding comes into play.”

Force-feeding is a common practice used against prisoners who refuse to eat and can involve forcing a tube into the person’s stomach via the nose. The practice has been widely condemned as torture by hundreds of doctors worldwide.

For continued updates and more information, go to www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.

Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, is a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. He can be reached at (510) 444-0484 or isaac@criticalresistance.org.

Emergency action to support the California Prisoner Hunger Strike

On Friday, Oct. 14, 10:30 a.m.‐1 p.m., at McAllister and Van Ness in San Francisco, prisoners’ families and other supporters will tell CDCR and Gov. Jerry Brown to meet the five core demands.

A crowd of thousands kicked off Occupy Oakland Oct. 10 - in the rain! And the thousands of prisoners on hunger strike were definitely on the agenda. - Photo: Sharon Peterson

Hundreds of prisoners around California are entering the third week of their hunger strike. CDCR refuses to negotiate with the prisoners, but the department still has not adequately addressed their five core demands. Many prisoners have said they will strike to the death in order to maintain their rights as human beings and stop the torture they are experiencing.

Call Gov. Jerry Brown at (916) 445‐2841 or fax him at (916) 558‐3160. We aim to make 160,000 calls by Friday, Oct. 14, one for every prisoner in California!

Five Core Demands

1. End to group punishment and administrative abuse.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.

3. Comply with Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.

4. Provide adequate and nutritious food.

5. Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status prisoners.

CDCR has tried to break the strike by:

• Banning family member and legal visits.

• Confiscating mail.

• Taking away all medications.

• Taking away canteen items.

• Turning on the air conditioner to keep cell temperatures cold.

• Removing prisoners to Administrative Segregation.

• Issuing disciplinary actions.

And yet, the hunger strikers remain strong.

There are 1,111 prisoners in the SHU at Pelican Bay. Over 513 have served 10 years or more in the SHU. Of those, 78 have been in the SHU for 20 years or more; 544 have been in the SHU more than five years but fewer than 10 years.

Take action!

Call Gov. Jerry Brown, CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate and your state representatives and urge them to negotiate with the prisoners and honor their demands:

• Gov. Jerry Brown, (916) 445-2841

• CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate, (916) 323-6001

• Holly Mitchell, Assembly member from Los Angeles, (310) 342-1070

• Tom Ammiano, Assembly member from San Francisco, (415) 557-3013

• Curt Hagman, Assembly member from Chino Hills, (909) 627-7021

• Nancy Skinner, Assembly member from Berkeley, (916) 319-2014

Attend or organize weekly Thursday vigils where you live. Stay tuned to www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com for more details.


Oct 14th Emergency Post also at

Related Posts


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Oct 18, 2013 UN Special Rapporteur on Torture comes to L.A. about SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN CA PRISONS


Invitation to meeting on solitary confinement in CA prisons with

Juan Mendez, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture


California holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other state or country on earth.  In 2012, over three hundred prisoners submitted a Petition to Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, alleging that their conditions of confinement violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture. In response to the prisonersPetition, Mendez requested that the US State Department authorize him to visit prisons in California. That request remains pending before the State Department.


Nevertheless, during the 2013 hunger strike, Juan Mendez granted the prisoners’ request to visit California and meet with prisoners’ family members and advocates to learn more about solitary confinement in California, and to share his views on how solitary confinement may violate the international human rights obligations of the United States. Please join us for this important meeting with Juan Mendez.

Date: Friday October 18, 2013, 9:30 am to 11:30am


Place: Immanuel Presbyterian Church

                   3300 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90010


Parking: UTLA Headquarters, 3303 Wilshire Blvd.

            Los Angeles, CA 90010 (across street from the church)


Thousands of prisoners are serving what are effectively indefinite sentences in solitary confinement inCalifornia based solely on alleged association or membership in a gang. No illegal or harmful conduct is required. Thousands more are in solitary confinement for minor infractions not involving the security of the prisons or the safety of its prisoners, visitors, or staff.

The evidence of gang association can be as trivial as who signed their birthday card, what books they read, or the art they draw. There is no trial, no rules of evidence, and no impartial hearing officer.

Concrete windowless cells are less than 8’ x 12’. Prisoners spend about 23 hours a day in these cells.They are only touched when shackled. They never feel the sun or breath fresh air.

Sponsors include California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.

RSVP: Peter Schey mailto:pschey@centerforhumanrights.org

or Dolores Canales mailto:dol1canales@gmail.com

or by telephone to Casandra Frias 213-388-8693 ext 302

Oct 9, 2013 Legislative Hearing on Solitary Confinement [Video]

Video of the hearing can be viewed or downloaded at the California state channel archives:


Look for the title “Joint Informational Hearing on Segregation Policies in California Prisons” dated October 9, 2013. It is just about four hours long, so it’s a very big file and takes a long time to download.

Here's the specific/direct link to the download:

If you have trouble downloading, contact Redwood Curtain CopWatch.

The first comments of the hearing by Assemblyperson Ammiano and Sen. Hancock are encouraging.  The first panel, while revealing and in some sick way, humorous, should disgust you.  The second and third panels are so moving.  Please watch.

Stay in strong solidarity!  END Long Term Solitary Confinement.  Stop the Torture.

Oct.5th Sacramento Demo: Support the Prisoner Hunger Strike! End Long-Term Solitary Confinement

October 5th: in Sacramento
12pm to 2pm  
CDCR Headquarters,
1515 S St.
More info call: 415-238-1801

Support the Prisoner Hunger Strike!  Support the Five Demands!

All out to Sacramento!
In SOLIDARITY, a group of us will be leaving Eureka on Tuesday night (10/4) to participate in the Oct.5th demo.  We'll stay the night in Oakland and rideshare with Bay Area folks to Sacramento on Wednesday morning!  We will return to Eureka on Wednesday night (10/5).

If you want to go, please contact Redwood Curtain CopWatch at 707.633.4493 or email copwatchrwc@gmail.com.

Find updates on the hunger strike at

and on twitter, the Hunger Strike Solidarity name is "CAHungerStrike."

Pelican Bay Short Corridor Update (Dec 2011)

A Shout-out of respect and solidarity – from the Pelican Bay Short Corridor – Collective – to all similarly situated prisoners subject to the continuing torturous conditions of confinement in these barbaric SHU & Ad/Seg units across this country and around the world.

This is our update of where things currently stand and where we’re going with this struggle – for an end to draconian policies and practices – summarized in our “Formal Complaint” (and many related documents published and posted online, since early 2011)

As many of you know… beginning in early (2010), the PBSP – SHU Short Corridor Collective initiated action to educate people and bring wide spread exposure to – the (25+) years of ongoing – progressive human rights violations going unchecked here in the California Department of Corruption – via dissemination of our “Formal Complaint” to 100’s of people, organizations, lawmakers, Secretary Cate, etc… wherein, we also sought support and meaningful change.

The response by CDCR – Secretary Cate was “file an inmate appeal” (collectively, we’d filed thousands); therefore, after much reconsideration and dialogue, the collective decided to take the fight to the next level via peaceful protest action – in the form of hunger strike.

With the above in mind – beginning in early (2011)… we again sought to educate people about the ongoing torture prevalent in these prison systems – solitary confinement units; and pointing out our position that – the administrative grievance process is a sham, and the court system’s turned a blind eye to such blatantly illegal practices – Leaving us with no other meaningful avenue for obtaining relief, other than to put our lives on the line and thereby draw the line and force changes, via collective peaceful protest hunger strike action.

We believed this was the only – fully advantageous – way for us to expose such outrageous abuse of state power, to the world and gain the outside support needed to help force real change.

We requested support in the form of – asking people to write letters to those in power… we received more support than we ever expected – in the form of letters, rallies, and hunger strike “participants” – more than (18,000) similarly situated prisoners and some people on the outside!

All united in solidarity, with a collective awareness – that the draconian torture practices described in our “Formal Complaint” are prevalent across the land; and that – united in peaceful action, we have the power to force changes.

The hunger strike actions of (2011) achieved some success, in the form of – mainstream world wide exposure – solid, continuing outside support – some small improvements to SHU/Ad-Seg unit conditions … and assurances of more meaningful – substantive changes to the overall policies and practices re: basis for placement and amount of time spent, in such units – a substantive review of all prisoners files, per new criteria – and more change to the actual conditions in such units.

However, this fight is far from over! Notably, the second hunger strike action was suspended in mid-October … in response to top CDCR administrator’s presentation that the substantive changes be finalized… would be provided to “the stakeholders” (this includes our attorneys), within 60 days for comment. To date, CDCR hasn’t produced anything re: SHU/Ad-Seg policy changes; and PBSP’s Warden has not even replied to the (2) memo’s we’ve sent him concerning – additional program – privilege issues, per core demand #5 (see footnote #1 below)

Naturally, many people are not happy about CDCR’s failure to abide by their word – again – and they are asking… “what’s the next move in this struggle?”

Based on our collective discussions, our response is … people need to remain focused, and continue to apply pressure on CDCR, via letters, emails, fax, etc… summarizing the continuing core demands – immediately! There’s real power in numbers!! (see addresses to contact below, at footnote #2)

It’s important for everyone to stay objective and on the same page – remember… united we win, divided we lose. And, if we don’t see real substantive changes within the next 6 months… we’ll have to re-evaluate our position.

Additionally, now is a good time for people to start a dialogue about changing the climate on these level IV mainlines… As it stands now, these lines are warehouses, with all the money meant for programs – rehabilitation, going into guard pockets.

It’s in all of our best interests to change this in a big way, and thereby force CDCR to open these lines up and provide all of us with the programs and rehabilitative services that we all should have coming to us!!

Respect and Solidarity,

T. Ashker, A. Castellanos, Sitawa (s/n Dewberry), A. Guillen

-Dec. 2011-

Footnote#1: To date, we’ve received zero improvements re: core demand #5 … while Corcoran and Tehachapi have gained on canteen and dip-pull up bars – which, is all good. This is an example of what we pointed out in our “Formal Complaint” re: disparate treatment at PBSP-SHU compared to other SHU’s.

This is also a typical CDCR attempt to create discord and disruption to our unified struggle…we’re certain this feeble move will fail because all of us understand what our main objective is – an end to long term torture in these isolation units! It is our fundamental right to be treated humanely… we can no longer accept state sanctioned torture – of our selves! (and, our loved ones!) and we remain unified in our resistance!!

Footnote#2: Addresses of people to write

1. Tom Ammiano, Assemblyman

Capitol Bldg. Rm# 4005

Phone# 916-319-2013

Fax# 916-319-2113 


   2. Governor Edmund G. Brown

  State Capitol, Ste #1173

Sacramento, CA 95814                                                     

     Phone# 916-446-284

     Fax# 916-558-3160

3. CDCR – Secretary Matthew Cate

1515 S. St. Ste. #330

Sacramento, CA 95811

Phone# 916-323-6001                                              


4. Carol Strickman, Attorney at Law

        1540 Market Street, Ste. #490

        San Francisco, CA 94102

       Phone# 415-255-7036

        Fax# 415-552-3150

All inmates writing to these people should be sent ‘confidential mail’ and anyone outside of prison, supporters, family members, etc… please write and also email. 

Please Speak Out Against Torture in CA Prisons! Call Jerry Brown in Support of the Hunger Strike's Demands.

Contact the Governor.
Tell him you support the prisoner hunger strike, and the prisoners' FIVE DEMANDS! 
Tell him to stop the retaliation by the CDC (California Department of Corrections) against the hunger strikers!

Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841


Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity released this press release today after two staff lawyers of the mediation team have been banned from contacting the hunger strikers.

We are currently appealing the ban to Governor Brown and will release the letter we have written his office on Monday.

We’re asking ALL supporters to pressure Governor Brown to ensure the CDCR implement the changes set forth in the prisoners’ five core demands and that the CDCR cease ALL retaliation on hunger strikers. Click here for phone numbers & a sample script.


Prisoner Hunger Strike Resumes Sept 26th!


Internationally Recognized Torture:
SHU prisoners are locked in windowless cells with a perforated steel door & concrete walls for at least 22hrs every day.

In July, 6,600 prisoners in 13 prisons across CA joined in solidarity with Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) to draw attention to 5 core demands.

However, the CDCR has not addressed the most important 5 core demands. So, the hunger strike is on again!

Five Core Demands:
1. End Administrative Abuse & Group Punishment
2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy and Modify Gang Status Criteria
3. End Long-Term Solitary Confinement
4. Provide Adequate Food
5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges

Vigils Being Held in Bay Area, CA
Thursdays 5–7pm

Sep. 29th: 14th & Broadway, OAK

Oct. 6th: UN Plaza, SF

Oct 13th: 24th & Mission, SF

Oct. 20th: Fruitvale BART, OAK


October 5th: Demonstration in Sacramento
12pm to 2pm  
CDCR Headquarters,
1515 S St.
More info call: 415-238-1801

Contact your elected officials!

--Governor Jerry Brown @ (916) 445-2841
--Secretary of CDCR Matthew Cate @ (916) 323-6001

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Prisoner Hunger Strike Will Resume September 26th!

Torture of U.S. solitary confinement continues.

Support the prisoners' Human Rights demands!

Hunger Strike Resumes in One Week!

Posted on September 19, 2011 by  

Prisoners in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) will resume their hunger strike against torturous conditions of imprisonment next Monday, Sept. 26th 2011. Read Tortured SHU Prisoners Speak Out: The Struggle Continues for more details on why they are resuming the strike.

According to family members, prisoners at Calipatria State Prison will also resume the hunger strike on Sept. 26th in solidarity with the prisoners at Pelican Bay and also to expose the brutal conditions they are in at Calipatria, where hundreds of prisoners are labeled as gang members, validated and held in administrative segregation (AdSeg) units, waiting 3-4 years to be transferred to the Pelican Bay SHU indefinitely.

The Calipatria hunger strikers have a similar, separate list of demands from the strikers at Pelican Bay, including abolish the defriefing policy & modify active/inactive gang criteria and expanding canteen/package items & programs/privileges for validated/SHU status prisoners (such as art supplies, proctored exams for correspondence courses, P.I.A. soft shoes, yearly phone calls & two annual packages).

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Prisoner Hunger Strike for Humane Treatment in Corcoran State Prison, began Dec 28, 2011

New hunger strike: Petition for improved conditions in Administrative Segregation Unit at Corcoran State Prison

"...We, inmates currently housed in Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) of CSP (California State Prison) Corcoran, hereby petition California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Director Matthew Cate and Corcoran State Prison Chief Deputy Warden C. Gipson for the redress and reform of current inhumane conditions we are subjected to which violate our constitutional rights.

Furthermore, this petition will serve as a constructive notice for the peaceful protest which will be carried out as an alternative means of petition in the event that our conditions and demands are not met in a timely manner..."

Dec 30, 2011 by Pyung Hwa Ryoo, Juan Jaimes and William E. Brown

(Written Dec. 19, 2011) To: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Director Matthew Cate, P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA 94283-0001, and Chief Deputy Warden C. Gipson, Corcoran State Prison, P.O. Box 8800, Corcoran, CA 93212

Mr. Cate and Mrs. Gipson:

This drawing by Rashid Johnson, a prisoner in solitary confinement in Red Onion Prison in Virginia, was created to symbolize the California hunger strikes that started July 1, 2011, resumed Sept. 26 and now have resumed again on Dec. 28 at Corcoran State Prison. It has become the icon of this prisoners’ rights movement.

We, inmates currently housed in Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) of CSP (California State Prison) Corcoran, hereby petition California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Director Matthew Cate and Corcoran State Prison Chief Deputy Warden C. Gipson for the redress and reform of current inhumane conditions we are subjected to which violate our constitutional rights.

Furthermore, this petition will serve as a constructive notice for the peaceful protest which will be carried out as an alternative means of petition in the event that our conditions and demands are not met in a timely manner. [A notation on the cover letter to this petition says the hunger strike started Dec. 28, 2011.]

Petitioners have attempted to address the issues brought up in this petition by filing numerous inmate appeals and grievances and requests for interviews to no avail. Our constitutional rights under the First, Fifth and 14th Amendments are being violated by CDCR and CSP Corcoran officials and therefore we demand the following:


We are daily being subjected to sensory deprivation which imposes a substantial risk of serious harm to our mental health. As established in numerous scientific studies, prolonged subjection to sensory deprivation has serious adverse effects to one’s mental health. We are subjected to these conditions for months and even years. Our numerous attempts to address this problem by filing 602s are being shut down. The officials are acting with deliberate indifference to our health and well-being, and our Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment is being violated.

Although mandated by a court order to allow inmates in ASUs to possess an entertainment appliance, CSP Corcoran officials refuse to do so citing a memorandum dated Dec. 15, 2008, that permanently exempts a number of prisons, including CSP Corcoran, from having to comply with the court’s mandates due to their “current fiscal situation and costs to retrofit housing units.” This policy is illegal, for our constitutional rights must be protected regardless of CSP Corcoran’s financial problems or the costs to make necessary installations to protect those rights.

Also, the aforementioned exemption memo states that CSP Corcoran is permanently exempt from allowing the use of entertainment appliances in the ASU. The only explanation provided on how and why this prison is exempt is a brief mention of the current fiscal situation of the prison. There is no mention of any follow-ups in a set period of time – e.g., every six months – in which the prison’s budget will be reviewed by the Division of Adult Institutions to see whether the prison still qualifies for the category that justifies exemption.

In other words, once a prison “passes the test” by showing that they currently cannot afford the costs to retrofit the housing units and get accepted in the “exemption list,” that prison is permanently exempt regardless of their financial situation in the future. This exemption policy is clearly unreasonable, and we assert that this policy is merely used as a loophole to get around the court’s mandates to allow us our entertainment appliances.

Furthermore, the exemption memo cannot apply to us because there is no extensive retrofitting required for giving us our radios. The electric outlets are in place and the radios merely need to be distributed and plugged in to work.


A) CSP Corcoran officials immediately allow us to possess and/or stipulate to allow us to possess our TVs within two months.

B) CSP Corcoran officials make the necessary installations and/or stipulations needed to allow us to possess our TVs within two months.


The ASU law library is inadequate. Its contents do not comply with CCR (California Code of Regulations) Title 15 §3121 and DOM (Department Operations Manual) §53060.11. There is only one computer that contains the only essential law books in the law library, which is supposed to be shared by 200 inmates. This results in unreasonable delays with inmates not being able to sufficiently access the law library.

There is only one computer that contains the only essential law books in the law library, which is supposed to be shared by 200 inmates.

Furthermore, there is no copy machine in the ASU law library. All our legal copies are therefore forwarded to the 4A facility law library for copying. This results in delays of days or even weeks for us to receive our copies back. Also, there have been instances where our copies have been lost resulting from this unreliable practice.


A) CSP Corcoran officials allow us access to an adequate law library and reasonable amount of time to use such law library by: 1) Ordering and replacing all current law books listed in CCR Title 15 §3121 and DOM §53060.11 which are missing from the ASU law libraries contents, or 2) Installing three more computers that contain essential law books for inmate use, or 3) Providing us with adequate legal assistance from persons trained in the law.

B) CSP Corcoran officials install a copy machine in the ASU law library for its use for legal copies and all essential legal supplies be kept in stock.


Inmates are being placed in the ASU after the completion of their SHU terms supposedly “pending transfer.” These inmates are then stuck here for four, five months, in many instances even longer, before finally being transferred to general population. This practice of illegally placing inmates in ASU upon the completion of their SHU terms for long periods of time without proper procedure and with excessive delays on their transfers is resulting in unjustified punishment for these inmates.

Furthermore, inmates undergoing the DRB (Departmental Review Board) process after the completion of their SHU terms are being held in ASU for months and even years while the counselors and committee ignore their repeated requests for a timely hearing on their case. This is in blatant violation of their procedural due process rights.

Inmates undergoing the DRB (Departmental Review Board) process after the completion of their SHU terms are being held in ASU for months and even years while the counselors and committee ignore their repeated requests for a timely hearing on their case.

The inmates submit numerous inmate requests to ASU counselors regarding the delays on their transfers and/or DRB process, but those inmate requests are not being responded to and are being ignored. The counselors are not doing their jobs because of their incompetence and/or negligence; we are suffering these undue delays explained above.


A) The counselors here in ASU do not unreasonably delay inmates’ transfers and DRB process and respond to inmate requests in a timely manner.

B) Inmates who are placed in ASU after the completition of their SHU terms be afforded the same privileges as those inmates who are classified as A2-B inmates, which includes but is not limited to quarterly packages, one phone call per month and $120 monthly canteen draws.


Medical staff here in ASU unjustifiably delays medical attention and denies proper medical treatment for inmates. Although required by the court’s order in Coleman/Plata v. Schwarzenegger to provide us with adequate medical care, which the CDCR has failed to provide before, CSP Corcoran’s medical department is not in compliance with the court’s mandates. We are suffering violations to our Eighth Amendment rights daily for lack of adequate medical care, and our health and well-being are severely jeopardized.

Furthermore, we are having difficulties pursuing timely medical appeals and grievances. The medical appeals coordinators do not follow time requirements set forth in CCR Title 15 §3084.6 and there are substantial delays on getting responses for our appeals.


A) Inmates be provided with timely medical attention upon request and provided with adequate medical care as mandated by the court in Coleman/Plata v. Schwarzenegger.

B) Medical appeals be promptly responded to pursuant to CCR Title 15 §3084.6.


We are being placed in ASU and sentenced to SHU terms without being afforded due process of law. The hearing officers automatically find inmates guilty regardless of the sufficiency or insufficiency of the evidence, and their biased perspectives and opinions go unchallenged.

Although the hearing officers are acting as lawyers and/or triers of fact in 115 hearings on the question of guilt, clearly under the guidelines of established case law concerning due process, they are not required to be trained in the law nor registered with the State Bar.

Resulting from their lack of knowledge and competence in this matter, frivolous and false charges not supported by any reliable evidence, which would be thrown out in a court of law, are being upheld and imposed on us. This violates our 14th Amendment rights to due process.


A) Hearing officers be required to follow guidelines established by the courts concerning due process, burden of proof and sufficiency of evidence when conducting 115 hearings.

B) Hearing officers be trained in the law so they may be deemed competent to carry out the duty of a trier of fact in 115 hearings.


Inmates placed in ASU are not allowed access to phones. The only way we are allowed to maintain family and community ties are by writing letters and receiving visits. Not all of us are literate, and not all of us get visits. So the denial of phone access is depriving many of us of the only way to keep in contact with our families and loved ones.

The denial of phone access is depriving many of us of the only way to keep in contact with our families and loved ones.

Furthermore, those of us currently litigating cases who need access to the phone to contact witnesses, private investigators, attorneys, courtroom clerks etc. are not allowed phone access. This results in an impingement on our First Amendment rights to access to the courts.


A) Inmates in ASU be allowed one phone call a month on an inmate telephone pursuant to CCR Title 15 §3282(a)(3).

B) Inmates in ASU be allowed confidential calls pursuant to CCR Title 15 §3282(g).


We are being denied adequate laundry exchange. There are weeks where laundry exchange is not run; most of the time during laundry exchange they are short on pillow cases, sheets and towels; and we are only allowed to turn in one of each item for laundry exchange. This clearly is not in accordance with CCR Title 15 §3031(b).


A) We be provided with a weekly laundry exchange pursuant to CCR Title 15 §3031(b).


Our canteen is being opened and food items – such as rice, soups, cookies, chips, beans, etc. – are being placed in paper bags before they’re given to us. This attracts ants and insects that go into the bags containing food and thereby pose a serious health risk. Furthermore, the food becomes stale and inedible after a few days due to the food being placed in paper bags.


A) Inmates be allowed to keep their canteen items in the plastic bags they come in and/or be allowed to purchase zip lock plastic bags from the canteen to place the food in.


Inmates in ASU are not allowed any educational and/or rehabilitative programs and/or opportunities. There is no school; we are not allowed to receive any form of correspondence course for lack of proctors, those of us who wish to learn a trade are not able to and those of us who wish to better ourselves to be better individuals of benefit to our society and other citizens are not given that chance.

Inmates in ASU are not allowed any educational and/or rehabilitative programs and/or opportunities.

Furthermore, we are currently not allowed TVs, so we are not able to partake in educational opportunities by watching educational channels or programs or participating in educational programs that are provided by the institution on the institutional channels.

This contradicts what CDCR supposedly stands for, which is to make the communities safer and rehabilitate our prisoners. We wish to better ourselves by participating in educational and/or rehabilitative programs, but we are denied this right.


A) We are afforded educational programs such as correspondence courses, proctored exams, vocational courses etc.

B) We are afforded rehabilitative programs in self-help, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous etc.

C) We be allowed to possess our TVs for educational purposes such as to partake in educational opportunities provided by the institutional as well as educational channels.


The inmates housed in the SHU are allowed certain privileges and items from canteen and packages that we are not allowed. These privileges include but are not limited to TVs; educational courses; beanies, sweats and shoes from package; photo ducats; and art supplies from canteen such as colored pens, pastels and sketch pads. Furthermore, SHU inmates are allowed exercise equipment in the yard cages, such as pull-up and dip bars.

Inmates housed here in ASU are D1/D assigned, same as the SHU inmates. Most of us are stuck in this ASU for months and even years. The fact that we currently are not afforded the same rights and privileges as SHU inmates violates our equal protection rights.


A) We be afforded the same rights, privileges, items and programs as are afforded to inmates in the SHU


We are exercising our legal right to petition in participating in a peaceful protest. This right is protected by the United States Constitution and thereby any sanctions and/or reprisals placed on us for the reason stated above is illegal and a violation of our rights.


A) No reprisals be taken on petitioners in any form or manner for the exercise of our right to petition.


We petitioners are not deprived of our constitutional rights simply because we are incarcerated behind these prison walls. We are bound by the Constitution of the United States, and therefore its protection extends to us as well. These rights have been violated and disregarded by CDCR and CSP Corcoran officials and therefore petitioners, with the support of members of their class, hereby come together to demand the redress and remedies that have been long overdue.

We are bound by the Constitution of the United States, and therefore its protection extends to us as well.

Petitioners pray that this petition and the issues addressed herein are remedied and the relief sought in each demand granted.

Pyung Hwa Ryoo, F-88924, Corcoran State Prison, ASU 1-167, P.O. Box 3456, Corcoran, CA 93212

Juan Jaimes, V-08644, Corcoran State Prison, ASU 1-165, P.O. Box 3456, Corcoran, CA 93212

William E. Brown, T-58106, Corcoran State Prison, ASU 1-169, P.O. Box 3456, Corcoran, CA 93212

This petition was sent to S. Vargas to be forwarded to the Bay View. It was typed by Kendra Castaneda. Readers are urged to write to these brothers on hunger strike.


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Remembering Attica Forty Years Later

by Dennis Cunningham, Michael Deutsch & Elizabeth Fink

PRISON LEGAL NEWS     VOL. 22 NO.9      Sept 2011

This year, September 9 will mark the 40th anniversary of the rebellion at Attica State Prison in upstate New York. As one of the prisoner leaders, L.D. Barkley, announced to the world, the rebellion was “but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed.”
The sound of Attica was heard loud and clear, but the fury at the time was reserved to the assault force: several hundred violently angry white state police officers and prison guards who carried out the massacre that ended the rebellion on September 13, 1971, with 43 men dead. The fury of the oppressed themselves has been a work in progress since that time.

L.D. was one of many politically aware prisoners in New York and elsewhere who identified with the struggle for liberation world-wide, with consciousness growing out of the civil rights movement, the urban uprisings of the 60s, and the ideology and practices of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. This consciousness was given voice in the writings of George Jackson and Eldridge Cleaver, especially Soledad Brother and Soul on Ice, whose searing indictments of injustice, racism and cruelty in California prisons echoed across the country and inspired resistance.

A manifesto demanding reform had come out of California’s Folsom Prison in 1970 and made its way around the country and into Attica, and the prisoners there had delivered a manifesto of their own to New York state authorities, which was ignored, several months before the rebellion. George Jackson was assassinated at San Quentin on August 21, 1971; a few days later the prisoners at Attica staged a surprise protest at breakfast, during which nobody ate and nobody talked. The guards were stunned and unnerved at the unanimity of the protest action.

A number of the prisoners had been involved in previous, smaller rebellions at the Tombs jail in New York City and the state prison at Auburn. Various chapters of political groups on the outside had formed inside, including the Black Panther Party and the Puerto Rican Young Lords, and the Black Muslims had a large organized contingent at Attica as well as in all other New York state prisons at that time. Political literature flowed freely, and the groups were often able to gather in the exercise yards and at various work sites and other locales in the institution. Grievances against the guards, the administration and the system were many and widely shared, especially on the part of the Black and Latino prisoners who came mainly from New York City, and almost all the rest from other big city environments like Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester.

The entire staff at Attica at the time was white except for one Puerto Rican guard who worked in a watchtower and had no contact with prisoners. The surrounding rural area of Western New York where the guards came from was mostly what some call “up South,” to denote the level of racial antipathy and outright bigotry endemic in the local population, and thus in the prison work force.

At the same time there was a strong and growing belief among the prisoners that they had clear-cut rights under the Constitution that guaranteed fair and decent treatment, as well as freedom from discrimination; that despite years of peaceful petition and advocacy, their rights were largely ignored by the prison administration; and that much of the abuse and brutality they experienced from the white guards was a matter of official policy. Many prisoners had come to feel that something must be done.

* * *

The morning of September 9, 1971, a Thursday, after rumors that two prisoners had been beaten when taken to the hole the night before, a fight broke out between a handful of prisoners and guards in a hallway when a door that prisoners used to go to the yard after breakfast was locked. A large number of other prisoners soon filled the corridor and managed to break open a gate to the central connecting point between the cellblocks, known as “Times Square,” leaving large sections of the prison open and hundreds of prisoners loose inside the institution.

Staff members began to retreat to the administration building, but many were taken hostage by groups of prisoners and finally brought together in one of the four open exercise yards, D-Yard, inside the square of huge, three-story cell blocks that formed the main prison, where hundreds of prisoners now congregated. There it was quickly established that the hostages – both guards and civilians – would be cared for decently and protected at all costs, and the large, disciplined Nation of Islam contingent took responsibility for guarding them in a protected circle in the middle of the yard while other prisoners gathered in the far corner.

The prisoners quickly began to organize themselves into groups and to form a representative council to talk things over and decide things. There were roughly 1,280 prisoners in the yard. Several injured staff members were carried on litters to a distant gate, beyond a “no-man’s-land” zone where there had been rioting, so the authorities could get them to a hospital. Thirty-nine guards and civilian employees remained in the hostage circle. The prisoners began to assemble a list of specific demands and listened to speeches from each other about the grievances they all shared. They soon had a make-shift society set up to provide protection, food, water and shelter for the hostages, distribute rations and water, and keep order among themselves.

The prisoner leadership formulated and announced an initial list of 28 demands. Leading points included replacement of two notoriously vicious and incompetent prison doctors, and better medical care generally; an end to prison censorship and slave wages; and fairness in the parole process. The leadership put out a call for independent observers to come to the prison to intercede for them, and to bear witness to the merits of their grievances and the good faith of their desire to negotiate a peaceful settlement.

They asked that the nation’s leading civil rights advocate of the day, William Kunstler, come to the prison to act as their attorney. They named other prominent citizens who were concerned with prisons or prisoners in some way, including State Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve, perhaps the only public figure in the state of New York who had previously expressed concern about the conditions and treatment of prisoners at Attica; New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, who had written about problems in the prisons; New York State Senator John Dunne, head of the Senate Committee which supposedly oversaw the administration of the prison system; publisher Clarence Jones of the Amsterdam News; Congressman Herman Badillo, and many others on a list that grew and grew. Most of them came; as many as 50 were at the prison at various times during the five days of the rebellion. Kunstler arrived and went inside to raucous welcoming cheers from the eager, charged-up crowd of prisoners – his new clients.

The authorities first planned to go in immediately with state police forces that were being assembled, plus prison guards, to recapture the yard; instead, and to his short-lived credit, the state Corrections Commissioner, Russell Oswald, came from Albany to negotiate.
With several members of the press and TV cameramen in attendance, Oswald and his assistant, Walter Dunbar, went into the yard and sat down with a council of prisoners to talk about their demands. Oswald agreed to several demands and promised to study others, discuss them outside and return. The spectacle of prisoners controlling part of the prison and publicly negotiating for humane treatment with the Commissioner of Corrections captured the attention of the American public.

When Oswald left Attica, however, apparently not realizing that the prisoners would see him on television, he denounced them for refusing to release the hostages immediately.
They saw him on TV, and saw and heard that he had betrayed their trust. The observers committee went inside and another day passed in discussion of grievances, remedies and terms. A new set of three demands emerged as the prisoners’ terms for ending the standoff: 1) that the Warden, Vincent Mancusi, be replaced; 2) that prisoners who wanted to would be removed and deported to “a non-imperialist country”; and 3) that there would be amnesty from prosecution for all prisoners involved in the rebellion for any crimes committed during the riot. Needless to say, this was much tougher to negotiate. Oswald did not come back inside the yard after he was denounced; he met with the observers but held out little hope of compromise.

Over the weekend, a guard who had been hit in the head in the early stages of the uprising, when the big gate broke and prisoners surged into Times Square, died from his injuries. Now, hypothetically at least, everyone in the riot was responsible under the felony-murder rule, where the felony was the riot. Thus amnesty became the primary issue. The guards and state police, waiting outside the prison day after day, full of hostility and bombarded by false rumors, were now seething, and the observers felt a massacre would take place if a settlement was not reached.

They urged Governor Nelson Rockefeller to come to the prison and meet with them, to give assurances against mass prosecution, and particularly to see the state of high emotion of the police and prison officers, who were spoiling for an attack. Several urged that the Governor replace the officers with National Guard troops, who were ready and much more prepared to carry out a re-taking of the prison, but he refused. He did issue an order for the prison guards to stay out of the assault force, though it was ignored.

Governor Rockefeller declined to come. He told the observers that he felt it would do no good, that there was an impasse, and that he had no choice but to order an armed assault on the yard to rescue the hostages and put down the rebellion. He was convinced to wait at least until the next day, so that people at home on Sunday would not see the retaking of the prison on TV and start riots of their own.

After three days of fitful negotiations, during which the hostages were safely guarded by the Muslim prisoners, and the prisoner negotiators, aided by the outside observers, attempted to reach a resolution that would ensure meaningful changes as well as amnesty from reprisals and prosecutions, Governor Rockefeller moved to retake the D-Yard by force. Tom Wicker, Sen. Dunne, Congressman Badillo and Clarence Jones, who had been friends with Rockefeller for years, all warned him urgently—based on their harrowing passage each day through the masses of heavily-armed, white prison guards and state police waiting just outside the walls, their racist rage fueled by false rumors of atrocities by prisoners—that an attack would result in a “bloodbath.” Conventional wisdom and plain common sense dictated waiting until the prisoners tired of holding out so that some compromise for peaceable surrender could be arranged, but the Governor ordered the state police to prepare to attack.

Rockefeller still harbored presidential aspirations and obviously did not want to appear soft on prisoners, or on law and order generally; it was an opportunity for him to make political hay and he seized it. His only, wholly self-serving, “concession” was to postpone the assault from Sunday to Monday morning. As Congressman Badillo lamented bitterly afterwards, “What was the hurry? There’s always time to die.”

* * *

That Sunday it rained all night; by morning D-Yard was a sea of mud and everyone was soaked, cold and miserable. Commissioner Oswald made one last demand for surrender over the P.A. system. Some prisoners took several of the hostages onto the “catwalk,” the one-story roof over the long corridors which divided the interior yards, crossing at Times Square. The hostages stood spaced out on two sides, blindfolded, each guarded by a prisoner holding some apparent stabbing implement at their neck.

Then a National Guard helicopter flew low over the yard and some prisoners believed it was Governor Rockefeller, come at last. Instead it blew a huge cloud of military-grade CS gas into the mass of men; Oswald and the police commanders were told by General O’Hara, the National Guard commander, that the CS would “put them on the ground” to defeat resistance, and it did. Within seconds every one of the 1,300 men in the yard was face down in the mud, gasping for breath. Then the shooting started.

Marksmen on high roofs opposite D-Yard quickly shot everyone on the catwalk—killing two of the hostage shields and several of their “executioner” escorts—as helmeted squads broke over and through the barricades the prisoners had built on the far catwalks. One shield hostage, Attica guard Michael Smith, shot four times in the gut by the attack force, said his life was saved when the prisoner holding him, Donald Noble, put his own body in the way of the shooting to protect him. Smith said he never understood why his own people kept shooting at him, or in truth, why the assault was necessary at all. He had appeared on a TV broadcast the day before in which several hostages had urged Rockefeller to come to the prison to settle things peacefully, another plea the Governor spurned.1

As the squads came out on the catwalks above D-Yard, several with long guns took up positions along the length of the roofs and began shooting into the mass of men huddled in the mud, clearly oblivious to the presence of the hostages in the middle of the yard, several more of whom died in that barrage. The “turkey shoot” lasted some fifteen minutes from when the snipers opened fire to when the supposed covering fire ended, and squads of guards and state police swarmed down ladders into the yard. More than two thousand rounds were fired, many of them dum-dum bullets.

One hundred eighty-nine of the 1,300-odd men in the yard were hit. The body count after the massacre was 39 dead – 29 prisoners and 10 hostages, including those on the catwalk – by rifle and shotgun fire. Other prisoners and hostages were maimed for life due to the denial and delay of medical care. Many who died had been left to bleed to death, lying in the mud. No records were kept of which officers fired which weapons, and they made a point of mixing them up afterwards and then bulldozed all the evidence into a dirt pile in back of the prison so the killers could not be traced.

White revolutionary Sam Melville, the alleged “Manhattan bomber,” was murdered in cold blood with his hands in the air in surrender by State Police Detective Vincent Tobia, who hurried along the catwalk, stopped, aimed down and fired a shotgun into Melville’s chest from 15-20 feet away—and later testified proudly that he had done so. The firebrand and prisoner spokesman L.D. Barkley was also killed, with credible evidence that he was seen alive after the retaking of the prison but later executed. The issue was never resolved.

Some three dozen ambulances had been mustered outside, but they were reserved for the hostages whether or not they were injured. No medical care had been planned for the prisoners, and the National Guard was forced to step in without advance preparations or adequate supplies. More than an hour after the shooting stopped, Warden Mancusi called Dr. Worthington Schenk, the head of emergency services at Meyer Memorial Hospital, the big hospital in Buffalo, and told him they had a problem and he should come out. With no idea of the massacre he was about to encounter, Schenk and two residents drove the 45 miles to Attica. Only when he got there did he see the horror, and then he called back to Buffalo for emergency medical services. Meanwhile at least six prisoners had died needlessly while scores lay in agony for hours waiting for medical care.2

After the shooting stopped, the officers on the ladders were joined by many more coming through the tunnels, as a state police helicopter circled overhead with a loudspeaker booming repeatedly, “Surrender to an officer. You will not be harmed.” The officers quickly began clubbing the gasping, unresisting prisoners to their feet, including many who were wounded, and driving them across the yard to a doorway in one of the tunnels, across the tunnel and out the door opposite into the adjacent A-Yard on the other side.
They had to go up five or six steps to the door, across the tunnel, then back down. Inside and out they were met with more officers who beat them and tore their clothes off, took away glasses, watches, false teeth, etc., then herded them naked in a long snaking line that wound slowly through the yard leading into the other tunnel next to A-Yard—which led into the A Cellblock, its cells now emptied—where a gauntlet awaited them. Those who were considered leaders, the prisoner negotiators, spokesmen and security men, were singled out for prolonged abuse.

As the prisoners waited in the long line, which many people have seen in lurid photographs that have became hallmarks of that day, listening to the cries of those who preceded them into the tunnel, and the shouts and curses of the officers who lined the tunnel with rifles and axe handles, beating them, another preliminary torment was also inflicted upon them. There was one prisoner everyone knew as Big Black (Frank Smith), a leader during the days in the yard, chosen as the overall chief of security and head of the escort squad that protected Oswald and Dunbar, and then the observers, when they moved in and out of the prison.

Mostly a smalltime hustler from the streets of Brooklyn, Big Black had been in Attica for several years—basically due to rotten lawyering and conflict of interest whereby he received a sentence three or four times longer than he should have—but he had not become involved in any of the political activities or groups which had developed in the prison, except as audience. A large dark-skinned man, very direct but with a ready, friendly smile, he coached the cellblock football team, worked in the laundry and was on good terms with everyone; everyone respected him, even the police. But they changed their attitude during the five days of the rebellion as he stayed at the center of things, directing the security force and turning up repeatedly at the gate where the visitors came and went.

Now, as the smoke cleared and the huddled men started struggling up, officers came through the crowd shouting for “Big Black! Where’s Big Black?” They found him, beat him and stripped him, then took him across into A-Yard. There they laid him on a steel table near the door where the curving line of prisoners fed into the gauntlet, with the middle of the back of his head at one edge lengthwise and the other end reaching to mid-thigh. They beat him some more, especially in the groin and testicles, cursing him loudly and stubbing out cigarettes on his body. Officers above him on the catwalk would hold empty shell casings in the flame of a lighter until they were too hot, then drop them on his body. They put a football under his chin and made him hold it against his chest, telling him that if it fell he would be castrated or shot. They left him there for others to see, keeping the torment up for more than five hours as the line slowly snaked past him into the tunnel.

Inside the tunnel the floor was strewn with broken glass for some 50 yards, to the A Cellblock gate, and both sides were lined with officers with ax handles, 2x4s, baseball bats and rifle butts. The naked prisoners had to run, or, when they were tripped or knocked down, stumble and crawl the length of the tunnel, while being struck and jabbed repeatedly over the whole distance by violently freaked-out, cursing, sworn peace officers of the State of New York, all white men. Inside the cellblock they were herded up the stairs and into cells—four or five men stuffed into single cells, including many who needed medical attention. There they remained, naked, ill fed and often terrorized throughout the night by officers who came in with flashlights and threatened to shoot them, frequently cocking and dry-firing rifles, shotguns and pistols at them, and promising more death and mayhem to come, for the next 3 to 5 days.

Big Black was finally removed from the table at about four in the afternoon—after around five hours—and taken to the hospital outside the main building. There he was put in a small room with several guards armed with clubs, who resumed beating and kicking him until a National Guard medical officer happened to open the door and find him, and that was the end of it. Twenty years later he broke down weeping on the witness stand while describing that day during a class-action civil rights trial—despite having told the story many times—when the memory hit him full force. He was the first of several witnesses who broke down and cried at the trial.

Afterwards, a news photographer found and recorded a pair of inscriptions, in separate hands, written with a white marker on a dark steel wall that succinctly told the story of the Attica rebellion. The top one said, “Attica fell 9-9-71 – Fuck you pig!” Just underneath that was written, “Retaken 9-13-71. 31 Dead Niggers.”

* * *

State officials falsely announced to the world that the dead hostages had been killed by prisoners who slit their throats and emasculated one of them, which they said they had seen and left them “no choice” but to attack. When autopsies revealed that the slain hostages had died from gunshot wounds from the lawmen’s weapons, state officials denounced local pathologist John Edland as a communist and tried to discredit his findings. As Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Three years later, when the Erie County population in and around Buffalo was polled in preparation for jury selection during the first criminal trials, it was found that fully a third of the public still incorrectly believed that the dead Attica hostages had been murdered by prisoners.

The truth could not be suppressed, however, and the massacre – one of the two or three largest slaughters of Americans by other Americans since the Civil War3 – was acknowledged in an official investigation, the McKay Commission Report. There had been no plan to rescue the hostages; they were simply sacrificed at the altar of race hate and in aid of Rockefeller’s political ambitions. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals denounced the so-called “re-housing” of prisoners after Attica was retaken as “an orgy of brutality.”

To add insult to the grave injury, many of the surviving victims of the massacre and torture at Attica were later indicted by a local grand jury made up of friends and neighbors of the prison guards and run by a Rockefeller intimate, Robert E. Fischer, a former judge who was appointed as a special attorney general. A large task force of lawyers and ex-state police officers, acting as investigators, looked into alleged crimes by the prisoners and studiously ignored those of the police and state officials. A later investigation uncovered the intentional killing of unarmed prisoners by the state assault force, but that investigation was suppressed and—with the exception of one hapless trooper who was indicted for “reckless endangerment” for discharging his shotgun twelve times to “keep up the noise,” as he put it—no charges were filed against the police.
Sixty-two prisoners were indicted in December 1972 and charged with over 1,200 felony counts in total, more than half of which carried a life sentence upon conviction. Lawyers and activists from all over the United States came to Western New York to defend them.
Attica Brothers Legal Defense (ABLD) was born, combining the legal defense with public education, fundraising and investigation of the crimes committed by state actors, and justice for the Attica Brothers became a nationwide political issue.

The main demand was to drop the criminal charges, plus jail Rockefeller and the police killers. Hundreds of people demonstrated in Buffalo where the trials were to be held; thousands participated in one great march in September 1974, when the first frame-up trials were about to start. Many of those who came to work for ABLD, including the authors of this article, had their lives dramatically changed by the Brothers’ example of militancy and courage, and by the reality of how far the state was willing to go to suppress the rights and righteous protest of prisoners. In all, five trials (involving eight Attica Brothers) were held, resulting in four acquittals and one conviction.

A national political campaign was initiated under the leadership of Big Black, whose experiences at Attica had transformed him into a committed activist. Dozens of lawyers and young people volunteered, organized and demonstrated, forcing official investigations which exposed the planning and cover-up of the killings and torture. In late 1974 a young lawyer on the special prosecutor’s staff, Malcolm Bell, quit in disgust after his efforts to develop cases against abusive officers were repeatedly blocked by higher-ups. He went to the New York Times with his story and soon a major exposé appeared on the paper’s front page, telling the world what everyone involved in the case already knew: that the special investigation was a one-sided fraud.

An investigation into the investigation was launched and, ultimately, a new governor, Hugh Carey, was pressured to give amnesty to the indicted Attica Brothers and clemency for two who had already been convicted, calling the Attica prosecutions the “darkest day in the history of New York jurisprudence.” Twenty years and tens of thousands of work hours later, despite the concerted efforts of state officials to delay and defeat any public accounting for what had occurred at Attica, a class-action civil suit on behalf of the Brothers in D-Yard was tried in federal court in Buffalo in 1991. For the first time the full extent of the killing, brutality and denial of medical care inflicted on the men of Attica was publicly exposed.

The jury found that the rights of the class members had been violated by the brutality they experienced when and after the prison was retaken; however, the jury split over whether any of the four officials on trial were responsible. They assigned blame for the beatings in the yard and the tunnel, and for other tortures that occurred that day, to just one assistant warden, Karl Pfeil, the only one of the four defendants who was part of the planning and then personally oversaw the brutality.

The jury hung on responsibility for the torture as to the other three defendants: Commissioner Oswald, who had died; Major Monahan of the State Police, commander of the assault force, also deceased; and Warden Mancusi. At a subsequent damages trial in 1997, a different jury returned an award of $4 million for Big Black, and another verdict awarded $75,000 to David Brosig, who was selected as an example of a prisoner who suffered the average level of harm common to all of the class members not singled out for special vengeance after the assault.

Refusing to resolve the case, the state appealed the liability verdict. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, still beholden to the legacy of Rockefeller—and obviously determined to protect the State of New York from liability for the tens of millions of dollars the two damage verdicts indicated the Brothers were entitled to—refused to recognize the legal validity of the class of prisoners and set aside the jury verdicts.

Faced with the impossibility of returning to square one with 1,200-odd individual cases as ordered by the court, and with the likelihood of further delay, uncertainty and clearly impossible expense, the Brothers still involved in 1999 agreed to an inadequate settlement totaling $12 million, including attorneys fees, for a quarter-century of legal work. This meant that most of the survivors received only a few thousand dollars, which in light of the two damage awards was a wretched pittance for what they went through. [Ed. note: In 2005 the State of New York agreed to pay a $12 million settlement to surviving prison employees and relatives of the hostages who were killed].

* * *

For a time, the horrific events at Attica, followed by several other less-publicized prison uprisings and riots elsewhere, fueled nationwide efforts for prison reform. Programs for prisoners and ex-prisoners were instituted throughout the country and for the first time people began to be sympathetic to the rights of prisoners, and to realize the importance of realistic efforts at rehabilitation. Prisoners’ rights legal programs were established in almost every state and many prison reform and watchdog groups sprung up. It was a period of political militancy and unrest throughout the country, and there were the beginnings of awareness in many sectors of the population that prisoners were subject to widespread mistreatment and abuse by their captors. Even the federal courts—often as a result of prisoners acting as their own lawyers—began to recognize for the first time that prisoners had constitutional rights, including the right to due process prior to discipline and parole denials, the First Amendment right to literature and mail, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment in the form of deplorable prison conditions.

But it didn’t last. Before long the emphasis on prisoners’ rights, and prison reform, began to evaporate in the heat of the nascent “war on drugs”—especially in New York, with the infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws—and with “tough on crime” politics generally. In the mid-1970s a series of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the protections earlier envisioned as guarantees of prisoners’ welfare and dignity. Instead the Court sanctioned supposed due process rules, which prison officials could satisfy by simply creating bureaucratic procedures and paper records in dealing with complaints and disciplinary actions that rarely if ever were decided in a prisoner’s favor, and never when it was a prisoner’s word against a guard’s.

Also, rather than implement programs of rehabilitation, prisoncrats throughout the country began to develop special solitary confinement units—control units—with sensory deprivation cells, where they isolated prisoners they identified as being activists and politically-aware. Public support for reform and rehabilitation waned, and Attica for many was just past history.

Then, as time went on, mandatory sentencing, increased penalties for drug crimes, gang proscriptions and an epidemic of “three-strike” laws and other draconian sentencing “enhancements” resulted in a virtual incarceration explosion in America. Hundreds of new prisons were built all over the country, replete with every phenomenally complex, expensive, high-tech electronic security and surveillance system and device that anyone could invent, especially if it could be sold to the government in large quantities. From 1972 to the present the total U.S. prison population increased from about 400,000 to more than 2.3 million, as the prison industrial complex blossomed into big business with big corporate profits.
During that time the upswing in popular consciousness flowing from the disgrace and vanquishing of Nixon and the end of the Vietnam war—as well as the response to earlier events like the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State, along with Attica—soon leveled off in Gerald Ford’s “stagflation” and the weirdness of the Carter presidency, which was blown up by the hostage crisis in Iran. Then came an election in which Carter—besides being snookered by Reagan agents in a secret deal with the Iranians to hold the hostages until after the election, to deny him the campaign triumph of bringing them home—was simply overmatched.

More to the point, Reagan and his ad agency handlers ran an overtly racist campaign—brazenly kicking it off in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the notorious slaughter of three young civil rights workers in 1964, and denouncing “welfare queens” and supposed freeloaders—that appealed shamelessly to the prejudice of white working-class people in cities filled with “Reagan Democrats.” Reagan trumpeted the politics of anti-communism and crime while building an atmosphere of fear and selfishness in which those politics would thrive, and they did. The backlash had arrived.

“We’re going to move this country so far to the right you won’t recognize it,” crowed Congressman-turned-Reagan Budget Director David Stockman, as he began to engineer the first of the preposterous tax cuts for big corporations and the rich that ultimately led to the country’s present evident bankruptcy. From there on, governance was more and more a matter of conscious stage management. The perfect actor was in the White House, and he set a tone of truculence and unyielding moralistic harshness, with unmistakable racial undertones, that was perfectly adapted to the emerging use of mass incarceration.

As the American population came to identify more and more as the “Me Generation,” and activist elements—beleaguered by FBI “counterintelligence” (COINTELPRO) and kindred programs of repression all over the country—largely drifted into the by-ways of identity politics, administrators of growing bureaucratic empires in state prison departments systematically set aside what federal judge Marvin Frankel once identified as an “elementary” understanding: that “people are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment.”

Finally, the larger trend was sealed with the ghastly, successful, racist exploitation of the Willie Horton story in the 1988 presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis and George Bush the elder (first former head of the CIA to become president), and to an important degree in just about every campaign for high office thereafter. The “lock-em-up and forget about ‘em” mentality became an article of faith across the political spectrum, and has flourished.4

Rehabilitation, education and training programs wilted everywhere, with the supposedly excessive cost—in the growing “big government is the problem” atmosphere —always being the cover story. In reality, prisons old and new were filling up with drug offenders and alleged members of “criminal street gangs,” who were growing up on streets where the would-be revolution of the 60s and 70s was now played out, and a flood of illicit drugs played in—apparently much of it supplied by the CIA and associated instrumentalities of capitalist culture.

The politics that had been rife in the prisons at the time of Attica gave way to internal red-blue rivalries among both Latinos and Blacks, and inter-racial conflicts, often systematically promoted and manipulated by jailors who were well aware that “if they’re fighting each other, they’re not fighting us.” With such an approach, the prison system became the focal point for a much-heightened level of social control, especially of Black and Brown men, who were increasingly crowded out of a shrinking labor market as entire industries continued to be dismantled, exported and made obsolete.

Outside, anti-drug propaganda and legislative scourgings of drug and gang defendants suffused the public sphere. The Supreme Court did its part with one anti-prisoner ruling after another—decisions where the iron law that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely was studiously ignored. The Court granted jailors and wardens more and more arbitrary power and discretion over the daily lives of convicts, shrinking further and further the process of any accountability for, or recourse from, the many perverse ways they misused that power. Lower courts were instructed to defer to prison officials whenever possible, while barely showing even the slightest awareness of the likelihood that the power they conferred would be abused. In the midst of this transition, the Control Unit paradigm continued to gain strength.

Possibly the first control unit as such was established in what was then the federal maximum security institution—the notion of “maxi-maxi,” now morphed to “supermax,” was just coming into play—at Marion in downstate Illinois, also a substantially “up South” region. Prisons had always had solitary confinement units for punishing rule violators, but the idea here was different; namely, that certain prisoners had to be permanently separated from the general population due to their supposed influence on other prisoners. At Attica before the rebellion, prisoners overtly involved in prison and political issues or organizing were just beginning to be recognized, and grouped together and dealt with together.

It was just such a grouping, from a certain tier, “5th Company,” including Sam Melville, L.D. Barkley and several others killed on Sept. 13, that started up with the guards in the tunnel when they found the door to the yard locked, which brought on the Attica riot. At Marion, authorities decided that certain prisoners associated with protest on the inside or political causes on the outside, or both—men respected by other prisoners—as well as some whose resistance was more directly acted out, should be subjected to programs of “behavior modification” in the form of prolonged isolation with basically uncertain terms for release, whereby they could be conditioned to submission. Which is to say, broken.

The idea caught on. Predictably the courts accepted this practice, determining that as long as a prisoner was let out-of-doors for an hour or so each day, or maybe every other day, he could be kept locked up alone all the rest of the time—or at least until he was deemed by officials to have satisfied some unknown standard or prescription for correct conduct, or had served a peremptory minimum term, perhaps fixed by the government shrinks who now began to appear in profusion to certify the supposed need for this new segregation regimen. All the officials had to say was that confinement in such Security Housing Units (SHUs) was not intended as punishment, and they quickly learned how to pronounce whatever formulaic justifications and rationales the courts said they needed to hear.

Soon isolation units were being established in prisons everywhere, and it was not long before they were being specially constructed in new prisons. An early refinement was construction of isolation cells that had their own adjacent outdoor space, to eliminate the need to move prisoners outside their cells. These outdoor “dog pens” were similarly cramped (the usual cell size was 6x8 feet, while the yards were perhaps 6x10 feet) with nothing but high, blank walls and a patch of sky, which the sun or moon might or might not ever pass over. The front doors of the cells were solid, maybe with a pattern of small holes for ventilation, with a meal slot, only openable from the outside, where food is shoved in on a tray and where prisoners have to back up and stick their hands out behind them through the opening to be cuffed and chained before they can come out for any reason.

Many cells were painted entirely white, and some are reputed to have rounded angles at the tops of the walls, so the eyes are deprived of even the tiny stimulus of a ceiling line. A light is usually kept on at all times. In the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison in California—an isolation unit inside an isolation prison—prisoners are permitted an “appliance,” a small-screen TV which also picks up (and is sometimes rigged by staff to not pick up) one or more local or regional radio stations. Prisoners also have a small space for property, including the boxes of their transcripts and legal materials (if they have not been confiscated).

Such units came to be all the rage in U.S. “penology,” especially as gangs and supposed gangs began to proliferate during the 1980s, and before long entire prisons were being designed and built for long-term solitary confinement, typically located as far as possible from population centers so as to discourage visitation and promote the feeling and pressure of isolation. The federal government built a supermax facility in the Colorado mountains, at Florence; Illinois put theirs at Tamms, all the way at the other end of the state from Chicago, and California built one as far away from Los Angeles as possible – about 780 miles north, at Pelican Bay. Again, many of the locations chosen were distinctively “up South.”

And if you build it you have to keep it full, to justify the trouble and expense. Thus you must have a steady supply of dangerous characters you can classify as needing segregation from others in long-term lockdown, with “the worst of the worst” being the ominous description usually used. As the prison population swelled in the 80s and 90s, and red vs. blue gang rivalries developed on the streets and inside, prison officials relied on supposed “validation” of gang membership as the criterion for assignment to SHUs.
And like other political figures, they used propaganda about the supposed menace of the gangs, and the difficulties and dangers of dealing with them, to encourage and maintain public indifference to what prisoners were going through on the inside.

SHU isolation obviously falls short of the vile regimen of dogs, nakedness, hoods and other tactics ordained by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and worked up by the Army and the CIA at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and other places used to hold prisoners taken in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, particularly in light of the manifest intention to degrade and break those subjected to isolation, and the institutional as well as individual disposition to de-humanize prisoners, SHU segregation absolutely qualifies as torture under both U.S. and international law.

Particularly with respect to alleged gang members who are locked down, there is the added feature that the regimen of enforced isolation and sensory deprivation is explicitly designed to extract information in the form of so-called “debriefing” of information about the gang and other gang members, which brings that practice even more solidly within the legal definition of torture.5 Indeed, in California and other places, debriefing of prisoners considered by authorities to be gang members and confined in SHUs on that basis has become a burning issue within the larger issue of long-term confinement generally. Debriefing—in which prison “intelligence” officers insist that a prisoner’s betrayal of the gang and gang members be so abject and complete that “they will never accept you back”—marks a prisoner for violent retribution for life, and also greatly endangers their family on the outside.

Most prisoners understand that regardless of the promises that are made, sooner or later they will likely be left unprotected or again placed in solitary. Debriefing is thus not a realistic option—as the authorities well know, much as they also know that after years in the SHU there’s nothing much a prisoner can tell them about gang activities that would be of any use—yet still that is the impossible hoop they hold up for these men to jump through. Some prisoners have been confined the whole time the tormentarium has been open, 20 years and even longer. No wonder there were no scruples at Abu Ghraib.

* * *

Most recently, first in Georgia, then briefly in Ohio and now in California just this summer, prisoners held in long-term isolation units were driven to the point of mass hunger strikes. Prisoners in the SHU at Pelican Bay were able to organize despite their concerted isolation. The Pelican Bay hunger strike drew unified support across racial lines on the inside, a remarkable development and accomplishment which apparently helped to spread the message to other prisons up and down the state.

The strike was planned weeks in advance and for once there was strong, effective support on the outside, resulting in broad coverage in the mainstream press, which is usually oblivious to prison conditions.6 The brothers who initiated the hunger strike said they were hoping that maybe three or four hundred prisoners at Pelican Bay would participate; after about two weeks more than six thousand prisoners, in at least 12 institutions statewide, had refused meals in support of the strike and its core demands, which included an end to the SHU debriefing requirement.7

After three weeks an assistant commissioner from Sacramento sat down at a table with prisoner representatives, and allowed them to hold a conference call with a team of outside negotiators that had formed to help and intercede on their behalf. Some token concessions were made regarding living conditions, along with a promise that the need for and possibility of changes in the SHU system would be discussed within the state administration and further talks would be held. Believing they had made real progress, especially in gaining public attention and getting a promised hearing on SHU conditions and policies in the state legislature, the prisoners agreed to accept those assurances in good faith but without illusions, to see what would happen.

The four hunger strike leaders sent out the following message:

We’ll see soon enough where the CDCR is really coming from. More important is the fact that while the Strike is over, the resistance and struggle to end our subjection to human rights violations and torture in the SHU is just beginning!! We’ve drawn the line on this, and should the CDCR fail to carry out meaningful changes in a timely fashion, we will initiate a class action suit and additional types of peaceful protest—we will not stop until the CDCR ends illegal policies and practices in the SHU.

We’re counting on all of our outside supporters to continue to collectively support us, and carry on shining a light on our resistance in here. This is the time for change in these prisons, and the movement to do so is growing across the land. Without the people’s support outside, we can not be successful!! All support, no matter the size and content, comes together as a powerful force; we’ve already brought more mainstream exposure about these SHUs than ever before, and our time for real change to this system is now!!! [emphasis added]

It is true that, in keeping with the increasing dog-eat-dog reality of American life in general, street gangs in many places and drug dealers everywhere have disrupted society and often prey on their own communities—which is endemic in the predictable chaos arising from the country’s failure to learn from its experience that prohibition doesn’t work. But the fact is that a substantial majority of prisoners are jailed for non-violent offenses, and are themselves victims of a racist system that denies them opportunities for education and any real chance of obtaining decent jobs.

Moreover, most prisoners will be released at some time, despite the draconian sentences heedlessly inflicted on so many of them. If they don’t receive education and training in prison, and instead are maltreated, disrespected and left hopelessly idle and bored, while there are no jobs available upon their release, the cycle of crime and incarceration will obviously continue – as it has to enormous societal cost in all ways.

Currently almost two-thirds of prisoners who get out commit another crime within three years of release. In California, huge numbers are returned to prison for the most minor, non-criminal infractions of parole conditions as a matter of policy, decreed by the state’s punishment overlords. Only now, as a result of the tax-debt-budget crisis fomented in the political sphere—and in California due to the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a lower three-judge court order, after many years of litigation, directing the state to move or release some 40,000 prisoners to relieve overcrowding—is there renewed impetus to look seriously at who is sent to prison, why and on what terms, and what happens to them upon their release.

Despite the difficult climate, prisoners continue to organize and protest inside; and finally, hopefully, as the depredations of the wealthy classes on society as a whole awaken the conscience of more and more people, especially youth, there has been a rejuvenation of support groups for prisoners on the outside. The recent protests embodied in the California hunger strike and its public support, following earlier work inside and outside challenging the gouging of prisoners and their families by phone companies in cahoots with “corrections” officials, are examples that show the spirit of resistance is still alive.

It should be clear, however, that a prison reform movement based on the fiscal needs of cash-strapped governments will not bring about real change. Unless we begin to deconstruct the whole system that denies real opportunity to such large and growing numbers of people, and transform the class-based and racist enforcement structures of the criminal justice system, prisons will continue to be used as warehouses and torment centers for those who are expendable in the larger political economy – especially those who act out their resentment or resistance.

Rather, we need a movement that demands an end to discrimination and exploitation, and to draconian prison sentences, conditions and treatment, and which fights for equal opportunity, education and decent jobs. Prisons should be reserved for only the truly dangerous, always with the goal of rehabilitation and release, and with adequate resources provided to achieve those objectives in positive ways.

We would do well to hearken back to the revolutionary spirit that motivated the Attica rebellion – a demand for justice led by those who are oppressed. But we must remember as well the message from the brothers at Pelican Bay: “Without the people’s support outside, we cannot be successful!” As Big Black said, “Wake up, because nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream!”

Dennis Cunningham, Michael Deutsch and Elizabeth Fink, along with Joseph Heath, were staff attorneys at Attica Brothers Legal Defense in Buffalo throughout the criminal trial phase, which ended in February 1976. They continued as lawyers for the Attica Brothers in a civil suit that was filed in 1974 and finally ended in 2001. They wrote this article exclusively for Prison Legal News.


1 Michael Smith remains a stalwart witness for and friend and supporter of the surviving Attica Brothers, four decades afterwards, and will be present in New York City to join in the 40th anniversary commemorations.

2 The famous pathologist Michael Baden reviewed the autopsy reports and testified at trial in 1991 that Sam Melville and L.D. Barkley, both wounded in the lungs, both might well have been saved if they had received timely medical attention when the shooting stopped.

3 More people were slaughtered by the U.S. Army at (the first) Wounded Knee, for example, in 1890, and at Sand Creek, Idaho in 1875; and as many or more probably also died in the race riots at Tulsa in 1921.

4 In the 90s, Bill Clinton, the hustler president, aiming as he did so often to beat the reactionaries at their own game, promoted and then signed the so-called Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which basically shut down federal relief from wrongful convictions of state prisoners; he also signed into law the Prison Litigation Reform Act, in reality a litigation suppression act which put huge, malicious and legally perverse impediments on civil rights lawsuits filed by prisoners and lawyers trying to represent them.

5 The U.N. Convention Against Torture states: Part I, Article 1, 1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. * * * *
Article 2, 1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. 2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. 3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

U.S. law, Title 18, Sec. 2340 of the U.S. Code, is more restrictive, requiring infliction or threat of pain, or forced drugging or some similar extension beyond simply “any act” by which severe mental pain is inflicted.

6 Indeed the mighty New York Times covered the hunger strike, belatedly as to Pelican Bay but in terms that were admirably straight from the shoulder, considering the demand that long-term isolation be ended. See: “Cruel Isolation,” New York Times editorial, August 1, 2011 (www.nytimes.com/2011/08/02/opinion/cruel-isolation-of-prisoners.html?_r=...). In contrast, the supposedly liberal San Francisco Chronicle was happy to banner-headline the propaganda smear of the authorities, who claimed the always-handy-to-take-the-blame gangs were enforcing the strike. The paper was then silent on the whole affair when a peaceful compromise was reached, obligating CDCR to consider real changes and negotiate further to end the strike. That’s not news, in the Chronicle’s commanding view, meaning it was not something negative about the supposed “worst of the worst”—whom California prison officials hold in such deep torment that they began to starve themselves in protest. See: “Gang ties alleged in hunger strike,” San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area section, July 14, 2011.

7 The five core demands were: 1) End group punishment and administrative abuse; 2) Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria; 3) Comply with the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement; 4) Provide adequate and nutritional food; and 5) Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for prisoners held in indefinite SHU status. See: https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/the-prisoners-deman....

Report Sheds Light On Dire Prison Conditions For Youth Offenders Serving Life Sentences

By The Public Record   Jan 5th, 2012

You probably know that the United States has more people in jail than any other country in the world. The staggering number is 2.3 million. China, which has four times as many people as the US, is a distant second with 1.6 million prisoners.

What you may not know is that the US also tops the charts in the numbers of youth offenders serving life without parole sentences in adult US prisons. The score? The world: 0; the US: 2,570.

Right. The US is only country in the world that incarcerates people in adult prisons for crimes they committed when they were below the age of 18.

Furthermore, those prisoners experience conditions that violate fundamental human rights. That’s the depressing conclusion of a new study by Human Rights Watch, “Against All Odds: Prison Conditions for Youth Offenders Serving Life without Parole Sentences in the United States.”

Three months from now, in March, the US Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of the life-without-parole sentence for youth offenders.

The 47-page report draws on six years of research, and interviews and correspondence with correctional officials and hundreds of youth offenders serving life without parole. Human Rights Watch found that nearly every youth offender serving life without parole reported physical violence or sexual abuse by other inmates or corrections officers. Nationwide statistics indicate that young prisoners serving any type of sentence in adult prison, as well as those with a slight build and low body weight, are most vulnerable to attack.

“Children who commit serious crimes and who inflict harm on others should be held accountable,” said Alison Parker, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “But neither youth offenders, nor any other prisoner, should endure any form of physical abuse.” Most of the life-without-parole inmates have been convicted of homicide offenses.

“The penalty [of life without parole] forswears altogether the rehabilitative ideal…. For juvenile offenders, who are most in need of and receptive to rehabilitation, the absence of rehabilitative opportunities or treatment makes the disproportionality of the sentence all the more evident,” the report says.

This new research sheds light on the severity of prison conditions for those serving this sentence, Human Rights Watch said.

“Scared to death,” said a youth offender serving life without parole in California. “I was all of 5’6”, 130 pounds and they sent me to PBSP (Pelican Bay State Prison in California). I tried to kill myself because I couldn’t stand what the voices in my head was saying…. ‘You’re gonna get raped.’ ‘You won’t ever see your family again.’”

Youth offenders are serving life without parole sentences in 38 states and in federal prisons. They often enter adult prison while still children, although some have reached young adulthood by the time their trials end and they begin serving their sentences. Prison policies that channel resources to inmates who are expected to be released often result in denying youth serving life without parole opportunities for education, development, and rehabilitation, Human Rights Watch found.

Youth offenders commonly reported having thoughts of suicide, feelings of intense loneliness, or depression. Isolation was frequently compounded by solitary confinement. In the past five years, at least three youth offenders serving life without parole sentences in the United States have committed suicide.

The federal government and the states should abolish the sentence of life without parole for crimes committed by children, Human Rights Watch said. Government officials responsible for youth offenders should reform confinement conditions to accommodate their particular vulnerabilities, needs, and capacities to mature, reflect upon the harm they have caused, and change.

“Because children are different, shutting the door to growth, development, and rehabilitation turns a sentence of life without parole into a punishment of excessive cruelty,” said Parker. “Youth offenders should be given a path to rehabilitation while in prison – not forced to forfeit their future.”

Yet, lifers with the opportunity of parole (LWOP’s) experience a lack of educational opportunities. “LWOPs cannot participate in many rehabilitative, educational, vocational training or other assignments available to other inmates with parole dates…. The supposed rationality is that LWOPs are beyond salvagability and would just be taking a spot away from someone who will actually return to society someday,” the report says, quoting a youth offender serving life without parole in California.

Another inmate, this one in Arkansas, told Human Rights Watch (HRW), “I would be ever grateful… for the chance to spend my life now for some good reason. I would go to the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan…or jump on the first manned mission to Mars…. if the state were to offer me some opportunity to end my life doing some good, rather than a slow-wasting plague to the world, it would be a great mercy to me.”

The HRW report said, “Our research has found that youth offenders are among the inmates most susceptible to physical and sexual assault during their incarceration. Many are placed in isolated segregation to protect them or to punish them, some spending years without any but the most fleeting human contact.

Because of their sentence, youth offenders serving life without parole face the additional burden of being classified in ways that deprive them of meaningful opportunities while in prison. Many are denied access to educational and vocational programs available to other inmates. Finally, facing violence, stultifying conditions, and the prospect of lifelong separation from family and friends, many youth offenders experience depression and intense loneliness. Failed by prison mental health services, many contemplate and attempt suicide; some succeed.”

The report found that none of the 560 youthful offenders contacted by Human Rights Watch had managed to avoid violence in prison. When prison officials tolerate such violence, it constitutes a serious human rights abuse.

Youth offenders often spend significant amounts of their time in US prisons isolated from the general prison population. Such segregation can be an attempt to protect vulnerable youth offenders from the general population, to punish infractions of prison rules, or to manage particular categories of inmates, such as alleged gang members.

Youth offenders frequently described their experience in segregation as a profoundly difficult ordeal. Life in long-term isolation usually involves segregating inmates for 23 or more hours a day in their cells. Offenders contacted by Human Rights Watch described the devastating loneliness of spending their days alone, without any human contact, except for when a guard passes them a food tray through a slot in the door, or when guards touch their wrists.

HRW makes a series of recommendations to federal, state and local judges and prison officials. All are preceded by HRW’s longstanding call to state and federal governments to “abolish the life without parole sentence for all youth offenders and abolish the automatic trial of youth in adult criminal courts and their mandatory incarceration in adult prisons.”

William Fisher has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt’s agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the international affairs area in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He began his working life as a reporter and bureau chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Associated Press in Florida. He now reports on a wide-range of issues for a number of online journals.


Reps of CA Prisoner Hunger Strike called for Statewise Truce Among Prisoners

Short Corridor Collective Calls for Statewide Truce Among Prisoners

by prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity

Representatives of the CA Hunger Strike issued a statement calling for an end to all violence and hostility between different groups of prisoners throughout the state of CA from maximum security prisons to county jails. The truce is set to begin October 10th, 2012.

Read the entire announcement from the Short Corridor Collective here.

In their statement sent to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, the representatives explain: 

We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!! Because the reality is that collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force, that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners, and thereby, the public as a whole… and we simply cannot allow CDCR/CCPOA – Prison Guard’s Union, IGI, ISU, OCS, and SSU, to continue to get away with their constant form of progressive oppression and warehousing of tens of thousands of prisoners, including the 14,000 (+) plus prisoners held in solitary confinement torture chambers [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg Units] for decades!!!

Read the entire announcement  BELOW

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SUICIDED: On the recent suicides of prisoner hunger strikers


The CDC's [CA Department of Corrections'] shameless attempt to suppress the tragic loss of life of three recent hunger strikers has inevitably failed in the whole, despite the fact that it still refuses to knowledge its own complicity with regards to the particular details surrounding these deaths. The essential facts are widely known among the prison masses.

This comes as no surprise for those of us familiar with the practices of the CDC. Yet for those naïve to the CDC's duplicity, there are valuable lesson to be learned from all of this. With respect to the three men who needlessly lost their lives, it is significant that we not pass judgment on them prematurely.

The taking of one's own life is a conscious decision, and such a decision is as relevant as the surrounding conditions that gave rise to the decision itself. This inseparability between our consciousness and our environmental conditions is summed up well in Karl Marx’s simple, yet revealing, statement:

       “…the ‘ideal’ is nothing more that the material world reflected in the human brain and translated into forms of thought….”

To speak of these avoidable deaths in the context of “suicides" is to legitimize the state's role in creating the oppressive conditions that resulted in these deaths, and thus, exonerates it of responsibility.

To judge the suicides based solely upon the “possible” decisions of these three individuals alone is to allow ourselves to be divided and conquered. We should not pass judgment upon the alleged decisions alone, but also upon the state and the conditions that gave rise to such contemplations.

The state apparatus of various governments, including the US government, have a long history of eliminating opposition to the status quo, and in particular, “suiciding" that opposition when they are confined. We must ask, did these three human beings commit suicide? Or were they "suicided" by inconspicuous means? All three of these deaths have been quite conveniently classified as suicides. Yet by all indications these classifications do not correspond with the actual circumstances.

How do we know that these men intended suicide? We don't. But of greater significance, we do know that there were repeated attempts to call “Man Down", kicking on cell doors, etc., which was willfully ignored and neglected by guards. In parallel circumstances, were not state employees involved, anyone else would be charged with either murder or at the very least manslaughter.

If this concept comes across as unorthodox, this is only a demonstration of how effectively we have been conditioned to think, but the objective reality is, these three men were “suicide” even though it was by inconspicuous means—intentional neglect. It requires no great feat of intellect to understand that the state will rarely prosecute its own. But to ensure that the deaths of the three men were for naught, we must do all that we can to publicize and transform this tragedy into an educational opportunity.

We call on Amnesty International to assist us and demand a United Nations investigation into these deaths and the deplorable conditions of solitary confinement throughout the US penal system. We likewise call upon the UN to appoint an independent and unbiased autopsy of these men and any others who may be subjected to a similar fate.

There is no such thing as prisoner rights, only power struggles.

C. Landrum

Sat & Sun (10/1 & 10/2) Show Support for Prisoner Hunger Strike Outside Pelican Bay!

California prisoners are on hunger strike again! The hunger strike that started on July 1 of this year in support of 5 demands, has been resumed by thousands of prisoners at Pelican Bay, Calipatria, CCI Tehachapi, Centinela, Corcoran, Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Ironwood State Prison, Salinas Valley State Prison.

The prisoners say that the California Department of Corrections has retaliated against prisoners for participating in the strike and made only nominal policy changes in response to the strike. Prisoners say it is necessary to continue to put pressure on the CDCR to meaningfully change long-term solitary confinement policies and practices. Up to date information can be found at http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/.

This Saturday and Sunday people will be standing at the entrance to Pelican Bay State Prison to show support for the strikers, to demand that prison officials take their demands seriously, and to speak out against prison retaliation.

The address of Pelican Bay is 5905 Lake Earl Drive, Crescent City.
From the 101 turn left on Elk Valley Cross Road, and right on Lake Earl Drive.

We have been advised to park past the prison down by the Fort Dixon market and walk back to the entrance to avoid getting a ticket.

People from the Bay are driving up to be at the entrance in front of the prison Saturday morning to late afternoon and Sunday morning.

Please join them if you are able!

For info call D'Andre at  510-926-5207. He is also looking for places for people to sleep this weekend if you have a crash spot.

Thank you for your support!

September 2012 Issue of Rock Newsletter

Here is the September issue of the Rock newsletter. It was mailed out to prisoners August 29, 2012. This and previous issues are available by clicking on the “Rock Newsletter” link at http://www.prisonart.org.

DOWNLOAD September 2012 Rock Newsletter HERE (small file pdf): http://redwoodcurtaincopwatch.net/files/Rock 1-9.pdf

"Working to extend democracy to all."  Communication is a human right!

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Shut Down the SHU! Torture Chambers of U.S. Prisons [PHOTOS from inside]

These are photos from a Security Housing Unit (SHU) cell in Pelican Bay State Prison. The person who lives here has been in SHU for more than 25 years, since August 1986, and in the Pelican Bay SHU nearly 22 years, since 1990. Read his description below each photograph.

#1 Front view of the cell. The locked tray slot is where I get my food trays, mail, etc.

#2 View from approximately one step inside cell door area. View if of the 2 cement slab bunks. Note, back concrete wall along bunks is not insulated - 6" of cold concrete separates cell from the outside and cells are like meat locker ice boxes in winter. My "personal" items are at the right hand ends of the2 bunks. The rest is all legal material and books related to civil cases challenging medical and SHU/Parole Board issues. The bags and cups on left lower bunk is my canteen I'd just been issued. Notably, I have less than half of the property depicted in the pictures today after much of it was trashed, and I was forced to store a lot,as retaliatory acts last June of 2011 in response to my posted formal complaint and notice of hunger strike activity. I was doing a legal motion at the time - lower bunk is desk.

#3 View of front of cell from inside cell. The home made shelf holds my cosmetics (shampoo, soap, lotion, toothpaste) and was destroyed in June 2011 by staff.

#4 View of sink, toilet, desk area with my TV I've had since 1992; and cement stool. Bags are canteen I'd just received; most are nearly empty.

#5 Floor area standing just inside cell, rough concrete floor.

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Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America's Prisons

We throw thousands of men in the hole for the books they read, the company they keep, the beliefs they hold. Here's why.


IT'S BEEN SEVEN MONTHS since I've been inside a prison cell. Now I'm back, sort of. The experience is eerily like my dreams, where I am a prisoner in another man's cell. Like the cell I go back to in my sleep, this one is built for solitary confinement. I'm taking intermittent, heaving breaths, like I can't get enough air. This still happens to me from time to time, especially in tight spaces. At a little over 11 by 7 feet, this cell is smaller than any I've ever inhabited. You can't pace in it.

Like in my dreams, I case the space for the means of staying sane. Is there a TV to watch, a book to read, a round object to toss? The pathetic artifacts of this inmate's life remind me of objects that were once everything to me: a stack of books, a handmade chessboard, a few scattered pieces of artwork taped to the concrete, a family photo, large manila envelopes full of letters. I know that these things are his world.

"So when you're in Iran and in solitary confinement," asks my guide, Lieutenant Chris Acosta, "was it different?" His tone makes clear that he believes an Iranian prison to be a bad place.

He's right about that. After being apprehended on the Iran-Iraq border, Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and I were held in Evin Prison's isolation ward for political prisoners. Sarah remained there for 13 months, Josh and I for 26 months. We were held incommunicado. We never knew when, or if, we would get out. We didn't go to trial for two years. When we did we had no way to speak to a lawyer and no means of contesting the charges against us, which included espionage. The alleged evidence the court held was "confidential."

What I want to tell Acosta is that no part of my experience—not the uncertainty of when I would be free again, not the tortured screams of other prisoners—was worse than the four months I spent in solitary confinement. What would he say if I told him I needed human contact so badly that I woke every morning hoping to be interrogated? Would he believe that I once yearned to be sat down in a padded, soundproof room, blindfolded, and questioned, just so I could talk to somebody?

I want to answer his question—of course my experience was different from those of the men at California's Pelican Bay State Prison—but I'm not sure how to do it. How do you compare, when the difference between one person's stability and another's insanity is found in tiny details? Do I point out that I had a mattress, and they have thin pieces of foam; that the concrete open-air cell I exercised in was twice the size of the "dog run" at Pelican Bay, which is about 16 by 25 feet; that I got 15 minutes of phone calls in 26 months, and they get none; that I couldn't write letters, but they can; that we could only talk to nearby prisoners in secret, but they can shout to each other without being punished; that unlike where I was imprisoned, whoever lives here has to shit at the front of his cell, in view of the guards?

"There was a window," I say. I don't quite know how to tell him what I mean by that answer. "Just having that light come in, seeing the light move across the cell, seeing what time of day it was—" Without those windows, I wouldn't have had the sound of ravens, the rare breezes, or the drops of rain that I let wash over my face some nights. My world would have been utterly restricted to my concrete box, to watching the miniature ocean waves I made by sloshing water back and forth in a bottle; to marveling at ants; to calculating the mean, median, and mode of the tick marks on the wall; to talking to myself without realizing it. For hours, days, I fixated on the patch of sunlight cast against my wall through those barred and grated windows. When, after five weeks, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground utterly broken, sobbing and rocking to the beat of my heart, it was the patch of sunlight that brought me back. Its slow creeping against the wall reminded me that the world did in fact turn and that time was something other than the stagnant pool my life was draining into.

When, after five weeks, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground utterly broken, sobbing and rocking to the beat of my heart, it was the patch of sunlight that brought me back.

Here, there are no windows.


Acosta, Pelican Bay's public information officer, is giving me a tour of the Security Housing Unit. Inmates deemed a threat to the security of any of California's 33 prisons are shipped to one of the state's five SHUs (pronounced "shoes"), which hold nearly 4,000 people in long-term isolation. In the Pelican Bay SHU, 94 percent of prisoners are celled alone; overcrowding has forced the prison to double up the rest. Statewide, about 32 percent of SHU cells—hardly large enough for one person—are crammed with two inmates.


The cell I am standing in is one of eight in a "pod," a large concrete room with cells along one side and only one exit, which leads to the guards' control room. A guard watches over us, rifle in hand, through a set of bars in the wall. He can easily shoot into any one of six pods around him. He communicates with prisoners through speakers and opens their steel grated cell doors via remote. That is how they are let out to the dog run, where they exercise for an hour a day, alone. They don't leave the cell to eat. If they ever leave the pod, they have to strip naked, pass their hands through a food slot to be handcuffed, then wait for the door to open and be bellycuffed.

I've been corresponding with at least 20 inmates in SHUs around California as part of an investigation into why and how people end up here. While at Pelican Bay, I'm not allowed to see or speak to any of them. Since 1996, California law has given prison authorities full control of which inmates journalists can interview. The only one I'm permitted to speak to is the same person the New York Times was allowed to interview months before. He is getting out of the SHU because he informed on other prisoners. In fact, this SHU pod—the only one I am allowed to see—is populated entirely by prison informants. I ask repeatedly why I'm not allowed to visit another pod or speak to other SHU inmates. Eventually, Acosta snaps: "You're just not."

IF I COULD, I would meet with Dietrich Pennington, a 59-year-old Army veteran from Oakland who has served 20 years of a life sentence for robbery, kidnapping, and attempted murder. Pennington has lived alone in one of these cells for more than four years. During that time, he hasn't spoken to his family. He has never met any of his seven grandchildren. In the SHU, he's seen "some of the strongest men I know fall apart."

But the fact that Pennington is in solitary is not what is remarkable about his story. More than 80,000 people were in solitary confinement in the United States in 2005, the last time the federal government released such data. In California alone, at least 11,730 people are housed in some form of isolation. What is unique about Pennington—if being one of thousands can be considered unique—is that he doesn't know when, or if, he will get out of the SHU. Like at least 3,808 others in California, he is serving an indeterminate sentence.

Compared to most SHU inmates, Pennington is a newbie. Prisoners spend an average of 7.5 years in the Pelican Bay SHU, the only one for which the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has statistics. More than half of the 1,126 prisoners here have been in isolation for at least five years. Eighty-nine have been there for at least 20 years. One has been in solitary for 42 years.

Like many of the others, Pennington has never been charged with any serious prison offenses, like fighting or selling drugs. In 20 years of incarceration, his only strikes have been two rule violations: delaying roll call and refusing to be housed in a dorm-style cell with at least seven other prisoners. While in prison, he became a certified welder, receiving a special commendation for his work on building a rollover crash simulator for the California Highway Patrol. He used to regularly attend religious services and self-help groups, including parenting classes, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous, all of which are forbidden in the SHU.

Pennington's lawyer, Charles Carbone, says his "impeccable prison record" should have him on track for parole. But there is no chance of that—four years ago Pennington was "validated" by prison staff as an associate of a prison gang (one formed on the inside, as opposed to a street gang). That's the reason he and thousands of others are in the SHU with no exit date.

Pennington is not accused of giving or carrying out orders on behalf of any gang. In fact, there is no evidence that he's ever communicated with a member of a gang in his entire life. "I've never been, never want to be a part of no gang," he wrote me. (He is currently trying to challenge his validation in court.)

To validate an inmate as a gang member, the state requires at least three pieces of evidence, which must be "indicative of actual membership" or association with a prison gang in the last six years. At least one item must show a "direct link," like a note or other communication, to a validated gang member or associate. Once the prison's gang investigator has gathered this evidence, it is reviewed in an administrative hearing and then sent to CDCR headquarters in Sacramento.

There is no evidence that Pennington has ever communicated with a member of a gang in his life. His validation as a gang "associate" relies on items such as a newspaper article and a coffee mug.

In Pennington's file, the "direct link" is his possession of an article published in the San Francisco Bay View, an African American newspaper with a circulation of around 15,000. The paper is approved for distribution in California prisons, and Pennington's right to receive it is protected under state law. In the op-ed style article he had in his cell, titled "Guards confiscate 'revolutionary' materials at Pelican Bay," a validated member of the Black Guerilla Family prison gang complains about the seizure of literature and pictures from his cell and accuses the prison of pursuing "racist policy." In Pennington's validation documents, the gang investigator contends that, by naming the confiscated materials, the author "communicates to associates of the BGF…as to which material needs to be studied." No one alleges that Pennington ever attempted to contact the author. It is enough that he possessed the article.

The second piece of evidence was a cup Pennington had in his cell bearing a picture of a dragon, an image CDCR considers an "identifying symbol" of the Black Guerilla Family. The third was a notebook he kept, which the gang investigator alleges "shows his beliefs in the ideals of the BGF." Its pages are filled with references to black history—Nat Turner, the Scottsboro 9, the number of blacks executed between 1930 and 1969, and quotes from figures like W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X. There are also passages in which Pennington ruminates at length on what he calls "the oppression and violence inflicted upon us here in maximum security," referencing a Time exposé.

Pennington never mentions gangs or unlawful activity in his writing. But in his validation documents, the gang investigator points out that the notebook contains quotes by Fleeta Drumgo and George Jackson, two former Black Panthers who are revered by members of the BGF and politicized African American prisoners generally. The single Jackson quote Pennington wrote down reads, "The text books on criminology like to advance the idea that the prisoners are mentally defective. There is only the merest suggestion that the system itself is at fault."

California officials frequently cite possession of black literature, left-wing materials, and writing about prisoner rights as evidence of gang affiliation. In the dozens of cases I reviewed, gang investigators have used the term "[BGF] training material" to refer to publications by California Prison Focus, a group that advocates the abolition of the SHUs; Jackson's once best-selling Soledad Brother; a pamphlet said to reference "Revolutionary Black Nationalism, The Black Internationalist Party, Marx, and Lenin"; and a pamphlet titled "The Black People's Prison Survival Guide." This last one advises inmates to read books, keep a dictionary handy, practice yoga, avoid watching too much television, and stay away from "leaders of gangs."

The list goes on. Other materials considered evidence of gang involvement have included writings by Mumia Abu-Jamal; The Black Panther Party: Reconsidered, a collection of academic essays by University of Cincinnati professor Charles Jones; pictures of Assata Shakur, Malcolm X, George Jackson, and Nat Turner; and virtually anything using the term "New Afrikan." At least one validation besides Pennington's referenced handwritten pages of "Afro centric ideology."

As warden of San Quentin Prison in the 1980s, Daniel Vasquez oversaw what was then the country's largest SHU. He's now a corrections consultant and has testified on behalf of inmates seeking to reverse their validations. As we sat in his suburban Bay Area home, he told me it is "very common" for African American prisoners who display leadership qualities or radical political views to end up in the SHU. Similarly, he recalls, "we were told that when an African American inmate identified as being Muslim, we were supposed to watch them carefully and get their names."

Next Page link: Evidence used to send inmates to solitary includes possession of books like Machiavelli's The Prince.

Vasquez testified in federal court in the case of a former inmate, Ernesto Lira, who was gang validated in part based on a drawing that included an image of the huelga bird, the symbol of the United Farm Workers. While the image has been co-opted by the Nuestra Familia prison gang, Vasquez testified that it is "a popular symbol widely used in Hispanic culture and by California farmworkers." Lira's validation was one of a handful to ever be reversed in federal court—though not until after he was released on parole, having spent eight years in the SHU. And though the court ruled that the huelga bird is of "obscure and ambiguous meaning," it continues to be used as validation evidence.

Evidence used to send inmates to solitary indefinitely includes possession of books like Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Machiavelli's The Prince.

Gang evidence comes in countless forms. Possession of Machiavelli's The Prince, Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power, or Sun Tzu's The Art of War has been invoked as evidence. One inmate's validation includes a Christmas card with stars drawn on it—alleged gang symbols—among Hershey's Kisses and a candy cane. Another included a poetry booklet the inmate had coauthored with a validated BGF member. One poem reflected on what it was like to feel human touch after 14 years and another warned against spreading HIV. The only reference to violence was the line, "this senseless dying gotta end."

"Direct links" that appear in inmates' case files are often things they have no control over, like having their names found in the cells of validated gang members or associates or having a validated gang affiliate send them a letter, even if they never received it or knew of its existence. Appearing in a group picture with one validated gang associate counts as a direct link, even if that person wasn't validated at the time.

In the course of my investigation, I obtained CDCR's confidential validation manual. It teaches investigators that use of the words tío or hermano, Spanish for uncle and brother, can indicate gang activity, as can señor. Validation files on Latino inmates have included drawings of the ancient Aztec jaguar knight and Aztec war shields, and anything in the indigenous Nahuatl language, spoken by an estimated 1.4 million people in central Mexico.

Lieutenant David Barneburg has the power to decide who's put into solitary for years—or decades.  Shane BauerLieutenant David Barneburg has the power to decide who's put into solitary for years—or decades. Photo by Shane Bauer.

Some SHU inmates, aside from the "bona fide gang members," are those "the guards don't like," says Carbone, Pennington's lawyer. "They get annihilated with gang validations in order to get them off the main lines…The rules are so flimsy that if the department wants somebody validated, he will get validated."

California is just one of many states where inmates can be thrown into solitary confinement on sketchy grounds—though just how many is hard to know. A survey conducted by Mother Jones found that most states had some kind of gang validation process, but implementation varied widely, and a number of states would not disclose their policies at all. Seventeen states said they don't house inmates in "single-celled segregation" indeterminately. (No state officially uses the term "solitary.")

It's unclear how many states keep inmates in solitary as long as California does. Texas has 4,748 validated affiliates of "security threat groups" in indefinite solitary—more than California's prison gang affiliates—and some have been there for more than 20 years. Louisiana has held two Black Panthers in solitary for 40 years. Minnesota is near the opposite end of the spectrum, holding inmates in segregation for an average term of 29 days. At least 12 states review an inmate's segregation status every 30 days or less; Massachusetts does it weekly.

Keeping all these inmates segregated is an expensive proposition for taxpayers. Pelican Bay spends at least 20 percent more to keep an inmate in isolation—an extra $12,317 per inmate per year, or $14 million annually.

about who gets put in the hole indefinitely come down to one man: Institutional Gang Investigator David Barneburg. A stocky man with a shaved head and a seven-point star on the breast of his khaki uniform, Barneburg comes from a lineage of loggers who found themselves out of work when the timber industry busted. When Pelican Bay opened its doors amidst the majestic redwoods in 1989, his father signed up.

Pelican Bay was a new kind of prison—one of the nation's first full-fledged supermaxes, built with the explicit purpose of housing inmates in long-term isolation. After Pelican Bay, supermaxes popped up across the country, in part to deal with rising violence in increasingly crowded prisons. Today, there are roughly 60 nationwide.

Barneburg started here in 1997, and after 15 years on the job, he comes off as a man under duress. He makes a point of assuring me that he and his gang investigations team of 10 are not "knuckle-dragging thugs." He tells me he has to regularly take the stand in court to defend gang validations. To date, prisoners have sued him at least 30 times, though I could find no record of any having succeeded. "I don't want to go as far as saying gang investigators are persecuted, but…"

He is giving me a PowerPoint presentation detailing the structures and operations of the seven prison gangs targeted by the department of corrections. The Nazi Low Riders. The Aryan Brotherhood. The Texas Syndicate. The Black Guerilla Family. The Mexican Mafia. The Nuestra Familia. The Northern Structure. "It's about power," he says. "It's about control. It's about extortion. It's about money. It's about dope. It's about murder." Membership in a gang is not illegal in the United States—it's a right protected by the First Amendment—but Barneburg says segregating gang members is the only way to keep prisons from being overrun by racial strife, stabbings, and killings.

When I ask him how well that's worked, he stutters and says diffidently, "I think there's been less violence."

He's wrong. The rate of violent incidents in California prisons is nearly 20 percent higher than when Pelican Bay opened in 1989. As I walk with Lieutenant Acosta alongside the general population yard—a grassy, if bleak, fenced-in area where, unlike in the SHU, prisoners are allowed to interact—he unwittingly contradicts Barneburg's claim too, saying that violence in Pelican Bay has seen dramatic spikes over the years. In the 1990s, he says, "you didn't see the big fights, all the riots. It was like one, two guys fighting, maybe three guys." But since then, prison gang violence has escalated dramatically, with riots involving upwards of 200 people.

Prison violence fluctuates for myriad reasons, among them overcrowding, gang politics, and prison conditions. It's impossible to say for certain what role SHUs play; what is clear is that in states that have reduced solitary confinement—Colorado, Maine, and Mississippi—violence has not increased. (Illinois plans to close its notorious Tamms supermax soon.) Since Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman released 75 percent of inmates from solitary in the mid-2000s, violence has dropped 50 percent.

An inmate who murders a guard can get no more than five years in the SHU. But being found to be associated with a gang—even if you haven't done anything illegal—can land you in isolation for decades.

CDCR officials claim California is different because the gang problem is worse here, though they don't have data to confirm this. Barneburg says without SHUs, there would be no way to prevent gang leaders from giving orders to the general population. What he doesn't say is that very few SHU inmates are considered gang leaders even by CDCR's standards. Only 22 percent of those serving indeterminate SHU terms are validated even as members of prison gangs. The rest, like Dietrich Pennington, are classified as associates, people who are accused of having had some connection with members—or other associates—of prison gangs.

Former San Quentin Warden Daniel Vasquez says association with prison gangs—for protection, among other things—is "pretty inescapable" in the hostile and racially segregated atmosphere inside. "You're going to come across them in some form or fashion," he says. "You are going to start experiencing the pressures of these gangs." Barneburg himself acknowledges it is hard for a Mexican from Southern California, for example, to keep away from the Mexican Mafia, since the gang sees itself as the authority over any Mexican prisoner from the lower part of the state. A full 2,201 people currently serving indeterminate SHU terms are validated as associates of that gang; there are only 98 validated members.

Being associated with a prison gang—even if you haven't done anything illegal—carries a much heavier penalty than, say, stabbing someone. Association could land you in solitary for decades. An inmate who murders a guard—the severest crime in prison—can get no more than five years in the SHU.

THE DECISION to put a man in solitary indefinitely is made at internal hearings that last, prisoners say, about 20 minutes. They are closed-door affairs. CDCR told me I couldn't witness one. No one can.

When Josh Fattal and I finally came before the Revolutionary Court in Iran, we had a lawyer present, but weren't allowed to speak to him. In California, an inmate facing the worst punishment our penal system has to offer short of death can't even have a lawyer in the room. He can't gather or present evidence in his defense. He can't call witnesses. Much of the evidence—anything provided by informants—is confidential and thus impossible to refute. That's what Judge Salavati told us after our prosecutor spun his yarn about our role in a vast American-Israeli conspiracy: There were heaps of evidence, but neither we nor our lawyer were allowed to see it.

Ronald Brown, a prisoner who was moved from SHU into another prison unit.  James WestRonald Brown, a prisoner who was moved from SHU into another prison unit Photo by James West.

None of the gang validation proceedings, from the initial investigation to the final sentencing, have any judicial oversight. They are all internal. Other than the inmate, there is only one person present—the gang investigator—and he serves as judge, jury, and prosecutor. After the hearing, the investigator will send his validation package to Sacramento for approval. The chances of it being refused are vanishingly small: The department's own data shows that of the 6,300 validations submitted since 2009, only 25 have been rejected—0.4 percent. "It's pretty much a rubber stamping," Vasquez says.

"That is a system that has no place in a constitutional democracy," says David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project. He says California's policy is "a form of guilt by association that is completely foreign to our legal system. Prison administrators have absolute power, and that is a recipe for abuse and violation of rights."

CDCR officials are quick to point out that inmates can challenge their gang status: They can appeal to the gang investigator, the warden, and, as a last resort, the departmental appeals office in Sacramento. But former Pelican Bay Warden Joseph McGrath testified in court that "officers do not reevaluate the evidence" and that, if an appeal came to him, he would "assume the truth of whatever was written" in the validation documents. When I asked CDCR for an example of an appeal resulting in a reversal of a gang validation, they couldn't produce a single case. Gang investigator Barneburg, who has worked at Pelican Bay for 15 years, has never seen a validation appeal succeed either—evidence, he says, of his team's thoroughness. "We put out really quality work," he says.

If an inmate exhausts his administrative appeals, he has the legal right to take his case to court. Most can't afford a lawyer, so they end up representing themselves. Attorney Charles Carbone, who has challenged more than 200 gang validations (of which he says about 25 have been successful), says inmates who represent themselves succeed "less than 1 percent" of the time. The biggest obstacle is the "some evidence" standard, which essentially means that CDCR only has to provide a bare minimum of proof. The courts do not weigh the evidence or decide whether or not a prisoner is in a gang. The judge's job is only to "see whether any evidence exists," Carbone says. "And if it does, he won't evaluate it. He'll leave that to the prison authorities."

Next Page link: "It's meant to break a person," he says. "You have to accept whether you want to die back there or you want to change."

HOW DOES someone get out of the SHU, then? Officially, there are two ways. One is to be declared an "inactive" gang member or associate, which doesn't happen very often. Just a few dozen inmates are released to the general population every year via that process—less than 1 percent of those serving indeterminate SHU terms. The earliest chance of being classified as "inactive" is six years from the latest evidenced gang activity. Then, if a gang investigator provides a single piece of new evidence—say a book found in the cell or a tidbit from a confidential informant—the inmate has to wait six more years.

When Paul Bocanegra got out of solitary, he says it felt "like you're free."  James WestWhen Paul Bocanegra got out of solitary, he says it felt "like you're free." Photo by James West.

The other way out is to debrief—to divulge everything an inmate knows about a gang, including names of members and associates. This he can do at any time. An average of 108 do it every year, even though among prisoners snitching can carry the death penalty.

And what if a prisoner in the SHU doesn't know anything? As former Pelican Bay Warden McGrath testified in court three years ago, anyone mistakenly validated "cannot debrief," because they have nothing to give. Catch-22.

In Pelican Bay's Transitional Programming Unit—the place where inmates go once they've been released from the SHU—I sit at a metal table with Paul Bocanegra, a burly, tattooed former prison gang member. He spent 12 years in isolation before he debriefed. Now, he is housed among other debriefers and will probably never go back to the general population. Assault or murder, he says, is "usually what happens once you turn your back on your buddies—people you used to run with. That's always in the back of your head. What's gonna happen if one day I get out, you know?"

CDCR claims that indeterminate SHU sentences are not meant to be punitive but are simply intended to isolate dangerous prisoners. That's also the argument the department uses to refute challenges like the class action lawsuit under way by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Pelican Bay prisoners who have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary. The suit claims that prolonged SHU confinement is cruel and unusual punishment.

I place a stack of 18 postcards in front of me and write on each of them a question that has been on my mind since I left Pelican Bay: "Do you think prolonged SHU confinement is torture?" I send them to prisoners across the state and 14 write back, all with the same answer: "yes."

Is it not? In the SHU, no work, drug treatment programs, or religious services are permitted. SHU prisoners are not allowed phone calls (except in approved emergencies) or contact visits. Clocks, photo albums, food condiments containing sugar (like ketchup), playing cards, and chessboards are all banned. Only after a nearly three-week-long hunger strike last year were SHU inmates allowed calendars, as well as handballs to use in the concrete dog run. Their monthly canteen draw is a quarter of the regular population's allowance, as is the one 30-pound package they can receive per year. Pelican Bay Warden Greg Lewis insists this, too, isn't to punish them, but to provide "a very safe environment."

When I ask Bocanegra if the SHU is punishment, he laughs. "It's meant to break a person," he says. "You have to accept whether you want to die back there or you want to change." Leaving the SHU for a unit where he can exit his cell without cuffs and go to an outdoor exercise yard with a small group of other people, he says, made him "feel like you're free." When he walked out of the SHU, he saw his first tree in 12 years.

EVERY DAY, I come home to a new stack of letters from prisoners—our hostage story, it seems, is best known inside America's penitentiaries. For a while, I try to respond to each one, but as the weeks and months pass, they start to pile up. I become afraid of them and all the sorrow they contain. They take me back to my own time in solitary—and how can I go back there every day?

One morning, I sit down at my desk and look at the stack of envelopes slowly taking it over. I need to write these people back. I know what it's like to wait for word from the outside. Some of them remind me of myself while I was locked up, their whole lives bent on staying sane. They write. They read. They exercise. They meditate. Others make me think of what I would have eventually become. Their letters don't make sense. They write me constantly, desperately. They are broken.

Instead of digging into the pile, I place a stack of 18 postcards in front of me and write on each of them a question that has been on my mind since I left Pelican Bay: "Do you think prolonged SHU confinement is torture?" I send them to prisoners across the state and 14 write back, all with the same answer: "yes." One tells me he has developed a condition in which he bites down on his back teeth so hard he has loosened them. They write: "I am filled with the sensation of drowning each and every day." "I was housed next door to…guys who have eaten and drank their own body waste and who have thrown their own body waste in the cells that I and others were housed in. I cry."

There are plenty of studies about the psychosis-like symptoms that result from prolonged solitary. Indicators of what psychiatrist Stuart Grassian calls "SHU syndrome" include confusion and hallucination, overwhelming anxiety, the emergence of primitive aggressive fantasies, persecutory ideation, and sudden violent outbursts.

Officials say solitary is needed to isolate gang leaders. But very few of the thousands in segregation are classified as gang members, let alone leaders.

As I read the medical literature, I remember the violent fantasies that sometimes seized my mind so fully that not even meditation—with which I luckily had a modicum of experience before I was jailed—would chase them away. Was the uncontrollable banging on my cell door, the pounding of my fists into my mattress, just a common symptom of isolation? I wonder what happens when someone with a history of violence is seized by such uncontrollable rage. A 2003 study of inmates at the Pelican Bay SHU by University of California-Santa Cruz psychology professor Craig Haney found that 88 percent of the SHU population experiences irrational anger, nearly 30 times more than the US population at large.

Haney says there hasn't been a single study of involuntary solitary confinement that didn't show negative psychiatric symptoms after 10 days. He found that a full 41 percent of SHU inmates reported hallucinations. Twenty-seven percent have suicidal thoughts. CDCR's own data shows that, from 2007 to 2010, inmates in isolation killed themselves at eight times the rate of the general prison population.

In the SHU, people diagnosed with mental illnesses like depression—which afflicts, according to Haney, 77 percent of SHU inmates—only see a psychologist once every 30 days. Anyone whose mental illness qualifies as "serious" (the criterion for which is "possible breaks with reality," according to Pelican Bay's chief of mental health, Dr. Tim McCarthy) must be removed from the SHU. When they are, they get sent to a special psychiatric unit—where they are locked up in solitary. Some 364 prisoners are there today.

Is long-term SHU confinement torture? The ACLU says yes. Physicians for Human Rights agree. The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and several other prisoner rights groups recently filed a petition with the United Nations claiming just that. Human Rights Watch says at the very least, it constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, which is prohibited by international law.

Prisoners in Pelican Bay's Housing Unit are allowed into the "dog run," a.k.a. exercise yard, alone, for an hour each day.Prisoners in Pelican Bay's Housing Unit are allowed into the "dog run," a.k.a. exercise yard, alone, for an hour each day. Photo by Shane Bauer.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak once sent a letter to Tehran to appeal on behalf of my fellow hostage, and now wife, Sarah Shourd. Though Josh and I were celled together after four months, Sarah remained in isolation, seeing us for only an hour a day. Late last year, Nowak's successor, Juan Mendez, came out with a report in which he called for an international prohibition on solitary confinement of more than 15 days. He defined solitary as any regime where a person is held in isolation for at least 22 hours a day. Anything more "constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, depending on the circumstances." When I called Mendez to ask about the SHU, he said, "I don't think any argument, including gang membership, can justify a very long-term measure that is inflicting pain and suffering that is prohibited by the Convention Against Torture."

CDCR, like correctional departments around the country, does not consider the SHU solitary confinement. Inmates have TV, and they have contact with staff when they bring them their food, officials told me. Our interrogators in Iran said the same thing.

JOSH AND I used to make up stories about other prisoners who walked past our cell, blindfolded, on their way to the bathroom. In our imaginations, the man who looked to be in his mid-30s with a smooth head and a slim build was the lead singer in an alternative rock band. His anguish was fueled by the fact that the government deemed his music subversive, when all he wanted was to play his guitar. The grizzled old man was a playwright. The guy with the long beard was an imam. The clean-cut twentysomething was an internet hacker.

Lately, it's like I've been doing the opposite—shaping living, breathing people out of snatches of information. Vincent Bruce has written me more than 20 times, and I've read through hundreds of pages of his court and prison files. From this, I can tell you that the 50-year-old has spent nine and a half years in isolation—seven of them alone in the SHU—but I can't tell you whether it shows in his stride like I could with the guys who walked past my cell. I can tell you that when he was 26, he busted out of jail in Chicago, that The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is one of his favorite books, and that he loves Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight."

I can tell you that he is one of California's most effective jailhouse lawyers. This is how his days pass: At six o'clock every morning, he wakes up, washes his face, and scrubs the floor of his cell. He does half an hour of yoga and meditation. From noon until dinnertime, he sits hunched over on his bed and pores over whatever legal case he is working on. Sometimes he gets diverted and watches court shows. It's one of his weaknesses.

When Bruce was a kid, he says, his mom had nervous breakdowns when she would turn into a zombie that he had to feed and bathe. Her boyfriend's solution was to "slap her out of it." At 13 or 14 he started running with the Crips. Since then, he has spent a total of about one year on the outside. At 23, he was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and two counts of first-degree robbery, and sentenced to life without parole.

The UN says more than 15 days in solitary is "torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment." At Pelican Bay, 89 men have been in the hole 20 years or more.

Several years into his incarceration, he started to organize other prisoners. In the 1990s at Salinas Valley State Prison, he crossed the intense racial divide of prison and organized 74 black, white, and Latino prisoners to pressure the administration into providing family visitation, religious services, and better food.

In 1998, Bruce was put in administrative segregation for allegedly assaulting another inmate. Ad-seg, as it is commonly known, is a solitary unit in each prison where inmates are often placed for disciplinary infractions. Some 6,700 California prisoners are in such units.

Bruce's ad-seg term was supposed to last 90 days. While there, he started pushing for improvements—allowing ad-seg inmates access to the exercise yard, reading and writing materials, the law library, and adequate bedding and clothing. Shortly afterward, he was told he wouldn't be getting out of isolation: He was under investigation for gang affiliation. (His time in the Crips, which he says ended years ago, was irrelevant here—indeterminate SHU terms are only given for connections with prison gangs.)

This had happened before, but investigators had determined the evidence "insufficient." This time—using the same evidence—Bruce was validated and transferred to the Pelican Bay SHU. He denies ever affiliating with a prison gang.

Bruce would later write in a legal complaint that the gang investigator told him the goal was to "make an example out of him" because he was acting as a "spokesperson for other prisoners' grievances." It would be nearly three years before he had direct contact with another human being.

In 1999, Bruce sued the department of corrections, claiming he had been put in the hole for being a jailhouse lawyer. Thanks to his legal pestering, the court eventually appointed him an attorney. The case dragged on for seven years. Meanwhile, he was released from the SHU as an "inactive" gang associate and transferred to another prison, where he continued his advocacy, winning at least 25 concessions over a period of six years, including wheelchair-accessible tables for the yard. At one point he initiated a hunger strike that involved 120 inmates. Two days later, he was put in ad-seg for "conspiracy to assault staff." The claim was based on confidential information that the person in charge of reviewing ad-seg assignments later found did not exist; it couldn't be found anywhere in his file. He spent a year in isolation.

About a year after Bruce was released from ad-seg, CDCR agreed to a settlement in his retaliation suit, paying him $7,500 and guaranteeing him adequate due process in the future. Ten days later, two assistant gang investigators came to Bruce's cell and confiscated his legal materials, a violation of California law. That same day, he was placed in ad-seg for possession of a shiv. Prison officials later acknowledged that the weapon didn't belong to him, but the charge was never dropped, and he was sent to the SHU to serve a 10-month sentence.

The gang investigator meant to keep him there. In yet another gang validation package, he claimed Bruce's retaliation case against CDCR in itself constituted "gang activity." In January 2008, he was validated as an associate of the BGF and his SHU sentence was extended indefinitely. The evidence against him was confidential. He has been in the SHU ever since.

Six months after his indefinite SHU term began, he received a letter from a young man he'd been celled with a few years before. "Although I tried my best not to let you know I was listening to you," the other prisoner wrote, "my ears was always open when you spoke. Vincent you have made me a wise young man, and did something for me I will never forget." Now, he wrote, "The gang banging life is over with."

Next Page link: One judge ruled that it's not illegal for authorities to lie to lock someone away in solitary.

INFORMATION obtained from prisoners in solitary has long been viewed with suspicion. Numerous psychological studies have found that the more people are subject to sensory deprivation, the more suggestible they become. A 1961 US Air Force study titled "The Manipulation of Human Behavior" cast this as a plus, saying, "Solitary confinement and monotonous, barren surroundings play an important role in making the prisoner more receptive and susceptible to the influence of the interrogator." After the public disclosure of the CIA's 1983 "Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual," which taught agents how to extract confessions without leaving bruises, the agency renounced the use of "coercive interrogation techniques," including solitary confinement, in part because they yielded "unreliable results."

One judge ruled that inmates have "no constitutionally guaranteed immunity" from being falsely accused—that it's not illegal for authorities to lie to lock someone away in solitary. 

In California, much of the information used to validate prisoners comes from the 108 inmates who debrief every year, creating a revolving door where people get out of the SHU by putting others in. Pelican Bay gang investigator David Barneburg insists that all information is double-checked against information provided by other sources. But as long as this information is kept secret from everyone, including lawyers, that vetting is left up to investigators—and there's evidence that they are not immune to the temptation to make things up.

In 2006, a prisoner with a violence-free prison record named Ricky Gray was validated as a member of the Black Guerilla Family and given an indeterminate SHU sentence. But the warden at his prison, who Gray claims was sympathetic to his case, took an unusual step: He instructed a staff assistant to reinterview the informants who had given evidence against him. The assistant concluded that the entire validation package was "comprised of conjecture, second hand expression, assumptions, frivolous statements, incomplete documentation, and blatant lack of thorough investigation." Gray managed to obtain a copy of this confidential report, and his lawyer passed it to me, providing a rare glimpse of the type of evidence used in gang validations.

Several of the alleged informants, the assistant wrote, didn't know Gray at all. Two others—said to have reported that Gray was recruiting inmates to the BGF—signed sworn affidavits that they had never been interviewed about the subject and didn't know the guard who compiled their alleged statements. The paperwork that allegedly documented their statements didn't bear their signatures. In another of the interviews used against Gray, the staff assistant says the gang investigator appeared "to be leading" the informant "to answer questions the way he would like."

Like Bruce, Gray believes the gang investigator retaliated against him for his work as a jailhouse lawyer, a role in which he has been particularly successful—his biggest victory was an Eighth Amendment claim against prison guards that won him a $115,000 settlement from CDCR. Indeed, his legal work is specifically referenced in his validation. One piece of evidence pointedly stated that Gray's "use of correspondence for legal purposes is well documented."

The staff assistant's review recommended that Gray be classified as an "inactive" gang member and stated that Gray "does not have a problem following the rules once he is aware of them." But six years later, Gray remains in the SHU. The warden who ordered the review transferred to another prison 37 days after it was completed, and the gang investigator—the same man who presided over Gray's validation in the first place—chose not to change Gray's validation status in response to the investigation. When Gray took the matter to court, the judge ruled that "a prisoner has no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongfully accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest." In other words, it is not illegal for prison authorities to lie in order to lock somebody away in solitary.

AT SOME POINT during the disorienting reentry blitz that followed my release in September of last year, I heard that in California, prisoners were doing what the three of us had done in Iran: hunger striking to protest isolation. Up to 12,000 inmates participated in protests against long-term SHU confinement across the state, making it probably the largest prison strike in recent history—twice the size of the one that took place a few months earlier. The prisoners were demanding changes to the gang validation policy and an end to long-term solitary.

Implicit in the two hunger strikes was a message: The use of prolonged solitary confinement was leading to the kind of unrest it was meant to tamp down. Nearly three weeks into the 2011 strike, CDCR promised to make changes to its gang validation policy. Since then, it has been hammering out a set of reforms, aimed primarily at turning the policy into a "behavior-based" one. This would bring California in line with other states that—at least on paper—segregate people only when they engage in violent or dangerous activity.

The new policy, which is already being rolled out on a pilot basis, will also include a "step down" program that would allow inmates to work their way out of the SHU over a four-year period, rather than wait six years before their case is even reviewed. After a year of abstaining from gang activity in the SHU, an inmate will be able to get one phone call per year, a deck of cards, and the ability to spend 11 more dollars at the canteen every month. After three years, he'll be allowed a chessboard, and his family will be able to send him two packages each year rather than one.

Department officials in Sacramento wouldn't talk to me about the new policy—after my visit to Pelican Bay, they declined further interviews, citing pending litigation. But when I talked to CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton about the reforms, she said, "I think you are going to see a lot of people classified as associates getting out of the SHU." Under the new policy, associates—unlike members—of prison gangs will only be put in the SHU if they commit a "serious" rule violation or two "administrative" rule violations.

The list of "disruptive organizations" runs to 1,500, including not only the Bloods and Crips, but also the Juggalos, the dedicated clown-faced following of the dual-platinum horrorcore hip-hop group Insane Clown Posse. 

Here's the catch, though: CDCR is vastly expanding what counts as rule violations. Under current regulations, "serious" violations are things like assaults, drug use, and escape attempts. But in the latest version of the reforms, the definition includes possession of "training material" for security threat groups (the new term for gangs), like the books listed earlier. Things that didn't previously count as a rule violation—such as making artwork depicting threat-group symbols, communication showing threat-group behavior, and anything that "depicts affiliation" with a threat group—will all be serious rule violations on par with stabbing somebody. "Administrative rule violations" will now include many new categories, such as possession of photos of validated threat-group affiliates.

Most critically, the new security threat group category doesn't just denote prison gangs, but also includes a much larger number of "disruptive groups." Among these are street gangs, motorcycle gangs, and "revolutionary groups." The list of disruptive organizations that CDCR gave me runs to 1,500, including not only the Bloods and Crips, but also the Juggalos, the dedicated clown-faced following of the dual-platinum horrorcore hip-hop group Insane Clown Posse. The Black Panthers are on the list, as are a couple of Nation of Islam-affiliated groups. One category is titled "Black-Non Specific," suggesting that any group with the word "black" in its name can be considered disruptive. (CDCR would not respond to my questions on this matter.)

Taken together, the policy changes could mean that a Crip taking part in a hunger strike, a Black Panther with a drawing he made of his organization's namesake cat, or an Insane Clown Posse fan with an album cover and a concert photo could receive indeterminate SHU terms.

ONE NIGHT, I stare at the pile of letters on my desk. I can't let it keep growing, so I take it over to the couch and read through them all. It's painful. A part of me relates to these people, but, like I wanted to tell Lieutenant Acosta when I stood in that cell, there are such huge differences too. They are criminals; I was a hostage. They are spending many years in solitary; I did four months.

But still, I can't escape the fact that their desperate words sound like the ones that ricocheted through my own head when I was inside. When I finish the stack of letters, I dig up the first correspondence I ever received from a prisoner. He has been out of the SHU for years, but through his florid prose, I hear the voice of someone who is still profoundly disturbed by the time he did there.

March 27, 2012

…Like you, I know what it is like to have our very existence internalized to the point of kissing Siren on the lips while she guided us to the rocks of insanity. Then, wondering if we'd ever escape her spell. Fortunately we both did. But as you will learn about you and me, we did not come out unscathed. At times…I mourn the solitude of days gone past. Days where time lost all meaning; to the point where I knew not if I was alive or dead; and where sometimes I did not care either way...

—Steve Castillo

After I read this, I go to the big wicker chest at the foot of our bed. In it are letters written to me by friends, family, and strangers that I never received because the Iranian censors would only let in mail from immediate family. There are hundreds of these; I keep them because I think I might read them some day. But not now. Instead, I grab a little piece of paper that is covered in microscopic writing, the script so small and the shorthand so esoteric that I can hardly read it, even though it was written by my own hand. It is the only piece of my prison journal—written on scraps of paper and hidden in the spines of books—that made it out.

The more one is utterly alone, the more the mind comes to reflect the cell; it becomes blank static…

Solitary confinement is not some sort of cathartic horror of blazing nerves and searing skin and heads smashing blindly into walls and screaming. Those moments come, but they are not the essence of solitary. They are events that penetrate the essence. They are stones tossed into an abyss. They are not the abyss itself…

Solitary confinement is a living death. Death because it is the removal of nearly everything that characterizes humanness, living because within it you are still you. The lights don't turn out as in real death. Time isn't erased as in sleep…

I carefully fold up the note, put it back in the chest, and step out onto our little second-story porch, into the breeze and the sun.

Contact the prisoners in this article.


Additional reporting by Ryan Jacobs, Erika Eichelberger, and Robert Owen Brown. This story was supported by a grant from the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. Front page illustration by Tim O'Brien.

Shane Bauer was one of the three American hikers imprisoned in Iran after being apprehended on the Iraqi border in 2009. He spent 26 months in Tehran's Evin Prison, 4 of them in solitary. He lives in Oakland, California, with his fellow hostage and now wife, Sarah Shourd. Together with the third former hostage, Josh Fattal, they are working on a book about their captivity that is due out in 2014. Follow him on Twitter here.


Support Palestinian Hunger Strikers! SIGN PETITION

Prisoners Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, who started the strike and have been detained for 2 years without charges, are at grave risk of death, now entering their 74th day (5/11/12) of fasting. For reference, Mahatma Gandhi ended his longest hunger strike on day 21; Bobby Sands died on day 66. 

This history-making prisoner-led nonviolent movement is growing by the day.  Sign Petition HERE

Israeli policymakers, hunger strikers, the media and Palestinian citizens all need to hear from the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who support nonviolent resistance and oppose grotesquely undemocratic practices like "administrative detention" which allows Palestinians to be detained without charge. 

Please sign the petition, and forward it to everyone you know. And put it on your FACEBOOK!   <http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=oWi68kaLr0Tb3kJnP2MYYAnNiCD0tM4H>

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that Halahleh and five others were in "imminent danger of dying" and called on Israel to transfer them to a hospital and allow visits from their families.


The strikers are also protesting inhumane conditions such as egregious solitary confinement, denial of family visits, and the refusal to medically treat critical health conditions.


"Just yesterday, 1,000 residents of Dheisheh Refugee Camp, where I'm honored to have worked for many years, rallied in solidarity with the strikers. And in Ramallah, student activists staged a sit-in that shut down the United Nations building. Leaders of Palestinian nonviolent popular resistance and their Israeli allies are now calling for international solidarity demonstrations. And groups like Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, and the International Red Cross are weighing in."  Lori Rudolph, Fulbright Scholar at Bethlehem and Al Quds University


For Israel, punishing Palestinians is not enough.

An ongoing hunger strike by nearly 2,000 Palestinian inmates stands as a reminder of their humanity, but Israelis are more interested in revenge.    
By Amira Hass 5.5.12 HAARETZ

In faraway, frozen Finland - otherwise known as the infirmary of Ramle Prison - the lives of four detainees who have been on a hunger strike for at least 60 days hang in the balance. Nearly 2,000 inmates in the Nafha, Ashkelon, Gilboa and other prisons around Israel have been on hunger strike for two weeks. The very fact of their decision to refuse food and their willingness to risk being punished by the authorities stands as a reminder of their humanity. The Israel Prison Service does not have to make much of an effort to conceal this mass action from Israeli eyes. The great majority of Israelis label all incarcerated Palestinians as conscienceless murderers or common terrorists, at the least. They have little interest in acts of personal or collective courage on the part of Palestinian detainees that serve as reminders that they are human beings.

Administrative detainees have been held without trial for years under emergency regulations inspired by the British Mandate. It's not important. Hundreds of prisoners from the Gaza Strip haven't seen their families for six or more years. Why should anyone care? When Gilad Shalit was in captivity in Gaza, the cancellation of visits for Gazan prisoners in Israel was presented as "proportionate pressure." After his release, Israelis don't care that this sort of proportionality goes on, and that family visits were not restored. So what? Why should we care that Palestinians are kept in isolation for years on end and barred from seeing their families for three, five or 10 years? Any normal prison administration would welcome prisoners' demand to go back to studying through the Open University. Studies reduce stress and tension levels in prison. But the name of the game here is submission.

Palestinian prisoners are given names and faces in the Israeli news media only if they can demonstrate their "contemptibility." Their names and faces are not mentioned in the context of their personal, family and national history for more than 60 years: expulsion, exile, destruction of their homes, the injury and killing of friends and family members by Israeli soldiers, or trifles such as beatings by soldiers or expropriation of their land by government officials. Palestinian prisoners are mentioned in terms of the number of life sentences they are serving. But Israel's revered army generals, retired and on active duty, are responsible for killing many more Palestinian (and Lebanese ) civilians than the number of Israeli civilians killed by the Palestinian prisoners.

History - praise be to Clio, the Greek muse of history - is no longer written only by the victors. But the conquerors still decide who is the hero, who is the soldier who acts as the judge and who is the defendant who is declared a terrorist even before he is convicted. The Palestinians are not recognized as prisoners of war whose weapons are less advanced, less sophisticated than those of their jailers. Israelis are not satisfied with the various measures to worsen their prison conditions. When it comes to Palestinians, punishment is not enough. Prison must also be never-ending revenge that extends what Israel tries to do outside its walls as well: to break up the collective, to weaken the individual, to deter others from resistance to the foreign regime. The hunger strike is, in effect, a protest against these goals. Not all of the Palestinian prisoners have joined it. In prison, as outside of it, Palestinian political and social cohesion has declined, and many of the inmates lack the cultural and social awareness of their predecessors. Nevertheless, the hunger strike underlines the fundamentally political nature of the collective of Palestinians incarcerated in Israel.


 Ban Ki-moon: Palestinian hunger Strikers Should be Brought to Trial or Released

Thursday May 10, 2012   by Regina Qumsieh

The Palestinian News Network reported today that Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated through his spokesman, Martin Nesirky, that the Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike and who are held under administrative detention without trial should 'be charged with legal guarantees or released'.


He noted 'the importance of avoiding deterioration of their health' and 'urgently requests all concerned to find a solution without delay.'


Nesirky concluded that Ban Ki-moon supports Robert Serry, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and his Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, who is ‘strongly engaged in this case'.


One third of the 4,700 Palestinian prisoners are currently on hunger strike, including 310 prisoners who are in administrative detention and 7 who have been on hunger strike for more than a month and a half, according to the Israeli prison administration, official Palestinian sources and humanitarian organizations.


In related news, on Wednesday dozens of Palestinians prevented UN staff from entering their offices in Ramallah, demanding that Ban intervene in the cases of Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike. The protesters carried placards denouncing the UN and calling for solidarity with Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike in Israeli jails.

from Mary Ratcliffe of SF Bay View:

 "Let the strong support Palestinians are giving their prisoners inspire us to do much more to support our prisoners here in the U.S., the world's leading prison nation. Many of the Palestinian prisoners' demands are identical with those of the 12,000 California prisoners who participated in last year's hunger strikes at their peak."


That's my Facebook message to encourage folks to sign the petition you'll find at: 


In the section below concerning the petition, it's said that "over 2,000 Palestinian prisoners have begun one of the largest hunger strikes of all time."  

Yet we know that six times as many prisoners struck in California.



Just yesterday, 1,000 residents of Dheisheh Refugee Camp, where I'm honored to have worked for many years, rallied in solidarity with the strikers. And in Ramallah, student activists staged a sit-in that shut down the United Nations building. Leaders of Palestinian nonviolent popular resistance and their Israeli allies are now calling for international solidarity demonstrations. And groups like Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, and the International Red Cross are weighing in."  quote from Lori Rudolph, Fulbright Scholar at Bethlehem and Al Quds University



Sign the petition now and show your support before it is too late for these brave activists.

Support Prisoner Hunger Strike and Five Core Human Rights Demands!

Support Prisoners on Hunger Strike at Three North Carolina Prisons!

Prisoners Begin Hunger Strike at Three Facilities In NC

On Monday July 16th 2012, prisoners at Central Prison in Raleigh, Bertie CI in Windsor, and Scotland CI in Laurinburg all began a coordinated hunger strike. The men have issued a series of demands revolving around food, healthcare, abuse by guards, and in particular for a return of prison law libraries, and are encouraging other prisoners to join in with their own actions and demands. They are also calling for the release of those on I-Con status and the abolition of separate control statuses. The prisoners have vowed not to eat until their demands are met. [see prisoners' demands below]

Correspondence with the prisoners has confirmed the strike at several facilities, and that at least at Central Prison over 100 prisoners began the strike on Monday. Prisoners have encouraged supporters to call or fax the administrations of these different facilities as well as Director Robert Lewis (see information below), to “march or protest in front of Central Prison and others,” “boycott all products being sold in these prisons,” and to “contact media outlets and let them know what we are doing.” 

The prisoners have listed the following demands (listed at the bottom), though they are also encouraging others to include any other grievances specific to their conditions. It is still unclear how many prisoners are currently participating, but correspondence with those on the inside has made it clear that the strike has spread to three at least three different facilities.

Constant attention and pressure on administrations can help make this strike a success, and protect those who are putting their lives on the line. Prisoners have asked folks on the outside to call everyday to check on fasting prisoners and pressure administration. You can contact officials at:

Robert C. Lewis, Director of Prisons
phone: 919.838.4000
fax: 919.733.8272

Central Prison Warden Ken Lassiter
phone: 919.733.0800
fax: 919.715.2645

Bertie CI Warden Renoice Stancil (The Receptionist Says Stancil Is Replaced With A Man Named Anderson)
Phone: 252-794-8600
Fax: 252-794-4608

Scotland CI Warden Sorrell Saunders
Phone: (910) 844-3078
Fax: (910) 844-3786


  1. Law Libraries. We are tired of being railroaded by the courts, and having our rights violated by prison staff and officers. NC Prison Legal Services are inadequate and oftentimes do not help us at all. A law library is needed to enable us to legally defend ourselves.

  2. An immediate end to the physical and mental abuse inflicted by officers.

  3. Improve food, in terms of quality and quantity.

  4. A better way to communicate emergencies from cells; many emergency call buttons are broken and never replaced, and guards often do not show up for over an hour. At least one prisoner has died this way.

  5. The canteens that serve lock up units need to make available vitamins and personal hygiene items.

  6. An immediate stop to officers’ tampering or throwing away prisoners’ mail.

  7. Education programs for prisoners on lock-up.

  8. The immediate release of prisoners from solitary who have been held unjustly or for years without infractions; this includes the Strong 8, sent to solitary for the purpose of political intimidation.

  9. The immediate end to the use of restraints as a form of torture.

  10. The end of cell restriction. Sometimes prisoners are locked in their cell for weeks or more than a month, unable to come out for showers and recreation.

  11. The theft of prisoners’ property, including mattresses and clothes. When on property restriction, we are forced to sleep on the ground or steel bed frames naked, with no bedding.

  12. Medical privacy and confidentiality. Guards should not be able to listen in on our medical problems when on sick call.

  13. Change our cell windows to ones which we can see through. The current windows are covered with feces and grime. Not being able to see out is sensory deprivation, and makes us feel dissociated from everything that exists outside of prison.

  14. An immediate repair of cell lights, sinks, toilets, and plumbing.

  15. Toilet brushes should be handed out with cell cleaning items.

  16. The levels of I-Con, M-Con, and H-Con need to be done away with altogether. When one is placed on Intensive Control Status (I-Con), one is placed in the hole for six months and told to stay out of trouble. But even when we stay out of trouble, we are called back to the FCC and DCC only to be told to do another six months in the hold, infraction free.

hungerstrikeposter.jpg139.9 KB

Support the Prisoner Hunger Strike - Demand an End to Torture! VIDEO & Contact Info to Make Calls!

Please circulate this film far and wide on whatever social networks or TV screens you can get it on.  [Pardon the video "typos"...]  Today, Oct 10th, is the 15th day that the prisoners have been on hunger strike for the second round.  That is in addition to the 21 days of hunger strike beginning July 1st.  

This is a crucial time to be talking about the Prisoner Hunger Strike, putting pressure wherever you can, not forgetting that the strikers are at risk of dying of starvation in this protest for human rights. 

PLEASE do what you can to bring out the voices and demands of the hunger striking prisoners, many of whom have now been even MORE ISOLATED. No family visits, no lawyers, no personal belongings.  Please contact Gov Brown, legislators (wherever you are), and the Dept. of Corrections.

Urge CDCR & CA Elected Officials to Honor the Prisoner’s Demands and Cease All Retaliation!!

Stand with the Prisoners! 


Write & Call Governor Jerry Brown and your elected officials and urge them to pressure the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners and honor their demands!:

Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841

“Hi my name is _________ and I live in CA.  I’m calling about the statewide prisoner hunger strike that resumed on Sept 26th. I support the prisoners & their reasonable “five core demands.” I am alarmed by the CDCR’s refusal to implement these demands. I urge you to make sure these demands are implemented for all SHU-status prisoners in CA immediately and in good faith. I also urge you to lift the CDCR’s ban on lawyers from the prisoners’ mediation team, and ensure the CDCR ceases all retaliation on the hunger strikers. Thank you.”

Look up your State legislators’ contact info here!

Sample Script for Phone Calls:

“Hi my name is _________ and I live your district.  I’m calling about the statewide prisoner hunger strike that resumed on Sept 26th. I support the prisoners & their reasonable “five core demands.” I am alarmed by the CDCR’s refusal to implement these demands. I urge you to make sure these demands are implemented for all SHU-status prisoners in CA immediately and in good faith. Thank you.”

Support the hunger strikers by contacting the CDCR & your representatives and urge them to negotiate with the prisoners and honor their 5 demands!

Make Calls and Write Letters to:

Secretary Matthew Cate
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
1515 S Street
Sacramento  95814
Phone: (916) 323-6001

CDCR Public Affairs Office: (916)445-4950

Sample Script for Phone Calls:

 “Hi my name is _________ . I’m calling about the statewide prisoner hunger strike that resumed on Sept 26th. I support the prisoners & their reasonable “five core demands.” I am alarmed by the the CDCR’s refusal to implement these demands. I urge you to make sure these demands are implemented for all SHU-status prisoners in CA immediately and in good faith. Thank you.”

Testimony About TORTURE in CA Solitary Housing Units

Hidden Behind Concrete and Barbed Wire: Hearings Expose Torture in California's SHUs

"My brother has been in Pelican Bay SHU for the last ten years. I'm here today to be the voice, not only for him, but for all of the prisoners who are suffering in the SHU and for all of the prisons in California. There are a lot of questions that I want answered. I want to know what our elected officials are going to do to change what's being done? Why is it 30 days later and still nothing has been done when the CDC agreed to part of the prisoners' demands? I want to know why my brother is tortured on a daily basis year after year. Why is he not fed correctly and why is he so pale and skinny? Why does my mom have to cry every time she goes to see him? Seeing everybody that has come out today just lights my fire, because I know that I am not alone and I can let him know that he is not alone."


Today we will inform the general public that our loved ones, our families and our friends are being severely tortured at Pelican Bay and the State hasn't done anything yet.

Dorsey Nunn, former prisoner, Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children,
and part of the negotiating team for the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers

On August 23, in Sacramento, attorneys, psychologists, religious leaders, and most of all former prisoners and their family members and loved ones testified on the savage treatment in California's Security Housing Units (SHUs). Their testimony revealed a prison system that can only be described as torture, a nightmarish system in which a prisoner can be thrown in solitary confinement for decades based on anonymous informants and rumors, a system which would be cruel and unjust if it were applied to animals and not human beings. Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) also testified to defend and create public opinion for the prison system they run and its current practices, including the SHUs.

The hearings were called by State Senator Tom Ammiano and the California State Assembly Public Safety Committee in response to the 20-day hunger strike initiated by prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU on July 1, 2011. These prisoners put their lives on the line, demanding basic human rights. More than 6,500 prisoners across the state joined the strike when it was initiated.

More than 200 people rallied outside and then packed the hearing in support of the prisoners, many had driven all night from Los Angeles, San Diego and other parts of the state.

Very little of the content of these hearings was reported in the mainstream press. Earl Fears, a former prisoner at the Corcoran SHU said, "We call the SHU the 'silent killer' because you have not a voice on the outside to tell the public what goes on." It is important that this powerful testimony be heard. And spreading this testimony can be part of challenging these conditions and exposing the illegitimacy and inhumanity of a system that allows them to exist. What follows are excerpts from the testimony, interviews done by Revolution and comments made at a rally/press conference before the hearing.


"Treated worse than prisoners in any civilized nation"

"It's torture to put human beings in a 10 foot by 6 foot cell and leave them there for the rest of their lives. No human contact, no photo. Nothing for 20 or 30 years. Even a year, or less than a year is torture."

Kendra, a family member of a SHU prisoner

The SHU is designed to destroy the mind, body and soul of those who are inside. It's also designed to destroy the mind, body and soul of the families. The administrators have done a very good job of portraying our brothers inside as wild animals, as beasts. You see it on the news. They don't even refer to them as human beings—and that's what they are: human beings. They are guaranteed human rights. We must do everything we can to ensure that they get those rights."

Statement at the hearings by Richard Brown,
former Black Panther and member of the San Francisco 8

Laura Magnani from the American Friends Service Committee and author of a report exposing isolation in U.S. prisons testified that, across the U.S., 80,000 prisoners were being held in long-term isolation in 2000, a 40% increase from five years earlier. She said that most experts put the current number at 100,000 nationwide. "These are shocking statistics," Magnani said, noting that the UN Human Rights Commission has specified that prolonged solitary confinement is prohibited as a form of torture.

"Other practices associated with these units also involve torture," Magnani said, "such as violent cell extractions, three point restraints, or hogtying, and, most recently, a process called 'contraband watch' that puts prisoners in diapers leaving them in their own waste for days at a time."

Craig Haney, a professor of psychology and a nationally recognized expert on solitary confinement said Pelican Bay "exposes inmates to psychologically dangerous conditions of confinement... routinely worse than prisoners in any civilized nation anywhere else in the world are treated, under conditions that many nations and human rights organizations regard as torture." Haney quoted Judge Thelton Henderson, one of the first jurists to review conditions in Pelican Bay, who wrote that the SHU "may press against the outer limits of what humans can psychologically tolerate."

Rev. William McGarvey, a Presbyterian minister and representative of Bay Area Religious Campaign Against Torture, testified that solitary confinement results in "the destruction of the human spirit." He said that Native Americans and Rastafarians are often placed in solitary for refusing to cut their hair or remove dreadlocks. He also said that anti-Islamic prejudice is responsible for the ballooning solitary population in federal prisons where 60-75% in CMU's (Communication Management Units) are Muslims.

"My husband is housed in the Pelican Bay SHU and has been there since the prison first opened in 1989," Virginia told the panel. "That's 22 years, and all of those in the SHU. That should be unheard of in the United States of America but unfortunately it is not. He hasn't been allowed to get any sunlight, walk outside or get his picture taken in those 22 years. As of recent he cannot even have a wall calendar or drawing paper. Those were taken away and when asked why the answer is always for the safety and security of the prison. Our visits are only two hours long but the prison is far from anywhere, located just 20 miles from the Oregon border. We can't hold hands during visits like other inmates and their wives as our visits are behind glass."

Earl Fears, the former Corcoran SHU prisoner, described why he thought conditions in the SHU constitute torture: "We need to talk about hunger. We need to talk about things that go on behind the wall that are not known to people in society. We need to hear about things that happen that make grown men cry, a gangster cry, a con cry. ... I want to talk about what it's like to have a guard walk by your cell open the little flap and say, 'Mr. Fears, your mother died,' and then shut the flap and that's the end of the conversation. You're shut off from all society in the SHU. I can't get a phone call to my lawyer to let him know something is being done wrong in here. In the hole you don't have a phone call to call a lawyer. You don't have a phone call to call your mother, to call your brother, to call your son. You don't have that right."

Gang Validation: "At the mercy of CDCR's closed system"

The items that validated him are items that would not be uncommon for me to have in my backpack on any given day..."

A law student whose brother is in the SHU 

One of the main demands of the prisoners has been an end to the process under which prisoners are sent to the SHU. This system called, "gang validation," has resulted in thousands being sent to the SHU as gang members with little or no factually supported collaboration of gang activity and with no chance of getting out except by "debriefing," meaning giving names of other supposed gang members.

Charles Carbone, an attorney who represents prisoners testified that, "The overwhelming majority of prisoners who are doing time in the SHU for gang validation have not committed a serious rules violation of any kind." Carbone said that the affiliation process is not based on "gang activity," in other words being involved in any activities by a gang which violate prison rules, but on "affiliation," mere association, and this can be—and is—defined very loosely.

Carbone said that only three pieces of "documentation" are needed to validate someone and send them to the SHU. According to Carbone one of the most widely used is the confidential informant and that there is no opportunity for someone facing validation to challenge this. Another item that can be used for gang validation can be a book that merely mentions an historical fact. Carbone said that books by or about 1960s prison leader and revolutionary George Jackson are often used to validate someone as a gang member. He also said that he had just heard that the book The Art of War by the ancient Chinese military leader Sun Tzu was also used as evidence of gang affiliation.

With this kind of "evidence" people are sent to the SHU with no review for a minimum of six years unless they debrief, go insane or die.

Here are some remarks by family members to the panel:

Denial of Health Care

A formal complaint by Pelican Bay SHU inmates laying out their reasons for starting the hunger strike documented denial of adequate medical care to SHU prisoners. According to the prisoners complaint, starting in 2006, Pelican Bay began to "systematically discontinue and deny medication, specialist care, assistive aids by telling SHU inmates, 'if you want better care get out of the SHU' and now SHU inmates are chained down to the floor of the clinic like animals if they need to see a doctor/nurse.) The psychiatric staff are complicit too, claiming that "there are no mental health issues precluding continue SHU confinement", without any personal interaction with those inmates."

The following are excerpts from the testimony at the hearing about health care in the SHUs:

These hearings clearly demonstrated, with overwhelming evidence, the inhumanity, cruelty and illegitimacy of California's prison system, and the utter justness of the prisoner's hunger strike and their demands.

Tens of thousands of prisoners around the U.S. are being held in the kind of barbarous conditions that the prisoners at Pelican Bay have so courageously rebelled against. It remains very urgent that all those who oppose injustice and oppression continue to speak out and wage a determined fight to support the prisoners and their demands and put an end to this. This battle is not over!



The Living Death of Solitary Confinement

NY Times opinion blog on solitary confinement, by Lisa Guenther

There are many ways to destroy a person, but the simplest and most devastating might be solitary confinement.  Deprived of meaningful human contact, otherwise healthy prisoners often come unhinged. They experience intense anxiety, paranoia, depression, memory loss, hallucinations and other perceptual distortions. Psychiatrists call this cluster of symptoms SHU syndrome, named after the Security Housing Units of many supermax prisons. Prisoners have more direct ways of naming their experience.  They call it “living death,” the “gray box,” or “living in a black hole.”

In June the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, headed by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, held the first Congressional hearing on solitary confinement.  Advocates and experts in the field were invited to submit testimony on the psychological, ethical, social and economic issues raised by punitive isolation.  Among the many contributors was Anthony Graves, who spent over 18 years on death row in Texas, most of them in solitary confinement, for a crime he did not commit. Graves describes his isolation as a form of “emotional torture.”  Two years after his exoneration and release, he still feels trapped in isolation: “I am living amongst millions of people in the world today, but most of the time I feel alone.  I cry at night because of this feeling.  I just want to stop feeling this way, but I haven’t been able to.” 

We tend to assume that solitary confinement is reserved for “the worst of the worst”: violent inmates who have proved themselves unwilling or unable to live in the general population.  But the truth is that an inmate can be sent to the hole for failing to return a meal tray, or for possession of contraband (which can include anything from weapons to spicy tortilla chips).  According to the Bureau of Justice, there were 81,622 prisoners in some form of “restricted housing” (code for solitary confinement) in 2005.  If anything, these numbers have increased as isolation units continue to be built in prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers across the country.  Given that 95 percent of all inmates are eventually released into the public, and that many of these will be released without any form of transition or therapy, solitary confinement is a problem that potentially affects every one of us.

Leif Parsons

In my own statement for the Senate subcommittee, I made a philosophical argument against solitary confinement, drawing on my research in phenomenology.  Phenomenology is a philosophical method for uncovering the structure of lived experience by describing what it is like from a first person perspective.  Rather than attempting to prove a set of objective facts, phenomenology tracks the way that a meaningful experience of the world emerges for someone in the total situation of their Being-in-the-world.  It’s not that facts are unimportant, but rather that they are not meaningful in themselves; they become meaningful when they are experienced by someone in relation to a wider context or horizon.  What happens when that horizon shrinks to the space of a 6-by-9 cell?

Consider the following testimony from prisoners interviewed by the psychiatrist Stuart Grassian in Block 10 of Walpole Penitentiary in 1982:

I went to a standstill psychologically once — lapse of memory.  I didn’t talk for 15 days.  I couldn’t hear clearly.  You can’t see — you’re blind — block everything out — disoriented, awareness is very bad.  Did someone say he’s coming out of it?  I think what I’m saying is true — not sure.  I think I was drooling — a complete standstill.

I seem to see movements — real fast motions in front of me. Then seems like they’re doing things behind your back — can’t quite see them. Did someone just hit me?  I dwell on it for hours.

Melting, everything in the cell starts moving; everything gets darker, you feel you are losing your vision.

I can’t concentrate, can’t read . . . Your mind’s narcotized . . . sometimes can’t grasp words in my mind that I know.  Get stuck, have to think of another word.  Memory is going.  You feel you are losing something you might not get back.

Deprived of everyday encounters with other people, and cut off from an open-ended experience of the world as a place of difference and change, many inmates lose touch with reality. What is the prisoner in solitary confinement at risk of losing, to the point of not getting it back?

The prisoner in a control unit may have adequate food and drink, and the conditions of his confinement may meet or exceed court-tested thresholds for humane treatment.  But there is something about the exclusion of other living beings from the space that they inhabit, and the absence of even the possibility of touching or being touched by another, that threatens to undermine the identity of the subject.  The problem with solitary confinement is not just that it deprives the inmate of her freedom.  This harm is already inflicted by our prison system, and depending on how you feel about justice and punishment, depriving people of freedom may be justifiable.  But prolonged isolation inflicts another kind of harm, one that can never be justified.  This harm is ontological; it violates the very structure of our relational being.

Think about it: Every time I hear a sound and see another person look toward the origin of that sound, I receive an implicit confirmation that what I heard was something real, that it was not just my imagination playing tricks on me.  Every time someone walks around the table rather than through it, I receive an unspoken, usually unremarkable, confirmation that the table exists, and that my own way of relating to tables is shared by others.  When I don’t receive these implicit confirmations, I can usually ask someone — but for the most part, we don’t need to ask because our experience is already interwoven with the experience of many other living, thinking, perceiving beings who relate to the same world from their own unique perspective.  This multiplicity of perspectives is like an invisible net that supports the coherence of my own experience, even (or especially) when others challenge my interpretation of “the facts.”  These facts are up for discussion in the first place because we inhabit a shared world with others who agree, at the very least, that there is something to disagree about.

When we isolate a prisoner in solitary confinement, we deprive them of both the support of others, which is crucial for a coherent experience of the world, and also the critical challenge that others pose to our own interpretation of the world.  Both of these are essential for a meaningful experience of things, but they are especially important for those who have broken the law, and so violated the trust of others in the community.  If we truly want our prisons to rehabilitate and transform criminal offenders, then we must put them in a situation where they have a chance and an obligation to explain themselves to others, to repair damaged networks of mutual support, and to lend their own unique perspective to creating meaning in the world.

We ask too little of prisoners when we isolate them in units where they are neither allowed nor obliged to create and sustain meaningful, supportive relations with others.  For the sake of justice, not only for them but for ourselves, we must put an end to the over-use of solitary confinement in this country, and we must begin the difficult but mutually rewarding work of bringing the tens of thousands of currently isolated prisoners back into the world.

Lisa Guenther is an associate professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University and the author of the forthcoming book “Social Death and Its Afterlives: A Critical Phenomenology of Solitary Confinement.”

The Shame of California


    I’ve been eating well this summer, enjoying the local fruits and vegetables of northwest California, while sixty miles away a group of men risked their health by refusing to eat for three weeks. I’m in Big Lagoon, surrounded by ocean, lagoon, and forest in an area of coastal California described by National Geographic as among the top twenty “unspoiled” tourist destinations in the world. An hour’s drive north of here is Pelican Bay State Prison, a state-of-the-art hellhole that was recently the center of a three-week hunger strike led by prisoners in the Secure Housing Units (SHU).

    Pelican Bay was California’s first supermax prison, built in 1989 on 275 acres of clear-cut forest near Crescent City. With an annual budget of $180 million, it has a payroll of more than 1,600 guards and service workers. The prison was built for 2,280 prisoners, but its current census is close to 3,500, almost half of whom is housed in a prison within the prison, the SHU, an X-shaped cluster of brutalist concrete buildings, surrounded by guard towers, electronic fencing, and barren ground. Here, more than a thousand men, whose families live hundreds of miles away, are imprisoned 23 hours a day in 8 x 10 foot, windowless, constantly lit cells, subject to sensory deprivation and social isolation, sometimes for years.

    The hunger strike at Pelican Bay, which lasted from July 1st to July 22nd, was led by long-term prisoners in the SHU. It is estimated that on any given day in the United States, at least 25,000 prisoners are held in isolation, and perhaps as many as another 80,000 are kept in segregation units, typically in isolation. Writing in the New Yorker (“Hellhole,” 30 March 2009), Atul Gawande calls this practice “legalized torture,” resulting in long-term physical and mental damage to many of its victims.

    Pelican Bay, like many of California’s prisons, was built on formerly agricultural land in a region seeking to resuscitate its depressed economy. The hardscrabble Crescent City, briefly a boomtown during the Gold Rush and once a beneficiary of the lumber and commercial fishing industries, has one of the state’s highest unemployment rates and most stingy public services. When the state borrowed from public funds to build the high security prison at a cost of $277.5 million to taxpayers, it was supposed to boost the local economy. But the benefits primarily went to local landowners, and construction and utility companies; to national chains like K-Mart, Ace Hardware, and Safeway; and to the politically powerful guards’ union. Meanwhile, the county’s unemployment rate is almost 14 percent and one out of three people live in hand-to-mouth poverty.

    The city’s misery is compounded by its record rainfall and susceptibility to tsunamis. Unless work or family requires you to stay in Crescent City, this is a place to drive through on the way somewhere else. No wonder that prisoners comprise about 46 percent of the city’s 7,600 population. Small towns that hoped for a bonanza by inviting prison construction, says Ruth Gilmore in Golden Gulag, are victims of a boondoggle.

    California may lag behind many other states in high school graduation rates, welfare benefits, and investment in public health, but when it comes to punishment, we rank at or near the top. Between 1852 and 1964, California built only twelve prisons. Since 1984, the state has erected forty-three penal institutions, making it a global leader in prison construction. Today, ninety penitentiaries, small prisons, and minimum-security camps stretch across nine hundred miles of the fifth largest economy in the world.

    In 1982, the prison system cost taxpayers two percent of the General Fund; by 2006, it cost almost eight percent. In 2008, more than one out of six state workers in California was employed by the Department of Corrections, almost three times as many as were employed in Health and Human Services. In the last decade, “corrections”  (with 61,000 employees) has increased its share of state workers, passing the state university system (46,000), second only to the University of California (86,000). Meanwhile, prison suicide and recidivism rates approach twice the national average. And we have one of the most extravagant penal systems in the country, costing taxpayers about the same as the state spends on higher education.

    Most of the new prisons have been built in out-of-the way rural areas, like Crescent City, making it easier to lose sight of the humanity of the people we warehouse: mostly men (93 percent), mostly Latinos and African Americans (two-thirds), mostly from big cities (sixty percent from Los Angeles), and mostly unemployed or the working poor, victimized by drastic changes in California’s economy over the last twenty years. The prison system is the shame of California, testimony to the persistence of institutionalized racism, the widening economic divide, and the gutting of social programs.

    Prisons function as an unemployment program comparable to early capitalist workhouses, except they’ve become warehouses of unused labor rather than sites of production. When prisoners return to their communities, observes Gilmore, the cycle is repeated: they are locked out of “education, employment, housing, and many other stabilizing institutions of everyday life. In such inhospitable places, everybody isolates.”

    On July 1st, a small group of prisoners in Pelican Bay’s SHU, calling themselves the Short Corridor Collective, initiated a hunger strike, calling for the abolition of long-term solitary confinement, improvement in programs for SHU prisoners, and an end to various abusive administrative procedures. Unlike a similar action by prisoners in 2002, this strike drew the support of thousands of prisoners throughout the state. Moreover, Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity was so successful in getting out information about the strike that European human rights organizations urged the Governor to respond to prisoners’ demands and the New York Times carried an Op Ed condemning the “bestial treatment” of prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison (Colin Dayan, “Barbarous Confinement,” 17 July 2011).

    During the strike, according to the Short Corridor Collective, at least seventeen strikers, including three leaders, were transferred to another prison for medical treatment. The Collective ended the action on July 22nd after gaining the right to wear cold weather caps, to have calendars in their cells, and to have access to educational programs in the SHU. Though these concessions by prison authorities are modest, we should not underestimate the larger significance of the strike. It draws worldwide attention to the widespread use of torturous practices by the United States against its own citizens; it forces the government of California to sit down, face-to-face, and negotiate with people who have been demonized as semi-human beasts; and it raises the possibility of once again incorporating prisoners into a larger struggle for social justice.

    The civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s regarded prisoners as an important constituency, forging intimate ties between community and prison. It fought for massive decarceration, abolition of capital punishment, and ending the racial double standard of arrest and incarceration. It will take a similar movement today to expose the tragedy of American injustice and make prisoners human again. Thanks to the Short Corridor Collective and thousands of activist prisoners, we now have an opportunity to renew the struggle.

July 28, 2011

by Tony Platt, Professor emeritus, California State University, Sacramento

For more information about the strike at Pelican Bay and its consequences, contact prisonhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.

Thurs, Oct 13th EMERGENCY Eureka Rally: Support Prisoner Hunger Strike - Demand End to Torture!

Support the Prisoner Hunger Strike -
Demand an End to Torture

October 13th Rally in Solidarity 
A Reading of Prisoners' Letters

Thursday Oct 13th   3:00–7:00pm   Urgent RALLY In Solidarity With Prisoner Hunger Strike!

In front of the Humboldt County Courthouse and Jail!  
825 5th St. Eureka, CA

Wear Orange, if possible!


Support California prisoners on day 18 of their historic hunger strike. Students and professors, family members with loved ones in prison, members of the legal, human and civil rights community -- join us in reading prisoner letters, spreading the word, and visibly supporting the prisoners on hunger strike.  Please forward this call widely, announce in classes, post on Facebook, and  text your family and friends.  Also, email or bring messages of support to be read at the rally. Similar rallies and events for the hunger strikers and their demands are occurring simultaneously in other locations on Thursday, October 13th.


Think about everything that makes you human... that keeps you physically and mentally alive... that connects you with the world and other people... that gives you a reason to live, to love, to learn and think....  All this is what the SHU tries to extinguish.  In the SHU you're locked up in a small, windowless concrete cell 23 hours a day, with minimum human contact and maximum sensory deprivation, for years and sometimes decades.  


"I'm ready to take this all the way," says J. Angel Martinez, one of the strike representatives at Pelican Bay State Prison. "We are sick and tired of living like this and willing to die if that's what it takes."


Over 6,500 prisoners across California went on hunger strike from July 1 to July 20, demanding to be treated as human beings; and an end to barbaric, inhumane conditions and long-term solitary confinement -- a form of torture.  Prisoners resumed the hunger strike on September 26, with nearly 12,000 joining, because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) reneged on its promise to meet their 5 demands. (Prisoners' demands )


The CDCR, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is retaliating against hunger strikers. "We're freezing,"strike representative Ron Yandell told an attorney, as quoted in the New York Times "The air-conditioner is blowing. It's like arctic air coming through, blowing at top speed. It's torture. They're trying to break us."  Cruel retaliation by the CDCR also includes forbidding visits by family members of hunger strikers and from lawyers working with the hunger strikers. Absolute isolation.


On October 4, Amnesty International called for "swift implementation of reforms to California security housing units," and condemned "conditions in the SHUs at Pelican Bay and other facilities, where several thousand prisoners are held in isolation, confined to windowless cells for more than 22 hours a day, with minimal human contact and no work, recreational or educational programs."  


Letters from prisoners testify to their deep humanity and potential to become emancipators of humanity.  One prisoner wrote: "our sacrifice now will mean a more humane world for us in the future...many of the conditions for prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay are really better than SHU prisoners in Pelican Bay.”  

All of us have a moral responsibility to stand up for the basic rights and humanity of those held behind bars, and build a determined movement outside prison walls demanding CDCR grant the prisoners' just demands and immediately halt its retaliation against hunger strikers.  


This rally and letter reading has been initiated Redwood Curtain CopWatch and Peoples' Action for Rights and Community (PARC) and other supporters of the prisoner hunger strike.  Contact: Verbena 707.633.4493


For more information on the hunger strike, see:


Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity 


12,000 Prisoners Resume Hunger Strike in California


End Long Term Isolation, Solitary Confinement and Other Torture in U.S. Prisons


Tortured men face death in 33-day Georgia Hunger Strike For Human Rights

Georgian prisoners starving to death for human rights

Prison abuse  July 14, 2012  by Deborah Dupre

Nine prisoners face death on a hunger strike for human rights that began June 11 at Georgia’s massive Diagnostic and Classification prison, where Troy Davis was murdered last year and where men are tortured in solitary confinement.

“It has been 33 days since these men have eaten. We must move swiftly or people are going to start dying,” writes Delma Jackson, wife of the inmate who leads the strike, Miguel Jackson.

Miguel Jackson is the prisoner beaten with a hammer-like object in retaliation for his role in the December 2010 mass sit-down strike to raise awareness about slave labor and other atrocities at Georgia's massive Diagnostic and Classification prison, what CBS Atlanta reported the inmates call "unreasonable and inhumane treatment by prison guards and officials."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, based on claims by the Georgia Department of Corrections, reported Tuesday that the strike is over:

"A hunger strike by 10 inmates at the Georgia Classification & Diagnostic Prison has ended, according to the Department of Corrections. The strike, which sparked a protest at the state capitol building Monday, lasted from June 10 to July 6. Corrections is also denying claims that it mistreated the striking prisoners.

"'The hunger strike ended when inmates requested food from GDC officials,' said Dabney Weems, a public relations official."

Families and an attorney for the prisoners, however, "insist that the nine hunger strikers remain resolved and continue to insist on administrative review of their status, adequate medical care, and access to mail and visitation privileges with their families and attorneys which have been arbitrarily denied them," reports San Francisco Bay View News, based on the story by Bruce A. Dixon, managing editor at Black Agenda Report where this story first appeared.

Dixon is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party and is heard on Black Agenda Radio Commentaries.

(Listen to Bruce Dixon's commentary on the Georgia prison strike here.)

Georgia's Green Party called on Americans to fast for one day in solidarity with the prisoners, saying in a written statement:

"Eighteen months after Georgia Department of Corrections employees brutally suppressed a non-violent work stoppage led by inmates in as many as eleven of the state's 34 prisons, it is believed that the "Hidden-37" have been in solitary confinement ever since. The Georgia Green Party today called on Governor Deal to end the torture; and on Georgians to join hunger striking Georgia inmates in a one day solidarity fast."

"Prison officials are surprised at the level of outside support the inmates enjoy despite a virtual news whiteout," states Bruce Dixon, editor of The Black Agenda Report.

Georgia denies inmates hygiene and medical treatment for injuries inflicted 18 months ago

"Miguel and other inmates at Georgia Diagnostics have been denied access to proper hygiene [and] medical treatment for their numerous and severe injuries, many of which were inflicted 18 months ago," wrote Delma Jackson in a Change.org petition.

Jackson's family alleges that he was beaten by prison guards at Smith State Prison in December 2010, transferred in 2011 to the Georgia Classification & Diagnostic Prison where he has been kept in solitary confinement for the past 18 months.

The Department of Corrections denied those allegations in a statement to the AJC.

"[The Georgia Bureau of Investigation] investigated the claim filed by inmate Miguel Jackson regarding the 2010 Smith State Prison incident and found no validity to the inmate's complaint," stated Dabney Weems, a public relations official.

According to the ACJ, the department also said Jackson has not been in solitary confinement.

In a petition that citizens of faith and conscience are asked to sign, The Black Agenda Report states about solitary confinement torture:

"As the international community has examined the research, including over a century of scientific studies suggesting that prolonged solitary confinement leads to irreversable mental degredation, experts have found that use of segregation for period in excess of fifteen days constitutes torture and cannot be supported under existing international standards for human rights."

Many of the men now on hunger strike were involved in a hunger strike launched in December 2010.

"Unfortunately the peaceful demonstration was cut short by the brutal beating of inmate Miguel Jackson and others who were allegedly targeted for participating in the protest," reported CBS Atlanta on Monday.

"Thirty-seven of the men who participated in the original hunger strike were singled out as leaders, and as punishment they were sent to the Diagnostic and Classification Prison, where they were placed in solitary confinement."

Monday, Jackson said he still suffers splitting migraines as a result of the attack.

The strike gained national attention Monday, July 9 after approximately 30 people gathered at Georgia’s state capitol to visit the governor’s office, where they left support letters for the hunger strikers.

A Solidarity Rally will be held Monday at the Georgia Department of Corrections headquarters, 300 Patrol Rd., Forsyth, Ga.

"We will be demanding a meeting and we will not leave until Commissioner Brian Owens agrees to meet with us," stated Delma Jackson. "We need your support and prayers for these courageous men.”

Delma Jackson heads the Prodigal Child Project Atlanta.

Citizen support requested

"Your phone calls to the prison warden, the Department of Corrections and the governor of Georgia have already made a difference," stated San Francisco Bay News editor, Mary Ratcliff. "Delma Jackson, wife of hunger striker Miguel Jackson, asks everyone to 'post this flier on social media, blogs etc. It is imperative that we build awareness and gain all the support we can.' Click to enlarge."

"Whether or not the hunger strike lasts much longer, the nine prisoners involved have already demonstrated their unshakable resolve and deserve your continued concern and support – and your calls, which are still needed," states Ratcliff.

"When you call, ask about the men by name and ID number. Here are the names and ID numbers of the nine prisoners now in the fifth week of their hunger strike."

Call, fax and email:

“We’re also having an international call-in day to support Georgia hunger strikers this Monday, July 16,” said Delma Jackson.

“Please encourage everyone to call Commissioner Brian Owens while we are outside the Department of Corrections demonstrating, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET (7-10 a.m. PT).”

 Related topics


Truth Mob VIDEO: Join Day in Support of Prisoners

If you are in Eureka, please come to Occupy Eureka to occupy for prisoners at 12 Noon on Monday (Feb 20)!

For other locations of solidarity demonstrations with prisoners on Monday, see here: http://occupy4prisoners.org/actions/

U.N. Torture Investigator Calls For An End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement should be banned in most cases, UN expert says

18 October 2011A United Nations expert on torture today called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners except in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible, with an absolute prohibition in the case of juveniles and people with mental disabilities.

“Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez told the General Assembly’s third committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural affairs, saying the practice could amount to torture.

“Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system,” he stressed in presenting his first interim report on the practice, calling it global in nature and subject to widespread abuse.

Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique

Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez

Indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition, he added, citing scientific studies that have established that some lasting mental damage is caused after a few days of social isolation.

“Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles,” he warned.

The practice should be used only in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible, he stressed. “In the exceptional circumstances in which its use is legitimate, procedural safeguards must be followed. I urge States to apply a set of guiding principles when using solitary confinement,” he said.

He told a later news conference these circumstances could include the protection of inmates in cases where they are gay, lesbian or bisexual or otherwise threatened by prison gangs.

There is no universal definition for solitary confinement since the degree of social isolation varies with different practices, but Mr. Méndez defined it as any regime where an inmate is held in isolation from others, except guards, for at least 22 hours a day.

In his report he noted that in the United States an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 individuals are being held in isolation, while in Argentina a prevention of violent behaviour programme consists of isolation for at least nine months and, according to prison monitors, is frequently extended.

He warned of an increased risk of torture in these cases because of the absence of witnesses and said some detainees have been held in solitary confinement facilities for years, without any charge and without trial, as well as in secret detention centres.

Mr. Méndez told the news conference that he had been following the case of US soldier Bradley Manning, detained in connection with his alleged leaking of secret cables to the WikiLeaks website. Mr. Manning was held in solitary confinement for eight months but has now been moved and is no longer subject to the same restrictions, he noted, adding that he would release a report on the issue in a few weeks.

Examples he cited in his report from around the world included Kazakhstan where solitary confinement can last for more than two months, and the US terrorist detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, where experts found that although 30 days of isolation was the maximum period permissible, some detainees were returned to isolation after very short breaks over a period of up to 18 months.

Elsewhere, two prisoners are reported to have been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana, US, for 40 years after attempts for a judicial appeal of their conditions failed, he noted. In China an individual sentenced for “unlawfully supplying State secrets or intelligence to entities outside China” was allegedly held in solitary confinement for two years of her eight-year sentence.

“Social isolation is one of the harmful elements of solitary confinement and its main objective. It reduces meaningful social contact to an absolute minimum,” Mr. Méndez told the committee, noting that a significant number of individuals will experience serious health problems regardless of specific conditions of time, place, and pre-existing personal factors.

He called for an end to solitary confinement in pre-trial detention based solely on the seriousness of the alleged offence, as well as a complete ban on its use for juveniles and persons with mental disabilities.

Solitary confinement for shorter terms or for legitimate disciplinary reasons can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in cases where the physical conditions of prisons, such as sanitation and access to food and water, violate the inherent dignity of the human person and cause severe mental and physical pain or suffering.

Today’s news conference also heard from Claudio Grossman, chair of the UN Committee against Torture, and Malcolm Evans, chair of the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture.



excerpt fromUnderstanding the U.S. Torture State

You don’t have to take the UN’s word for it. Tapley describes compellingly a totalitarian hell for domestic prisoners. Nothing like it can be found in the world of criminal justice, especially the so-called civilized world. And what are “cell extractions”? The author describes one prisoner who endures them “up to five times a day”:

Five hollering guards wearing helmets and body armor charge into a cell. The point-man smashes a big shield into the prisoner, knocking him down. The others spray Mace into his face, push him onto the bed, and twist his arms behind his back to handcuff him, connecting the cuffs by a chain to leg irons. Then they haul him into the corridor, cut off all his clothes, and carry him screaming through the cell block while they continue to Mace him. They put him in an observation room, and bind him to a special chair. He remains there for hours, naked and cold, yelling and mumbling.

Estimates of how many American prisoners sit in super-maxes range between 36,000 and 100,000. Not all inmates are violent rapists and murderers. Many are mentally troubled. Their terrible treatment is one reason some of us were not so shocked by the photos at Abu Ghraib.


U.S. is the Worst Police State in the World – By the Numbers

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford | August 29, 2012

When U.S. corporate media operatives use the term “police state,” they invariably mean some other country. Even the so-called “liberal” media, from Democracy Now to the MSNBC menagerie, cannot bring themselves to say “police state” and the “United States” without putting the qualifying words “like” or “becoming” in the middle. The U.S. is behaving “like” a police state, they say, or the U.S. is in danger of “becoming” a police state. But it is never a police state. Since these privileged speakers and writers are not themselves in prison – because what they write and say represents no actual danger to the state – they conclude that a U.S. police state does not, at this time, exist.

Considering the sheer size and social penetration of its police and imprisonment apparatus, the United States is not only a police state, but the biggest police state in the world, by far: the police state against whose dimensions all other police systems on Earth must be measured.

By now, even the most insulated, xenophobic American knows that the U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world. He might not know that 25 percent of prison inmates in the world are locked up in the U.S., or that African Americans comprise one out of every eight of the planet’s prisoners. But, he is probably aware that America is number one in the prisons business. He probably approves. God bless the police state.

For the American media, including lots of media that claim to be of the Left, it is axiomatic that China is a police state. And maybe, by some standards, it is. But, according to United Nations figures, China is 87th in the world in the proportion of its people who are imprisoned. China is a billion people bigger than the United States – more than four times the population – yet U.S. prisons house in excess of 600,000 more people than China does. The Chinese prison population is just 70 percent of the American Gulag. That’s quite interesting because, non-whites make up about 70 percent of U.S. prisons. That means, the Black, brown, yellow and red populations of U.S. prisons number roughly the same as all of China’s incarcerated persons. Let me emphasize that: The American People of Color Gulag is as large as the entire prison population of China, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.

However, police states must be measured by conditions behind the bars, as well as raw numbers of inmates. And, by that standard, the American Gulag is even more monstrous.

Civilized people now recognize that solitary confinement is a form of torture. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, reports that solitary confinement beyond 15 days at a stretch crosses the line of torture, yet, as Al Jazeera recently reported, it is typical for hundred of thousands of U.S. prisoners to spend 30 or 60 days in solitary at a stretch. Twenty thousand are held in perpetual isolation in so-called supermax prisons – that is, they exist in a perpetual state of torture. Studies now show that, all told, 80,000 U.S. prisoners are locked up in solitary on any given day. That’s as many tortured people as the entire prison system of Germany, or of England, Scotland and Wales, combined.

If that is not a police state, then no such thing exists on planet Earth.

Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.


US Senate Passes 'INDEFINITE DETENTION' Bill [Videos, Articles]

 No due process. No trial. No proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Indefinite military imprisonment based on suspicion alone.

  Indefinite detention: 'Architecture of fascist state'


Senate Approves Imprisonment of U.S. Citizens, Without Charge, As Terrorists



Indefinite Military Detention Measure Passes On Bill Of Rights Day



Misreading the Fight Over Military Detention

The Obama Regime Has No Constitutional Scruples



We Need a 'Rout' of Wolves to Evict the 'Stench' of Skunks Occupying Washington





VIDEO from Legislative Hearing on Torture & the SHU at Pelican Bay

Check it out!  This is NOT a boring meeting.  This meeting (Aug 23, 2011) could have only happened due to the courage and strong acts of prisoner hunger strikers!

(part 1 of 2)

(part 2 of 2)
For very detailed notes (almost complete transcript), click here:

ASSEMBLY HEARING_'transcript'5.pdf230.35 KB

VIDEO: Strong Truths About the SHU


Virginia from CA Hunger Strike Solidarity on Vimeo.

Vote YES on Prop 36: Amend the Three Strikes Law

America's prison problem (Great VIDEO)

Why does the US put so many people behind bars and what lies behind California's new push for leniency?

last Modified: 01 Nov 2012 14:40

By filmmakers Michael Montgomery and Monica Lam

The US locks up more people than any other country in the world, spending over $80billion each year to keep some two million prisoners behind bars. Over the past three decades, tough sentencing laws have contributed to a doubling of the country's prison population, with laws commonly known as 'three strikes and you're out' mandating life sentences for a wide range of crimes.

But a clear sign that Americans are rethinking crime and punishment is a voter's initiative on California's November ballot called Proposition 36 that seeks to reform the state's three-strikes law. Some 27 states have three-strikes laws patterned after California's version, which was one of the first to be enacted in the country.

Since it was passed in 1994, nearly 9,000 felons have been convicted in California under the law.

One of them is Norman Williams, a 49-year-old African-American man who was a crack addict living on the streets. He was convicted of burglarising an empty home and later stealing an armload of tools from an art studio. His third strike: filching a jack from a tow truck in Long Beach. His fate sealed under California's three-strikes law, Williams was sent to a maximum security prison [for a life sentence] alongside murderers, rapists and other violent criminals.

"I never wanted to do my whole life in prison. Nobody wants to be caged like that," Williams says.

Williams was lucky. After 13 years behind bars, his case was reviewed by a judge and he was released. He is one of about two dozen 'three strikers' who have won sentence reductions through the work of a Stanford University law clinic founded by Michael Romano. In Williams' case, the prosecutor actually agreed that the original sentence was too harsh. An idea emerged from Romano's work: Why not draft a ballot initiative to ensure that sentences like Williams' will not be repeated?

"When people originally passed the three-strikes law in 1994 the campaigns were about keeping serious and violent murderers, child molesters in prison for the rest of their lives," Romano says. "I think that's what people want and are kind of shocked to hear that people have been sentenced to life for petty theft."
Romano helped write Proposition 36, which would amend Californian law so felons could be sentenced to life only if their third strike is a serious or violent crime. Current 'three strikers' could appeal their sentences if their last conviction was non-serious and non-violent. However, the three-strikes law could still apply to felons whose third strike is a minor crime if their past strikes include violence, or what many call "super strikes" like murder, rape and child molestation.

Adam Gelb, the director of the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project, says the proposition could be a bellwether for crime policies across the US.

"California's three-strikes law really stands out," he says. "If it's changed it will definitely send a dramatic signal to policy makers across the country that it is a new day. 

'Hope for strikers'

Opponents of the initiative argue that the current three-strikes law works well, and has contributed to a dramatic fall in violent crime over the past two decades.

"We want to remove the worst offenders from society for the sake of our communities," says Carl Adams, the head of the California District Attorneys Association. "And we want to do it no matter what it costs and we want to do it no matter what the impact on the prison population."

Opponents also say prosecutors today are using the current law judiciously, pointing out that more than 80 per cent of 'three strikers' were sentenced prior to 2000. Changing the law, they say, would remove an important tool from the prosecutorial toolbox.

"I don’t know why anybody would want to fix something that doesn't require fixing," says Marc Klaas, one of the state's fiercest defenders of the current three-strikes law. Klaas led the charge to pass tough, mandatory sentencing laws after his 12-year-old daughter Polly was raped and murdered by a career criminal in 1993. "It's really about preventing future victimisations," Klaas says.

But critics of the current law say the net is cast too widely. At San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco, some inmates convicted under third strikes have formed a self-help group called 'Hope for Strikers'. Some of the men here even voted for the original three-strikes law.

Joey Mason lived in Polly Klaas' hometown and remembers the uproar surrounding her murder.

"It devastated a lot of people," he says.

Mason was later convicted of burglary when he relapsed into drug addiction and is now serving a life sentence. Most of the men in the group say they are here for non-violent crimes, like Eddie Griffin, who was sentenced to 27-years-to-life for possession of cocaine, or Forrest Lee Jones, who caught a third strike when he stole a VCR.

"I never believed that three-strikes was going to go after us men," says Mason.

Indeed, an analysis of state data by the Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with the San Francisco Chronicle found that 'three strikers' are not more prone to violence than other inmates. Instead, they have a higher risk of drug and substance abuse problems.

Behind bars: Prison conditions

Activists who are campaigning to change the three-strikes law in California are also trying to raise awareness about conditions inside prisons. They are targeting the use of special security units at maximum security prisons like Pelican Bay State Prison. A recent report by Amnesty International condemned the long-term use of these special units, equating them to solitary confinement.

"Pelican Bay is a vivid example of a criminal justice system at its most extreme," says Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Amnesty International USA.

Corrections officials defend their use of the special units, saying they are necessary to segregate some of the state's most dangerous criminals - powerful gang members and violent inmates.

"The design is based on providing the maximum amount of security in housing these men separate from our general population and it provides for the safety of my staff, which is paramount," says Pelican Bay warden Greg Lewis.

But national scrutiny is being aimed at the stark conditions inside Pelican Bay and other so-called supermax prisons. In June, US Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois called for a hearing on the use of solitary confinement.

"We as American citizens are driving other American citizens out of their minds," testified Anthony Graves, a former Texas death row inmate who was exonerated after 18 years. For 10 of those years, Graves was held in isolation.

"No one can begin to imagine the psychological effects isolation has on another human being," he says.

Durbin says Americans are ready to rethink the costs of 'tough on crime' policies - both the human and financial costs. "There are things we can do that sound tough that are a waste of money and lead America down a path that we don't want to go down," he says.

The cost of incarceration

As election day approaches, the campaign to change California's three-strikes law is focusing its message on the burden to taxpayers.

In a TV ad, district attorneys from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties endorse Proposition 36, saying: "Save millions of dollars, instead of wasting millions on non-violent offenders."

The Yes-on-36-campaign has gathered support from across the political spectrum, including conservative watchdog Grover Norquist and religious conservatives like Pat Nolan.

Even if California voters decide to amend the three-strikes law, only a few thousand inmates would qualify to have their sentences reduced. Still, the change would send an important signal to the rest of the country, says Adam Gelb.

"California started this trend, as it starts so many trends," says Gelb. "What's happening in California now is going to resonate loudly across the country in terms of criminal justice policy for years to come."

Source:Al Jazeera


People & Power can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 2230; Thursday: 0930; Friday: 0330; Saturday: 1630; Sunday: 2230; Monday: 0930.

Click here for more on People & Power.

Wed. Feb 26th: Bringing Justice Into Criminal Justice

The Prison System As We Know It


& What You Can Do About It

Guest Speakers:

LAURA MAGNANI, a nationally known expert on solitary confinement,
of American Friends Service Committee

KEVAN INSKO of FCLCA, a nonpartisan, statewide public interest lobby founded by Quakers

Arcata Presbyterian Church, 11th and G St., Arcata





FREE. All are welcome. Refreshments provided.

For more information call 707-822-6423

Sponsors: Humboldt Friends Meeting, Social Action Committee of Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Humboldt Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Peoples' Action for Rights & Community

What is the meaning of the California prisoner hunger strikes? A statement in support of the hunger strikers

by Kevin Rashid Johnson
Minister of Defense, New Afrikan Black Panther Party, Prison Chapter

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

Six thousand six hundred California prisoners participated in a 3-week-long hunger strike in July, seeking relief from unjust and inhumane conditions. In the face of California Department of Corrections (CDC) officials failing to honor settlement negotiations, the hunger strike resumed on September 26th, with nearly 12,000 prisoners participating in thirteen of that state’s prisons.

It is a truism that oppression breeds resistance. Indeed, the U.S. Declaration of Independence enshrines the right and duty of the oppressed to resist their oppression.

In this era of capitalist oppression on a global scale, the hunger strike exhibits the very same humyn spirit, courage and outrage that drove millions across North Afrika and the Middle East this year, to take to the streets in protest against oppressive governments. U.S. rulers, in the face of pretending to champion and support human rights, democracy, and the demands for basic rights by people half a world away, can’t admit they practice abuses just as vile against their own subjects – right here in Amerika.

Hosni Mubarak, the U.S. puppet and Egyptian dictator who was driven out of Egypt by mass protests this year, was notorious for torturing his own people. But so too are U.S. officials. Indeed, one of the key protest issues of the California prisoners is the acute psychological torture of sensory deprivation in the CDC’s Security Housing Units (SHUs) – Pelican Bay’s SHU in particular. This torture can’t be honestly denied.

It has long been the game of U.S. officials, especially since the 2004 Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib torture scandals, to pretend that psychological torture isn’t really torture at all. However, they secretly know the exact opposite to be true. According to torture experts, psychological – or ‘clean’ torture – is the most destructive, sadistic and inhumane type of torture. Among the most proven effective methods is the very sort inflicted by design in the isolated cells of the SHUs, namely sensory deprivation.

Noted psychologist and torture expert, Dr. Albert Biderman, long ago found as to sensory deprivation, “the effect of isolation on the brain function of the prisoner is much like that which occurs if he is beaten, starved or deprived of sleep” [1]. The very same U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that employed Biderman as one of its torture researchers and experimenters, encoded these findings in its 1963 “Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation” torture manual, confirming that:

  1. The deprivation of sensory stimuli induces stress;
  2. The stress becomes unbearable for most subjects;
  3. The subject has a growing need for physical and social stimuli; and
  4. Some subjects progressively lose touch with reality, focus inwardly, which produces delusions, hallucinations, and other pathological effects.

What’s more, over a century ago the U.S. high court found and denounced the same in U.S. prisons, in the face of In Re Medley, 134 U.S. 150 (1890) [2]. These findings have been repeated in U.S. courts today in response to the conditions of SHUs and super-maximum security prisons that have swept Amerika since the 1970s, alongside massive imprisonment of the poor and people of color. In one case concerning Pelican Bay’s SHU, the California federal courts found “many, if not most, inmates in SHU experience some degree of psychological trauma in reaction to their extreme social isolation and the severely restricted environmental stimulation in SHU.” Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F. Supp. 1146 (1995).

So it’s no wonder thousands of prisoners have been driven to starve themselves in desperate efforts for exposure and redress, and to show they are worthy of basic humyn rights and dignity.

But the typical response of officials is to discredit the resistance of those who suffer at their hands by villainizing (or “dirtying up,” as Johnnie Cochran used to called it), the victim. It was done to Civil Rights activists from the 1950s-1970s who opposed and exposed racism – U.S. officials projected them as fronts for foreign communists, and denounced as “Soviet propaganda” graphic photos of Southern lynching that appeared in world media.

Whatever happens to be the popular official enemy and bogeyman of the day, is the label used to discredit those who resist official oppression. During the Cold War, the ‘enemy’ was communists. Then it was terrorists. In the era of mass incarceration and ongoing persecution of Black and Brown youth, it’s gangs. These labels are used to provoke visceral reactions in the population at large of fear, hatred and consequent disregard for and alienation against the oppressed. And true to form, the hunger strikers have been “dirtied up’”as the work of prison gangs:

“The CDCR has continued to lie about the hunger strike – saying it was organized by gangs and attacking representatives of the strikers and others, depicting them as the ‘generals’ of the prison gangs and the ‘shot callers’ who order other prisoners to engage in gang violence.

“Dolores, whose son has been in the SHU for 10 years, said “If that is their [the prisoners’] way of thinking, then why did they just conduct a hunger strike willing to risk their own lives, to suffer on a daily basis in a nonviolent demonstration that spread across California prisons involving thousands and thousands of men crossing all racial lines? It’s because they are human beings. They do have dignity, and they want to be heard.” [3]

Not coincidentally, another of the hunger strike’s main protest issues is the CDCR’s labelling prisoners as gang members upon the flimsiest grounds, then confining them in SHUs until they “debrief” – that is, finger other prisoners as gang members to be thrown in the SHU. Thus the only way to leave SHU is as a known informant to be ostracized and targeted as such by others.

The Real Purpose of SHUs and Super-maxes

The true purpose of SHUs isn’t to control gangs and racial violence. In fact, the CDCR has long instigated and facilitated prisoner-on-prisoner violence. From the notorious ‘gladiator fights’ – where guards at CDCR’s Corcoran State Prison set up prisoner fights, gambled on the outcomes, and then shot the prisoners for fun, killing 8 and shooting 43 just between 1989 and 1994 – to massive numbers of prisoner-on-prisoner clashes instigated and manipulated by the notoriously corrupt California prison guards’ union, to generate public support for building more prisons to increase prison jobs and dues-paying membership.

In 1999, prisoners at the New Folsom Prison went on a hunger strike protesting being forced onto prison yards with rivals. CDOC Ombudsman Ken Hurdle rejected negotiations, stating “Then you’d have two groups normally aligned on the yard together. They would have only staff as their enemy” [4]. This admits officials deliberately facilitating prisoner-on-prisoner violence as a technique of prison control. This is what they fear in the unity shown by the hunger strikers. And it undermines the disunity they need to project them as animals.

Officials welcome and incite gang violence. It creates jobs, justifies their oppression, and enhances their ‘control.’ Even Crips co-founder Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams, who was killed by the CDCR exposed this [5].

More revealing is that then-California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, rejected massive international pleas to stay Tookie’s execution on grounds that Tookie dedicated his book, Life in Prison, to Black revolutionary George Jackson, who was murdered by CDOC officials in 1971. Schwarzenegger said the dedication “defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed.” Which brings us closer to exposing the real reasons SHUs exist.

The actual “leaders” officials fear, and who are the prime targets of SHUs and super-maxes are those who are politically conscious and prove able to unite prisoners across racial and other lines.

The proliferation of SHUs and super-maxes began with the Marion Control Unit, which opened in 1972, following the murder of George Jackson and the peaceful 1971 Attica uprising that officials ended with the coldblooded murders of 29 prisoners and 10 civilians, and systematic humiliation and torture of hundreds of prisoners, provoking international outrage. Like the brutal government responses to mass protests in Asia and Afrika this year, when the prisoners of Attica took to the yard in protest, with grievances articulated and represented by politically conscious prisoners, the official response was murder and torture, then high security torture units. In one of the few admissions on record, Ralph Arons, a former warden at Marion, testified in federal court: “The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison and in society at large” [6]. Yet U.S. officials deny confining or persecuting people for political beliefs.

In fact, Pelican Bay officials recently banned my own book, Defying the Tomb, as “gang material,” a book of political writings and art, which many readers and reviewers have compared to George Jackson’s writings, whose books CDOC banned in the 1970s as well. And with the resurgence of prisoners’ political consciousness, they’ve recently begun confiscating this book as “gang material.” Like Nazi book burnings and concentration camps, the object is to censor and persecute political consciousness and revolutionary culture amongst the most oppressed peoples. And ‘gang’ labels are used to “dirty up” the people, practices, and ideas they seek to repress.

Just as I am confined in a remote Virginia super-max, under ‘special’ conditions of a SHU because of my political beliefs and having co-founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party as a Party of the oppressed, so too you’ll find in these units across Amerika those who hold and practice revolutionary political views and affiliations that are supposed to be constitutionally protected, not persecuted. As the high court once proclaimed:

“Our form of government is built on the premise that every citizen shall have the right to engage in political expression and association. This right was enshrined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Exercise of these basic freedoms in America has traditionally been through the media of political associations. Any interference with the freedom of a party is simultaneously an interference with the freedom of its adherents. All political ideas cannot and should not be channelled into the programs of our two major parties. History has amply proved the virtue of political activity by minority, dissident groups…” [7]

But contrast these political ideals with the political reality that such parties face at the hands of officials, as admitted by Justice Hugo Black: “History should teach us…that…minority parties and groups which advocate extremely unpopular social or governmental innovations will always be typed as criminal gangs and attempts will always be made to drive them out” [8].

This is the function of the SHUs like those that California’s prisoners are protesting, and the ones used as a weapon to censor and repress political consciousness.

Resistance to the oppression of these units is the meaning of the hunger strikes. Amerika’s oppressed and disenfranchised victims of modern penal enslavement and the New Jim Crow, are struggling like those of generations past for recognition and respect as humyn beings. As a Party of the oppressed, especially the imprisoned, the NABPP-PC stands in unity with the heroic struggles of California’s entombed, and call on all freedom-loving people everywhere to take up their cause.

Dare to struggle! Dare to win!

All Power to the People!


  1. Albert D. Biderman and Herbert Zimmer, eds. The Manipulation of Human Behavior (New York: Wiley, 1961), 29.
  2. The court found under conditions of solitary confinement “A considerable number of prisoner fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to remove them, and others became violently insane; others still committed suicide, while those who stood the ordeal better were generally not reformed, and in most cases, did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”
  3. “Hunger Strike to Resume September 26 – Support the Just Demands of the Pelican Bay Prisoners,” Revolution #243, September 25, 2011.
  4. Quoted from Sacramento Bee, December 8, 1999.
  5. “Yes America, as unbelievable as it may seem, ‘hood cops, with impunity, commit drive-bys and other lawless acts. It was common practice for them to abduct a Crip or Bounty Hunter and drop him off in hostile territory, and then broadcast it over a loudspeaker. The predictable outcome was that the rival was either beaten or killed on the spot, which resulted in a cycle of payback. Cops would also inform opposing gangs where to find and attack a rival gang, and then say ‘go handle your business.’ Like slaves, the gang did exactly what their master commanded. Had they not been fuelled by self-hatred, neither Crips, Bounty Hunters, nor any other Black gang, would have been duped: “The ‘hood cops were pledged to protect and serve, but for us they were not there to help, but to exploit us – and they were effective. With the cops’ Machiavellian presence, the gang epidemic escalated. When gang warfare is fed and fuelled by law enforcement, funds are generated for the so-called anti-gang units. Without gangs, those units would no longer exist.” Blue Rage, Black Redemption (2004).
  6. Stephen Whitman, “The Marion Penitentiary – It should be Opened-Up Not Locked-Down.” Southern Illinoisan. August 7, 1988, p. 25.
  7. NAACP v. Button. 371 U.S. 415, 431 (1963).
  8. Barenblatt v. U.S., 360 U.S. 109, 150 (1959) (J., Black, dissenting).

Young Man Murdered by Guards in Pennsylvania Solitary Confinement Cell

On April 26 of this year, John Carter died in his solitary confinement cell at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Rockview in central Pennsylvania. According to accounts by other men imprisoned on his cell block, Carter's death followed a violent "cell extraction" in which corrections officers used pepper spray and stun guns, though the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections makes no mention of such actions in its official statements, and state police have yet to interview inmate eyewitnesses.

This link and following text came out at the time of John Carter's murder and following is a current article on the follow/cover-up that needs to be challenged.


In the weeks since the death of John Carter, the Human Rights Coalition and Carter’s family have both received numerous letters attesting to John’s good character and strong spirit. John had been held in solitary confinement in several different prisons for the last ten-to-eleven years, but continued to help others. A prisoner at SCI Rockview wrote of Carter: “He was a person of integrity. He did not believe in abuse of others, especially the abuse of prisoners from prison guards. If he could help someone in understanding the law, he was there. And he had a lot of patience with others, especially the mentally impaired.” Another prisoner from SCI Camp Hill stated: “Its no question in my mind. He died fighting against oppression. His name and memory will not be forgotten.” Carter’s death has been a shock to many prisoners, and they want justice for him; “Why isn’t there a big investigation, an outrage about John Carter’s death like there is about Trayvon Martion? John Carter was black, he was someone’s son and he died senselessly. Let not his death go in vain,” said an SCI Frackville prisoner. Many of the letters received simply shared memories of Carter, who was sentenced to life in prison at the age of sixteen and spent half of his life there, but continued to be a strong and loving person. Another prisoner said there were three words for John; “Loyalty, intelligence, fearless.” A man incarcerated at SCI Huntingdon wrote to his departed comrade: “You’ve made that transition to the other side, wherever that may be. But what I say shall come to pass, for it is written J-Rock, that children of the night shall forever find each other in the dark.” He will be missed.

Death in Pennsylvania Solitary Confinement Cell Raises Questions

by Hannah Taleb


On April 26 of this year, John Carter died in his solitary confinement cell at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Rockview in central Pennsylvania. According to accounts by other men imprisoned on his cell block, Carter's death followed a violent "cell extraction" in which corrections officers used pepper spray and stun guns, though the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections makes no mention of such actions in its official statements, and state police have yet to interview inmate eyewitnesses.

In 1995, John Carter took part in a robbery that resulted in the murder of one man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He was sixteen at the time, and was convicted of second-degree felony murder. In Pennsylvania, which has more juvenile lifers than any other state, his conviction meant a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. (Under the Supreme Court's June 25 ruling, in Miller v. Alabama, that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional, Carter would likely have had his sentence reconsidered, had he lived to see the day.)

At some point during Carter's sixteen-year imprisonment, he was placed on what's called the Restricted Release List, a form of indefinite solitary confinement that can only be ended with approval by the Secretary of the Department of Corrections. Jeffrey Rackovan, the Public Information Officer at SCI Rockview, admitted that this designation meant John could have "spent the rest of his life in solitary confinement." Before his death Carter had spent the last ten to eleven years in solitary. According to prisoner reports he had been known to break the rules of his unit in order to share food, hygiene items, and writing utensils with newcomers to his block, and adamantly used both the grievance process and legal system to challenge acts of abuse and retaliation by prison staff.

On April 27, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections issued a press release announcing that John Carter had been found “unresponsive in his cell” the day before. Reports from the unit soon began to reach Carter’s family and the Human Rights Coalition, a Pennsylvania-based prisoner advocacy and abolitionist organization. The reports explained that Carter had been subject to a cell extraction on the day of his death after a dispute with guards who refused to issue him a food tray instead of nutraloaf, a dense, unpalatable substance issued as punishment in place of meals. The cell extraction was the second Carter had been subjected to that week, during which guards entered his cell in full riot gear, armed with OC spray and electroshock weapons. [see more details from the inside HERE]

The statements from prisoners explained a brutal scene, with excessive amounts of pepper spray being pumped into Carter’s cell so as to flood the whole tier with the choking gas. According to prisoner accounts, guards then broke down the door to the cell and proceeded to shock Carter seven times with electroshock shields and guns. Many of the reports end with Carter being dragged from his cell, paramedics arriving 10 to 15 minutes later, and an unresponsive Carter being removed from the block. He was pronounced dead at Mount Nittany Medical Center a short time later.

Andre Jacobs, a jailhouse lawyer housed on the same block as John wrote a five page declaration detailing the events of that day. Many others sent in the story as they heard and saw it, all of them asserting that John Carter was “murdered . . . here in this RHU torture zone, where guards come on the tier calling people racial slurs.”

The press statement released by the Department of Corrections made no mention of a cell extraction, or any confrontation at all occurring on the day of Carter’s death. Reports from inside the prison claimed that superintendent Marirosa Lamas came to the Restricted Housing Unit tier the night of John Carter’s death alleging that he had committed suicide, an assertion never made to the public. But officials first claimed that no cell extraction took place the day of Carter’s death, then that there was an extraction but no video footage, and finally that an extraction took place but the footage may have been “damaged.”

Because Carter died from what was considered unnatural causes, the Pennsylvania State Police were brought in to investigate his death.  By May 10th the police had released a statement that notes John Carter was found “unresponsive in his cell,” but goes on to describe that he had “barricaded himself in his cell and refused numerous orders” which precipitated “the DOCs response to the inmate’s cell.” The statement goes on the say that autopsy reports were “inconclusive” and evidence had indicated “no foul play” in Carter’s death. Once again no mention was made of the use of pepper spray or electroshock weapons.

Calls to the state police were met with the assurance that a “thorough” investigation would be carried out. However, according to statements from prisoners held on John Carter’s block, not one of them was ever questioned as to the events of April 26.

Jeffrey Rackovan told Solitary Watch that the prison had “done its part” in the investigation, handing over video footage and allowing investigators to enter the prison. Rackovan noted that investigators surely spoke to those they “needed to”--the “officers involved in the extraction.” He also assured that John Carter’s cell had been inspected, though numerous prisoner reports claim that it was thoroughly cleaned shortly after Carter was removed.

According to advocates at the Human Rights Coalition, the investigation carried out by the state police fits within a general pattern of refusal by state authorities to investigate and prosecute the alleged crimes of prison guards and officials against the prisoners in their care. No statements have been made by the State Police since May 10.  Toxicology reports from the coroner's office are still forthcoming more than two months after John Carter’s death.

John Carter’s family is not satisfied with the investigation thus far and are resolved to find justice in his death. They arranged for a second autopsy, and filed a criminal complaint with the Center County District Attorney, Stacy Parks-Miller, in June. As a response the DA’s office is now overseeing the investigation carried out by the State Police, but has released no further information on its progress. When contacted, Ms. Parks-Miller's office would not respond with any comment on the investigation.

John Carter’s sister, Michelle Williams, explained in a May 7 interview with me for Rustbelt Radio that she wants justice not only for her family but for all of the other families with loved ones inside of Pennsylvania prisons. “Just because they are in jail," she said, "doesn’t mean you can treat them as anything else but human.” Listen to the full radio report here.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110  www.freedomarchives.org Questions and comments may be sent to claude@freedomarchives.org

SIGN PETITION HERE: http://globalwomenstrike.net/content/pennsylvania-state-police-justice-john-carter-and-other-pennsylvania-inmates

Wed, July 6th: Make Signs and T-shirts for Prisoner Hunger Strike Support Rally

Bar None invites you to join on Wednesday, July 6 to make signs and silkscreen t-shirts to wear at the July 8th Rally in Eureka, CA.

On Wednesday, we will also have more information about the conditions at the SHU at Pelican Bay and the demands of the prisoners for people who would like to have a more in depth conversation prior to the rally.

We will be meeting, on Wednesday, at a house in Arcata from 6-9 pm. The apartment is a bit difficult to find, so call to let us know if you want to come and we will get you directions.

Bring a t-shirt to silkscreen and some food to share.

Contact Jessica Whatcott at 707-826-1517 or jessicawhatcott@yahoo.com.

URGENT: Hunger Striker’s Health Rapidly Deteriorates

More on Medical Crisis, Need Support Pressuring Immediate Negotiations
July 14, 2011





Why Prisoners are Protesting

Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Units Peaceful Protest Hunger Strike Starting July 1, 2011  [VIDEO below]

By James Crowford, Mutop DuGuya (a/k/a Bow Low)
It is important for readers to understand the cruelty of the policy sanctioned by the state that allows the CDCR to place men/women under an indeterminate SHU program only on the word of a prison informer—where there is no offense, no violence, nor any gang or criminal activity. Yet prisoners who are held in indeterminate SHU are held, well, indefinitely—for the rest of their lives in SHUs and Adjustment Centers across the state, and even on Death Row if validated as a gang member.

The cruelty is a protracted attack against prisoners, their families, friends, and all of their associates who are subjected to investigations for criminal activities. It does not matter if they are into crime or gang activity or not, the objective is to insinuate that they are and to cut off any relationships that may exist with the prisoner. The gang investigation officers manufacture their evidence by using inmate informers to create as assumption of crime to attack our friends and families.

The CDCR’s gang investigators understand that the prisoners held in solitary confinement are being subjected to various forms of torture and are nonetheless able to sustain themselves, even in the face of these ongoing attacks. Prisoners have adapted to maintain their sanity. So the gang investigators take it a step further, beyond the prison walls, where they work to intimidate by way of threats and other means our friends and families, be they children, grandparents, sisters, bothers, parents or whomever—people who are completely innocent of any gang or criminal activity. They intimidate and incriminate people across the board. They run them off in fear of being prosecuted for a crime that does not exist (other than to say they are under investigation). This kind of attack is not only very intimidating for someone who has never even had a traffic ticket, they are actually cruel to those dear to us.

Since 1990 prisoners have been making complaints against abuses by prison guards. Some of these abuses against PBSP-SHU prisoners were addressed in the Madrid case, where the court agreed that guards were responsible for a number of areas of prisoner mistreatment. Because medical treatment was so bad the federal court put the prisons into receivership and appointed a special master to oversee changes. Many prisoners have suffered mental disorders as a direct result of their placement in the Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Units (PBSP-SHU). The overwhelming majority of these men had not mental illness prior to entering the SHU, but rather lost their sanity as a result of their placement in this facility, as a result of the long-term impact of such confinement.

The Madrid ruling was a failure. Prison guards either ignore the court order altogether or implement token rules they do not follow. Nothing the court did persuaded the guard staff or prison administration to change their abusive behavior. This place is a plantation or a prison colony and we prisoners are the slaves (a status legitimized by the 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution). The guards are free to do with us as they please. They have complete control of our medical care, mail, visits, property, supplies, law library access, laundry, yard, isolation, the lights in our cell, family, friends, lock downs, etc. This is an environment in which the prison guards can torture prisoners both physically and psychologically over extended periods of time. One such attack is the dehumanizing yet widely used “potty watch” which is used under false pretenses—not to find drugs, but to humiliate other human beings.

The actual objective or goal of all this is to force every indefinitely held SHU prisoner to “debrief” (to turn rat, snitch, turncoat, however you want do define it). Some SHU prisoners break and give their captors names just to escape the terrible conditions of confinement. These prisoners are rewarded by being placed in Special Need Yards (SNY) where living conditions are better. This has been happening since the 1990s and it continues today. Ninety-five percent of the debriefers lie in order to get out of the SHU and then go on to become lifetime stoolies for the cops.

The CDCR uses every trick they can to force men into debriefing, including every increasing levels of what can only be described at torture. But if you are innocent, or if you are a principled person, they force you to endure every hardship in an effort to break you. It is this ever increasing attack that has forced us prisoners to put aside our historical differences in order to address the protracted attack on our lives and to expose the criminal activities and abuses against all indeterminate SHU prisoners in the state of California. Effective July 1st we are initiating a peaceful protest by way of an indefinite hunger strike in which we will not eat until our core demands are met. This hunger strike will be carried on by all races, New Afrikans (Blacks), Mexicans (i.e. of all walks), whites and others who realize the we are silently being murdered by CDCR/CCPOAA Union as well as the U.S. judicial system who have turned a blind eye while we suffer a civil death at the hands of profiteers.

Therefore we have decided to put our fate in our own hands. Some of us have already suffered a slow, agonizing death in which the state has shown no compassion toward these dying prisoners. Rather than compassion they turn up their ruthlessness. No one wants to die. Yet under this current system of what amounts to intense torture, what choice do we have? If one is to die, it will be on our own terms.

Power concedes nothing without demand.

* According to the San Francisco Chronicle one prisoner a week was killed in the state’s prison system due to medical neglect.


Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners' Formal Complaint and Final Notice Complaint and Final Notice


TODAY (July 1st, 2011):
CA Prisoners Go On Hunger Strike!

Pelican Bay strike

Dear Friends,

Today, Security Housing Unit (SHU) prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison are starting an indefinite hunger strike to protest the tortuous conditions of their imprisonment. Prisoners at Corcoran State Prison (also in CA) are joining the hunger strike as well.


We need to match their courage and amplify their voices and demands so they are heard all over the world!

Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Video! 

pb strike video

Watch this video to see interviews with former prisoners as they discuss what this hunger strike is about, how it relates to a history of prisoner-led resistance, and what people outside prison can do to support it.











Without Walls: Interview with Laura Whitehorn & Ed Mead



Listen to Manuel La Fontaine, from All of Us or None, interview former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn and Ed Mead (co-founder of Prison Legal News and founder of Prisoner Art Project) discuss the strike and history of prisoners' struggles on KPFA's Hard Knock Radio (interview starts at 16:55).



Subscribe to the Blog 

Stay tuned to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity's blog! We will be sending out updates as the strike develops. Here you can also find the prisoners' demands, why people should support the strike, how you can get involved, some history of Pelican Bay & SHUs, as well as some resources and more!


Sign up for a subscription on the right-hand side of the blog's home page and updates will come to you!



Support the Hunger Strike!

The prisoners need international support! No matter where you are geographically, you can help amplify the prisoner's voices and demands:


  • Check out the blog and Attend Solidarity Events & Demonstrations!
  • Sign the online petition! 
  • Contact the CDCR and CA State Legislators and Urge them to Comply with the Prisoners Demands!
  • Organize a Solidarity Event/Action in a city or town near you!
  • Share this information with everyone you know through phone calls, emails, facebook, twitter, and more!
  • Use grassroots & mainstream media to raise awareness and amplify the prisoner's demands!    
  • If you have a loved one locked up and want support contacting them about the hunger strike, reach out to the coalition by sending an email to prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com 


Thank you for your support!


In Solidarity,


Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity* 

*Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity is a coalition based in the Bay Area with international supporters of prisoner rights advocates, lawyers, community members and anti-prison activist organizations. The coalition and hunger strike was initiated by prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison. Coalition partners include: Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, All of Us or None, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, California Prison Focus, Prison Activist Resource Center, Critical Resistance, Kersplebedeb, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, American Friends Service Committee, and a number of individuals throughout the United States and Canada. To get in contact with the coalition, email: prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com


Why a California Prisoner Hunger Strike (Starts July 1st)

CA Prisoner Hunger Strike Starts July 1st!

Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners' Formal Complaint and Final Notice

Todd Ashker, who is in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit, has asked us to expose
THESE DOCUMENTS, Complaint and Final Notice,  in place of the one circulated at the end of March 2011 (below).

The new material is in the Final Notice. The Complaint was part of
the previous hunger strike document but Todd asked me to send it along with
the Final Notice.

The men who intend to go on hunger strike on July 1, 2011 have
collaborated on five core demands that they plan to present, along with their
"Formal Complaint" to the Governor, Secretary of Corrections, and Warden, about
30 days prior to July 1. They have expanded their demands to include
eliminating long term confinement in Security Housing Units and Administrative
Segregation statewide.


See the prisoners' formal Complaint by clicking 'Read More' below:  These men are in solitary confinement under harsh conditions due to their "status." They have been labeled gang affiliated, even though they have not been charged or found guilty of a gang related act, based on allegations by confidential inmate informants seeking and receiving special treatment.

In order to be released from the Security Housing Unit (SHU) they must "debrief." That means providing staff with information implicating others as gang members or associates...This can cause harm to other prisoners, and make the prisoner who debriefs (or a member of his family) a target for reprisal.

Some of these men are jailhouse lawyers who challenge correctional policies and practices and encourage others to do so.

Click HERE for the prisoners' formal Complaint in PDF. 

SHU_hungerstrike.pdf484.73 KB
Ashker Complaint 2-5-10.pdf397.94 KB
Ashker Final Notice.pdf225.85 KB

Communication Management Units (CMU's) in the U.S.

Gitmo in the Heartland

Alia Malek, March 10, 2011  Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

On the evening of May 13, 2008, Jenny Synan waited for a phone call from her husband, Daniel McGowan. An inmate at Sandstone, a federal prison in Minnesota, McGowan was serving a seven-year sentence for participating in two ecologically motivated arsons. It was their second wedding anniversary, their first with him behind bars. So far his incarceration hadn’t stopped him from calling her daily or surprising her with gifts for her birthday, Valentine’s Day and Christmas. But Jenny never got a call from Daniel that night­or the next day, or the next.

It was only days later that Jenny heard from a friend that Daniel was in transit, his destination Marion, Illinois. She quickly researched Marion and learned that it housed both a minimum- and a medium-security facility. Daniel, however, was classified as a low-security prisoner, a designation between minimum and medium. Even though he had a perfect record at Sandstone and had been recommended for a transfer to a prison closer to home, Jenny still didn’t think it was likely that Daniel would be stepped down to minimum security. But it made no sense that he would be moved up to medium security.

By May 16 the inmate locator on the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) website showed Daniel in a variety of places, including a federal correctional facility in Terre Haute, Indiana. After speaking with several people at the BOP, Sandstone and Terre Haute to no avail, Jenny e-mailed friends, “This is seriously like pulling fucking teeth.”

Finally on June 12, one month after their missed call, Daniel telephoned Jenny. He was still in transit and had only a few moments to speak. He was definitely going to Marion, where he heard he would be housed in something called a Communications Management Unit (CMU). He had no idea why he was being transferred. He simply had been told he was moving, given thirty minutes to pack and thrown into “the hole” until he was moved. All he knew was that the CMUs were supposedly run out of Washington and placed severe restrictions on phone calls, mail and visits. He was anxious about his new placement and asked Jenny to find out all she could about Marion.

But Jenny couldn’t find much. There was nothing on the BOP website about CMUs or a special unit at Marion. She did find a few scattered articles, all about a Terre Haute CMU, described as a secret experimental unit for second-tier terrorism inmates who were almost all Arab and Muslim Americans.

There was, in fact, little to be found; the Bush administration had quietly opened the CMUs in Terre Haute and Marion in December 2006 and March 2008, respectively, circumventing the usual process federal agencies normally follow that subjects them to public scrutiny and transparency. The first whisper of what the government was planning reached public ears in April 2006, when the BOP ­in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)­published its proposed rule for “Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates.” Under the APA, federal agencies like the BOP must publish notice of any new regulations and solicit public comments in order to operate legally. After a period of review, the agency publishes the finalized rule.

In the 2006 rule, the BOP proposed restricting the communications of inmates with a “link to terrorist-related activity” to one six-page letter per week, one fifteen-minute call per month and one one-hour visit per month, limited to immediate family members. The rule left it to the discretion of the warden whether visits would be contact or noncontact. (As a point of comparison, the BOP generally allows most prisoners 300 minutes of calls per month and places few caps on the number or duration of visits prisoners may receive. Even at the only federal Supermax, inmates are allowed thirty-five hours of visits a month.)

Several civil rights groups, led by the ACLU, submitted comments criticizing the proposed rule as flawed and potentially unconstitutional. The rule also appeared to be unnecessary, as the law already allowed monitoring and restricting inmates’ communications to detect and prevent criminal activity. After the period for comments closed in June 2006, observers waited for the BOP to publish its finalized rule.

Then in February 2007 came a stunning revelation: the BOP had not only abandoned the rule-making process; it had apparently bypassed it altogether by opening a prison unit in December 2006 in which all the inmates were subject to communications restrictions almost exactly like those described in the proposed rule. This secret unit came to light when supporters of an Iraqi-born American physician, Rafil Dhafir, made public a letter he had written describing his harrowing transfer to a new prison unit in Terre Haute. He called it “a nationwide operation to put Muslims/Arabs in one place so that we can be closely monitored regarding our communications.”

(In 2005 Dhafir had been sentenced to twenty-two years in prison for violating sanctions against Iraq by sending money to a charity he had founded there, as well as for fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and a variety of other nonviolent crimes. He had no terrorism convictions or charges.)

In his letter Dhafir reported that at the time there were sixteen men in the CMU, fourteen of whom were Muslims and all but one of those were Arab. They had been told by prison officials that the unit was an experiment. Written material they received informed them that they would be entitled to one fifteen-minute call a week, that their communications had to be in English only and that their visits would all be noncontact; it made no mention of “terrorism.” According to Dhafir, the inmates were particularly devastated at the prospect of not being able to hug or kiss their families and of having so little time to talk with them. For those who didn’t speak English, there was particular panic.

Legal advocates were shocked by the discovery ­and by the BOP’s impunity. According to William Luneburg, former chair of the American Bar Association’s administrative law practice section and a professor of administrative law, the BOP action was “grossly irregular” and arguably illegal. “It is not a normal thing for agencies legally bound by the APA to propose some new program, to start through the public rule-making process and then basically not complete it, and then to decide to go ahead and do it on their own.” Or as David Shapiro of the ACLU’s Prison Project says, “Essentially these CMUs are being operated in the absence of any rules or policies that authorize them.”

The media, however, paid scant attention to the CMUs, save for a few articles, the most notable by Dan Eggen in the Washington Post, which Jenny found during her frantic Internet search for information. All the articles noted that the CMUs were almost entirely filled with Muslim and Arab prisoners.

Then in March 2008, the BOP established by memo a second CMU, at Marion. Two months later, Daniel McGowan, who is neither Muslim nor Arab, was moved there. In June 2008, Andy Stepanian, another non-Arab, non-Muslim low-security inmate, was sent to Marion for the last six months of his three-year sentence for conspiring to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992. The only notice he received after his transfer said that he “has known connections to Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), groups considered to be domestic terrorist organizations.” “Enhanced review and control of inmate communications,” it claimed, “is required to assure the safe functioning of the correctional facility, surrounding community and American public.”

According to Stepanian, prison staff referred to non-Arab and non-Muslim inmates as “balancers.” One white guard comforted Stepanian, who had received biweekly visits from his fiancée at his previous prison, saying, “You’re nothing like these Muslims. You’re just here for balance. You’re going to go home soon.”

* * *

Based on these and similar reports, observers began to speculate that because of criticism, the BOP was trying to improve the CMUs’ racial and ethnic demographics.The BOP, however, told The Nation, “Race, religion and ethnicity are not a basis for designation decisions.” Nonetheless, as of this writing, the BOP reports that eighteen of thirty-three prisoners at Terre Haute (55 percent) and twenty-three of thirty-six at Marion (64 percent) are Muslim. Muslims make up just 6 percent of the federal prison population.

The BOP declined to disclose the CMU inmates’ names or convictions. It did, however, provide a partial list of “examples” of activities that might land an inmate inside a CMU, including being convicted of or associated with international or domestic terrorism; repeated attempts to contact victims or witnesses; a history of soliciting minors for sexual activity; a court-ordered communication restriction; coordinating illegal activities from inside prison and a disciplinary history that includes continued abuse of communications methods. According to the BOP, twenty-four (73 percent) and twenty-three (64 percent) of the inmates at Terre Haute and Marion, respectively, were assigned to the CMUs because of terrorism-related reasons.

As the populations of the CMUs grew, civil rights groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights began to receive letters from inmates. Eventually, CCR attorneys Alexis Agathocleous and Rachel Meeropol communicated with a majority of the inmates. They quickly noticed that in many cases there was nothing in inmates’ disciplinary records­ many of which were clean­ or security-level designations that would suggest they warranted such drastic isolation. Indeed, convicted terrorists like Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and shoe bomber Richard Reid are housed not in a CMU but in high and maximum security prisons in Colorado. Many of the CMU inmates will eventually be released; eleven already have been. Nine others have been transferred back to general population housing.

Of the CMU inmates who are there because of a link to terrorism, Meeropol says, “The vast majority of these folks are there due to entrapment or material support convictions. In other words, terrorism-related convictions that do not involve any violence or injury.”

Bound by confidentiality, Meeropol declined to name these inmates, but The Nation was able to identify several. They include the officers of the Holy Land Foundation­ a now-defunct US-based Islamic charity that sent funds to social programs administered by Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization­and the Lackawanna Six, who admitted to traveling to an Al Qaeda training camp before the 9/11 attacks. Some of the notable entrapment cases include those of Shahawar Matin Siraj, convicted for taking part in a plot planned by a paid FBI informant to bomb Herald Square, and Yassin Aref, whose underlying act was simply witnessing a loan in another plot planned by an FBI informant.

CCR attorneys also noticed the presence of CMU inmates who had neither links to terrorism nor communications infractions. They fell into three general groups, with occasional overlaps. The first had made complaints against the BOP either through internal procedures or formal litigation, and their placement appeared retaliatory. The second held unpopular political views, both left- and right-leaning, from animal rights and environmental activists to neo-Nazis and extreme antiabortion activists. The third seemed to be Muslims, including African-American Muslims, whose convictions had nothing to do with terrorism and ranged from robbery to credit card fraud.

The brief reasons given for transferring these prisoners into CMUs varied, but in several cases their designation was based on conduct that had already been successfully managed at other institutions without restricting communications or family visits. The reasons were often vague: for example, that inmates had engaged in conduct while incarcerated to “recruit and radicalize” other inmates. When pressed for specific evidence about such allegations in interviews and FOIA requests, the BOP declined to provide additional information.

On March 30, 2010, CCR filed a lawsuit against the government on behalf of several CMU inmates and their families, including Jenny and Daniel. In Aref v. Holder, CCR charges that the government not only violated the APA in establishing the CMUs but also violated the First, Fifth and Eighth Amendments. CCR alleges that designation to the CMUs was discriminatory, retaliatory and/or punitive in nature and not rationally related to any legitimate penological purpose or based on substantiated information. Rather, CCR contends that the inmates’ designation was based on their religion and/or perceived political beliefs. Moreover, since there had been no real notice, hearing and appeal, CCR alleges due process violations as well. The extreme nature of the restrictions also raises the issue of cruel and unusual punishment. CCR also argues that the communications restrictions impeded the free speech and association rights of the family members.

Eight days after CCR filed suit, the BOP suddenly gave notice of a proposed rule titled “Communication Management Units.” In it the Obama administration kept the Bush-era communication restrictions while broadening their scope. While the 2006 proposed rule was limited to people with “an identifiable link to terrorist-related activity,” the Obama-era rule can be applied to “any inmate,” including “persons held as witnesses, detainees or otherwise.”

The ACLU’s Shapiro says, “When Obama came into office, we hoped that the use of CMUs would be revisited, and we recommended that BOP withdraw the first rule-making.” But it is unclear if any such review took place. The BOP declined to say if the Obama administration had conducted a review before deciding to maintain the CMUs, or even if it had reviewed the assignment of current inmates.

Starting his presidency with two CMUs established by the Bush administration outside the APA process, Obama, says Luneburg, essentially had two choices. “He could totally abandon it or try to make lawful what was perhaps arguably an unlawful situation.” Taking the latter approach, the BOP accepted comments about the new rule until June 7, 2010. It recently announced it would publish the finalized rule in October­ sixteen months after the close of the comment period. According to Luneburg, that delay is surprising, given that the rule consists largely of legal issues, as opposed to complex scientific claims that underlie rules published by agencies like the EPA.

During the comments phase, submissions poured in from civil rights groups, current and former CMU inmates, inmates’ families and mental health professionals. One theme was common to many: the communications restrictions (including the inability to touch) were devastating to family integrity. The writers argued that strong connections to family were essential for a variety of reasons, such as mental health, rehabilitation, prison order and safety, staying recidivism and societal reintegration­truths long recognized by psychologists, corrections professionals and the BOP alike.

As University of Delaware professor of sociology and criminal justice Christy Visher explains, “The lack of connection to family makes it harder to think of a plan for post-release, and if they have no hope for life after release, then they’re less likely to be making behavior change.” Visher, who has looked at the question of how best to reintegrate released convicts for the National Institute of Justice, says, “Contact visits where you can hold a child on your lap or touch your wife are very important.”

* * *

This past November, before driving the 650 miles from Dallas to see her husband, Ghassan Elashi, at the Marion CMU, Majida Salem cut and colored her hair. “Why bother?” one of her daughters asked, alluding to the fact that since Majida’s visit would not be private, her head would be covered by her hijab.

“Because I’m going to be sitting with Baba,” she answered, referring to the man she had married twenty-six years before in Jordan, choosing him after turning away many others. She had felt that his devotion to God mirrored her own.

To the government, however, Ghassan­co-founder of the Holy Land Foundation, once the largest US Muslim charity­ was a material supporter of terrorism. Ghassan has never been accused of engaging in violence, but because the HLF sponsored schools and social welfare programs in the Occupied Territories alleged by Washington to be controlled by Hamas, he was charged with materially supporting terrorism. He was convicted in November 2008, following a 2007 mistrial in which the government failed to convince jurors of its case.

Majida hadn’t seen Ghassan since the previous Thanksgiving, when he was still at the low-security prison in Seagoville, Texas, not far from their home. He was moved to Marion in April 2010. The distance ended their weekly visits and essentially left Majida to raise a family of six children, the youngest of whom had Down syndrome, by herself.

They tried to maintain contact nonetheless. Majida shared her weekly fifteen-minute call with her children and in-laws, co-parenting with Ghassan in these morsels and through e-mails, which arrived days after they were written and only after a detour through Washington. Other CMU families had given up on visits or stopped bringing the children, who were often traumatized by the inability to touch their fathers or speak to them in a native language. But the Elashis were determined to make it work, so on Thanksgiving morning, with three of her children and her mother-in-law, Majida set out for Marion.

Once inside the prison, they were led toward the CMU, passing through a series of sliding barred doors. In the periphery, they could see the general population visitation room, spying a few families, UNO cards and a play area for kids. They were ushered into a 5-by-7 room with a Plexiglas wall at its center. Behind the Plexiglas, in a room that mirrored theirs, Ghassan waited to greet them.

The five of them crowded around three receivers, which would record their conversation and transmit it to BOP officials in Washington. When they gushed at how healthy Ghassan looked, he lifted his sleeve and flexed his bicep. “Pilates,” he told them. When he told them he now had a six-pack, his teenage sons begged him to show them, but he demurred. Soon they realized they could hear through the glass, so they hung up the receivers and spoke naturally. Quickly a guard reprimanded them: all communication had to be through the receivers.

Majida and Ghassan spoke about the boys, how they were doing in school and how the second-to-youngest was acting up. Ghassan turned to him, doing his best to advise him from behind the barrier. His son burst out, “I need you! I need you!”

Toward the end of the visit, to keep things light, Ghassan began demonstrating Pilates exercises. Having put the receiver down, he flashed with his fingers the amount of seconds he held each pose. Guards rushed in on both sides, demanding to know what Ghassan was doing. “Teaching them Pilates,” he answered.

They stayed until they were kicked out, the kids signing off with pantomimed high-fives and Majida blowing him a kiss while touching the glass. She wanted to be alone with him, without the barrier, and there was so much more she wanted to express. But that would have felt like stealing from the children.

* * *

Ghassan’s incarceration at Marion demonstrates one of the biggest problems with the CMUs and with the terrorist designation generally ­how broadly and capriciously they are applied. “It is one thing to use restrictive isolationist tactics against the leader of a gang or terror group who, if he could communicate freely with the outside world, would wreak violence on innocent people­that’s not an illusory concern,” says David Cole, of Georgetown University Law School and The Nation’s legal affairs correspondent. “But when you define ‘terrorist activity’ to include material support that can involve no violent activity and no intentional support of violent activity, then you are relegating nonviolent offenders to these very extreme conditions that are entirely unwarranted.”

The BOP declined to say whether it differentiates between nonviolent­ even humanitarian­ activities and violent activity in determining CMU assignment for a “terrorist-related link.” The profiles of inmates like Ghassan would suggest it doesn’t, and that, in fact, the link to terrorism can be quite tenuous.

Consider, for example, the case of Sabri Benkahla, whose CMU incarceration the ACLU challenged in 2009. In 2003 the government accused Benkahla of materially supporting a terrorist-related group. When prosecutors failed to secure a conviction at trial, he was charged and convicted of grand jury perjury. At his sentencing, the US District Judge declared unequivocally that “Benkahla is not a terrorist” and noted having received more letters on Benkahla’s behalf than any other defendant in twenty-five years, including one from Congressman James Moran, who described Benkahla as “an upstanding and productive member of society.” Although Benkahla lacks a terrorism-related conviction, he was nonetheless transferred to a CMU because of a terrorist-related link, asserted by the government. Before the court could reach a decision in the ACLU case, which challenged the legality of the CMUs on APA grounds, the BOP moved Benkahla back to the general population, and the case was dismissed.

David Shapiro, who was also on Benkahla’s team, sees a lack of clear criteria for CMU placement as the crux of the problem. “People are overclassified,” he says, “and the level of restriction they are placed under bears no rational relationship to the security threat that they actually pose.”

Visher concurs. “We are not making good decisions about who is dangerous,” she says. To remedy the problem and to balance family and penological interests, Visher proposes risk profiles and careful examination by an independent party. Factors that should be considered, she says, are a person’s pattern of communication with terrorist groups, his history of violence, good behavior and strong connections to the community.

On July 21, 2010, the government answered CCR’s lawsuit with a motion to dismiss. In its written arguments, it pleaded that it deserves deference in determining what restrictions are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. It also argued that several of the claims, including those of Jenny and Daniel, are moot, as on October 19, after more than two years, Daniel was moved out of the CMU and back to the general population.

Last Thanksgiving, Jenny was finally able to wait for Daniel in Marion’s general visitation room, which she used to walk wistfully past when she visited the CMU. That was behind her now, she thought, as were the once-a-week fifteen-minute calls. When she saw Daniel, she embraced him and gave him a big kiss. They spent the hours talking and playing UNO. When they didn’t feel like saying anything, they sat in the silence they felt they could finally afford, letting a simple touch speak for itself.

A few hours into their visit, Jenny saw the Elashi family as they were led down the hall to the CMU. She felt her eyes tear up. She found it especially hard to watch a whole family going to visit their father, their husband, their son under such conditions. They looked so solemn; Jenny felt guilty that they wouldn’t be able to embrace as she and Daniel could. Later that night she posted on Facebook: “Thankful for hugs and brief kisses.”

But time for hugs and brief kisses would remain short-lived. On February 24, Daniel was suddenly transferred back to the CMU, this time to Terre Haute. The government gave the court notice that in light of Daniel’s reassignment, it was withdrawing its defense that Daniel’s claims were moot; CCR has since asked the court to expedite its consideration of the motions to dismiss.

The notice was almost identical to the one Daniel had been given the last time, but it included a new sentence. The BOP asserted that Daniel’s “incarceration conduct has included attempts to circumvent communication monitoring policies, specifically those governing attorney-client privileged correspondence.” In keeping with BOP practice, Daniel’s notification does not state what evidence or acts serve as the basis for these claims. Neither he nor Jenny knows why he is there. They know only that their next visit will be brief and behind glass.

Source URL: http://www.thenation.com/article/159161/gitmo-heartland


Marie Mason, Eco-Prisoner, Moved to CMU

[Read here about CMU's- CMU:  Communications Management [Prison] Unit
or download this
flier about CMU's]


After spending nearly a month in segregation at the Federal Corrections Unit in Waseca, MN, Marie has been reclassified and transferred to the female CMU in Carswell, TX. Helen Woodsen has been imprisoned there for many years.

As of August 6, 2010, Marie Mason is at the federal prison in Carswell, Texas.

It has long been rumored that Carswell is the location of a third CMU (Communications Management Unit). The CMUs were previously secret detention wings of prisons which severely curtail prisoners' access to the outside world; for more on them, see: http://bit.ly/9wGIJY

Please write to Mason:
Marie Mason #04672-061
FMC Carswell
Federal Medical Center
P.O. Box 27137
Fort Worth, TX 76127

Marie Mason is serving almost 22 years for two acts of environmentally-motivated property destruction in which no one was harmed.

This is the longest current sentence of any of the Green Scare prisoners.
(The Green Scare is the name given to the recent prosecution of eco-saboteurs and animal liberation activists, in which the government has labeled them as "terrorists" and sought huge sentences.) Mason was turned in by her then-husband, Frank Ambrose, who had secretly spied on activists for years and then filed for divorce the day she was arrested. Mason eventually plead guilty to 14 actions; 13 were claimed by the Earth Liberation Front and one by the Animal Liberation Front. At her sentencing, the judge said she had "violated the marketplace of ideas" and gave her an even longer sentence than the prosecution had asked for (15-20 years).

More information on Mason is available at http://bit.ly/9kxYv7

CMU's: U.S. Secret Prisons

Special US prison units fill with Muslims

By Lucile Malandain, Agence France-Presse , March 6,2011

WASHINGTON – US federal prisons for the past three years have housed special units filled disproportionately with Muslim inmates whose every communication with the outside world is strictly monitored.

Known as "Guantanamo North," the so-called Communication Management Units (CMU) were secretly opened in 2007 in maximum security prisons in Terre Haute, Indiana and Marion, Illinois and currently have 71 prisoners, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) told AFP.

The US public radio network, NPR, recently published the names, nationalities and reasons for incarceration of 86 of more than 100 detainees who have passed through them, information never before disclosed by the Bureau of Prisons.

NPR found that a number of detainees were convicted of terrorism offenses but mixed in with them were white supremacists and common criminals.

The CMU's are designed to severely limit detainees' contacts with the outside world, to prevent them from organizing crimes or settling accounts from behind bars, harassing their victims, or proselytizing when there is a risk of religious radicalization.

The aim is to "ensure the safe, secure, and orderly running of BOP facilities, and to protect the public," the bureau said in documents obtained by AFP.

But while Muslims account for six percent of the inmate population in federal prisons as a whole, in the CMUs "somewhere between 65 and 72 percent of the population is Muslim," said Alexis Agathocleous, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

"So, that's a tenfold over representation. That obviously raises concerns about religious profiling," he said.

Agathocleous represents five current and former inmates of CMU's who are suing to challenge their incarceration in units "cut off from the outside world."

He said some of his clients have never been convicted of terrorist offenses, nor committed any disciplinary infractions, or broken the rules on communication at other prisons where they have been held.

Their complaint says that of the first 17 prisoners transferred to the Terre Haute CMU, 15 were Muslim.

The population grew quickly. By March 2007, CMU prisoners reported that there were 48 prisoners in Terre Haute CMU and 37 were Muslim.

"In the last several years, subsequent to media scrutiny of defendants' targeting of Muslims, more non-Muslims have been moved to the CMU. Guards on the units have referred to these non-Muslims prisoners as balancers," it said.

Asked about the proportion of Muslims in the CMU populations, Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Tracy Billingsley said she could not provide the statistic because "it is irrelevant."

"They are not placed on the CMU based on their religion, they are put in CMU based on the need to have their communications monitored," she said.

Besides Muslims, Agathocleous said there was "a pattern of people with unpopular political beliefs being designated to the CMU."

He said one of his clients was an environmental activist involved in pressing prisoners' rights. Others appear to have been transferred to the unit as punishment, such as a former inmate who landed in the CMU after filing a complaint against the penitentiary system.

Civil rights organizations also have criticized the secrecy surrounding the creation of the special units, and the tight restrictions on visits and telephone calls without explanation or recourse to appeal.



The Inhumane Conditions of Bradley Manning's Detention

By Glenn Greenwald  Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010

The inhumane conditions of Bradley Manning's detention
Reuters/Jonathon Burch/AP/Salon

(updated below - Update II)

Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any other crime.  Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months -- and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait -- under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture.  Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning's detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.

Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems.  He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a "Maximum Custody Detainee," the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.

From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement.  For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell.  Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions.  For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch).  For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs.  Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not "like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole," but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.

In sum, Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America's Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado:  all without so much as having been convicted of anything.  And as is true of many prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort, the brig's medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation.

Just by itself, the type of prolonged solitary confinement to which Manning has been subjected for many months is widely viewed around the world as highly injurious, inhumane, punitive, and arguably even a form of torture.  In his widely praised March, 2009 New Yorker article -- entitled "Is Long-Term Solitary Confinement Torture?" -- the surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande assembled expert opinion and personal anecdotes to demonstrate that, as he put it, "all human beings experience isolation as torture."  By itself, prolonged solitary confinement routinely destroys a person’s mind and drives them into insanity.  A March, 2010 article in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law explains that "solitary confinement is recognized as difficult to withstand; indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture."

For that reason, many Western nations -- and even some non-Western nations notorious for human rights abuses -- refuse to employ prolonged solitary confinement except in the most extreme cases of prisoner violence.  "It’s an awful thing, solitary," John McCain wrote of his experience in isolated confinement in Vietnam. “It crushes your spirit."  As Gawande documented: "A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam . . . reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered."  Gawande explained that America’s application of this form of torture to its own citizens is what spawned the torture regime which President Obama vowed to end:


This past year, both the Republican and the Democratic Presidential candidates came out firmly for banning torture and closing the facility in Guantánamo Bay, where hundreds of prisoners have been held in years-long isolation. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain, however, addressed the question of whether prolonged solitary confinement is torture. . . .

This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. . . . Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world.  In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement . . . .

It's one thing to impose such punitive, barbaric measures on convicts who have proven to be violent when around other prisoners; at the Supermax in Florence, inmates convicted of the most heinous crimes and who pose a threat to prison order and the safety of others are subjected to worse treatment than what Manning experiences.  But it's another thing entirely to impose such conditions on individuals, like Manning, who have been convicted of nothing and have never demonstrated an iota of physical threat or disorder. [sketchy comment...]

In 2006, a bipartisan National Commission on America's Prisons was created and it called for the elimination of prolonged solitary confinement.  documented that conditions whereby "prisoners end up locked in their cells 23 hours a day, every day. . . is so severe that people end up completely isolated, living in what Its Report can only be described as torturous conditions."  The Report documented numerous psychiatric studies of individuals held in prolonged isolation which demonstrate "a constellation of symptoms that includes overwhelming anxiety, confusion and hallucination, and sudden violent and self-destructive outbursts."  The above-referenced article from the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law states:  "Psychological effects can include anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis."

When one exacerbates the harms of prolonged isolation with the other deprivations to which Manning is being subjected, long-term psychiatric and even physical impairment is likely.  Gawande documents that "EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement."  Medical tests conducted in 1992 on Yugoslavian prisoners subjected to an average of six months of isolation -- roughly the amount to which Manning has now been subjected -- "revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement.  Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury."  Gawande's article is filled with horrifying stories of individuals subjected to isolation similar to or even less enduring than Manning's who have succumbed to extreme long-term psychological breakdown.

Manning is barred from communicating with any reporters, even indirectly, so nothing he has said can be quoted here.  But David House, a 23-year-old MIT researcher who befriended Manning after his detention (and then had his laptops, camera and cellphone seized by Homeland Security when entering the U.S.) is one of the few people to have visited Manning several times at Quantico.  He describes palpable changes in Manning's physical appearance and behavior just over the course of the several months that he's been visiting him.  Like most individuals held in severe isolation, Manning sleeps much of the day, is particularly frustrated by the petty, vindictive denial of a pillow or sheets, and suffers from less and less outdoor time as part of his one-hour daily removal from his cage.

This is why the conditions under which Manning is being detained were once recognized in the U.S. -- and are still recognized in many Western nations -- as not only cruel and inhumane, but torture.  More than a century ago, U.S. courts understood that solitary confinement was a barbaric punishment that severely harmed the mental and physical health of those subjected to it.  The Supreme Court's 1890 decision in In re Medley noted that as a result of solitary confinement as practiced in the early days of the United States, many "prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition . . . and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better . . . [often] did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community."  And in its 1940 decision in Chambers v. Florida, the Court characterized prolonged solitary confinement as "torture" and compared it to "[t]he rack, the thumbscrew, [and] the wheel."

The inhumane treatment of Manning may have international implications as well.  There are multiple proceedings now pending in the European Union Human Rights Court, brought by "War on Terror" detainees contesting their extradition to the U.S. on the ground that the conditions under which they likely will be held -- particularly prolonged solitary confinement -- violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which (along with the Convention Against Torture) bars EU states from extraditing anyone to any nation where there is a real risk of inhumane and degrading treatment.  The European Court of Human Rights has in the past found detention conditions violative of those rights (in Bulgaria) where "the [detainee] spent 23 hours a day alone in his cell; had limited interaction with other prisoners; and was only allowed two visits per month."  From the Journal article referenced above:


International treaty bodies and human rights experts, including the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, have concluded that solitary confinement may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  They have specifically criticized supermax confinement in the United States because of the mental suffering it inflicts.

Subjecting a detainee like Manning to this level of prolonged cruel and inhumane detention can thus jeopardize the ability of the U.S. to secure extradition for other prisoners, as these conditions are viewed in much of the civilized world as barbaric.  Moreover, because Manning holds dual American and U.K. citizenship (his mother is British), it is possible for British agencies and human rights organizations to assert his consular rights against these oppressive conditions.  At least some preliminary efforts are underway in Britain to explore that mechanism as a means of securing more humane treatment for Manning.  Whatever else is true, all of this illustrates what a profound departure from international norms is the treatment to which the U.S. Government is subjecting him.

* * * * *

The plight of Manning has largely been overshadowed by the intense media fixation on WikiLeaks, so it's worth underscoring what it is that he's accused of doing and what he said in his own reputed words about these acts.  If one believes the authenticity of the highly edited chat logs of Manning's online conversations with Adrian Lamo that have been released by Wired (that magazine inexcusably continues to conceal large portions of those logs), Manning clearly believed that he was a whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives, and probably was exactly that.  If, for instance, he really is the leaker of the Apache helicopter attack video -- a video which sparked very rare and much-needed realization about the visceral truth of what American wars actually entail -- as well as the war and diplomatic cables revealing substantialgovernment deceit , brutality, illegality and corruption, then he's quite similar to Daniel Ellsberg.  Indeed, Ellsberg himself said the very same thing about Manning in June on Democracy Now in explaining why he considers the Army Private to be a "hero":


The fact is that what Lamo reports Manning is saying has a very familiar and persuasive ring to me.  He reports Manning as having said that what he had read and what he was passing on were horrible -- evidence of horrible machinations by the US backdoor dealings throughout the Middle East and, in many cases, as he put it, almost crimes. And let me guess that -- he’s not a lawyer, but I'll guess that what looked to him like crimes are crimes, that he was putting out. We know that he put out, or at least it's very plausible that he put out, the videos that he claimed to Lamo.  And that's enough to go on to get them interested in pursuing both him and the other.

And so, what it comes down, to me, is -- and I say throwing caution to the winds here -- is that what I've heard so far of Assange and Manning -- and I haven't met either of them -- is that they are two new heroes of mine.

To see why that's so, just recall some of what Manning purportedly said about why he chose to leak, at least as reflected in the edited chat logs published by Wired:


Lamo: what's your endgame plan, then?. . .

Manning: well, it was forwarded to [WikiLeaks] - and god knows what happens now - hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms - if not, than [sic] we're doomed - as a species - i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens - the reaction to the video gave me immense hope; CNN's iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded - people who saw, knew there was something wrong . . . Washington Post sat on the video… David Finkel acquired a copy while embedded out here. . . . - i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

if i knew then, what i knew now - kind of thing, or maybe im just young, naive, and stupid . . . im hoping for the former - it cant be the latter - because if it is… were fucking screwed (as a society) - and i dont want to believe that we’re screwed.

Manning described the incident which first made him seriously question the U.S. Government: when he was instructed to work on the case of Iraqi "insurgents" who had been detained for distributing so-called "insurgent" literature which, when Manning had it translated, turned out to be nothing more than "a scholarly critique against PM Maliki":


i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled "Where did the money go?" and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…

i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…

And Manning explained why he never considered the thought of selling this classified information to a foreign nation for substantial profit or even just secretly transmitting it to foreign powers, as he easily could have done:


Manning: i mean what if i were someone more malicious- i could've sold to russia or china, and made bank?

Lamo: why didn’t you?

Manning: because it's public data

Lamo: i mean, the cables

Manning: it belongs in the public domain -information should be free - it belongs in the public domain - because another state would just take advantage of the information… try and get some edge - if its out in the open… it should be a public good.

That's a whistleblower in the purest and most noble form:  discovering government secrets of criminal and corrupt acts and then publicizing them to the world not for profit, not to give other nations an edge, but to trigger "worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms."  Given how much Manning has been demonized -- at the same time that he's been rendered silent by the ban on his communication with any media -- it's worthwhile to keep all of that in mind.

But ultimately, what one thinks of Manning's alleged acts is irrelevant to the issue here.  The U.S. ought at least to abide by minimal standards of humane treatment in how it detains him.  That's true for every prisoner, at all times.  But departures from such standards are particularly egregious where, as here, the detainee has merely been accused, but never convicted, of wrongdoing.  These inhumane conditions make a mockery of Barack Obama's repeated pledge to end detainee abuse and torture, as prolonged isolation -- exacerbated by these other deprivations -- is at least as damaging, as violative of international legal standards, and almost as reviled around the world, as the waterboard, hypothermia and other Bush-era tactics that caused so much controversy.

What all of this achieves is clear.  Having it known that the U.S. could and would disappear people at will to "black sites," assassinate them with unseen drones, imprison them for years without a shred of due process even while knowing they were innocent, torture them mercilessly, and in general acts as a lawless and rogue imperial power created a climate of severe intimidation and fear.  Who would want to challenge the U.S. Government in any way -- even in legitimate ways -- knowing that it could and would engage in such lawless, violent conduct without any restraints or repercussions?  

That is plainly what is going on here.  Anyone remotely affiliated with WikiLeaks, including American citizens (and plenty of other government critics), has their property seized and communications stored at the border without so much as a warrant.  Julian Assange -- despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime -- has now spent more than a week in solitary confinement with severe restrictions under what his lawyer calls "Dickensian conditions."  But Bradley Manning has suffered much worse, and not for a week, but for seven months, with no end in sight.  If you became aware of secret information revealing serious wrongdoing, deceit and/or criminality on the part of the U.S. Government, would you -- knowing that you could and likely would be imprisoned under these kinds of repressive, torturous conditions for months on end without so much as a trial:  just locked away by yourself 23 hours a day without recourse -- be willing to expose it?  That's the climate of fear and intimidation which these inhumane detention conditions are intended to create.

* * * * *

Those wishing to contribute to Bradley Manning's defense fund can do so here.  All of those means are reputable, but everyone should carefully read the various options presented in order to decide which one seems best.


UPDATE:  I was contacted by Lt. Villiard, who claims there is one factual inaccuracy in what I wrote:  specifically, he claims that Manning is not restricted from accessing news or current events during the prescribed time he is permitted to watch television.  That is squarely inconsistent with reports from those with first-hand knowledge of Manning's detention, but it's a fairly minor dispute in the scheme of things.


UPDATE II: On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann did a segment on the conditions of Manning's incarceration, with FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley.  At least on its website, CBS News also reported on the story.  And I was on Democracy Now Thursday morning elaborating on my Manning article yesterday, as well as discussing Savage's article this morning and the imminent release of Assange from prison (the transcript is here):


Tortured Until Proven Guilty: Bradley Manning and the Case Against Solitary Confinement


Lynn Parramore, Editor of New Deal 2.0, Co-founder of Recessionwire  Posted: Dec 31, 2010

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

In the earliest days of our Republic, a group of well-meaning Philadelphia Quakers set out to reform the prison system. The idea was to remove convicts from the mayhem and corruption of overcrowded jails to solitary cells where sinners would return to mental and spiritual health through reflection. In the Walnut Street Jail, no windows would distract the prisoners with street life; no conversation would disturb their penitence. Alone with God, they would be rehabilitated.

There was a small problem. Many of the prisoners went insane. The Walnut Street Jail was shut down in 1835.

But the word penitentiary became part of the language, and the idea of placing prisoners in solitary confinement did not die. It seemed so reasonable -- so much better than chain gangs or public stocks. New prisons opened to test the theory that solitude might bring salvation to criminals.

Charles Dickens had a keen interest in prison conditions, having witnessed his father's detention in a Victorian debtor's prison. When he heard about the latest American innovation in housing convicts, he came to see for himself. At Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, the wretches he found in solitary confinement were barely human specters who picked their flesh raw and stared blankly at walls. His on-the-spot conclusion: Solitary confinement is torture. Dickens wrote:

I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers...I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.

A man who had seen his share of inhumanities, Dickens pronounced solitary confinement to be "rigid, strict, and hopeless...cruel and wrong."

That was 1842. Since then, piles of scientific studies, along with the vivid accounts of victims, have confirmed what was obvious to Dickens. Solitary confinement is worse than smashed bones and torn flesh. When human beings are deprived of social contact for even a few weeks, concentration breaks down, memory fades and disorientation sets in. Eventually, many prisoners experience explosive rages, hallucinations, catatonia, and self-mutilation. Some become irretrievably insane. Far from promoting safety, the most commonly cited justification, solitary confinement often amplifies violent impulses, turning prisoners into ticking time bombs who are far more dangerous to human society upon release than they ever were to begin with (see National Geographic's documentary on the subject, available on Netflix).

Human beings need social contact for normal brain function. Solitary confinement is thus a method of inflicting traumatic injury upon the human mind. "It's an awful thing, solitary," wrote former Vietnam prisoner John McCain in Faith of My Fathers. "It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment." Among its legion perversities, solitary confinement turns medical doctors into torturers; renders violent criminals more aggressive, and makes prisoners cut off from human society incapable of functioning in it.

In 1890, the United States Supreme Court nearly declared the punishment unconstitutional. It is banned by the Geneva Convention, condemned by the United Nations, and either prohibited or restricted in most civilized countries. And yet today, as Atul Gawande revealed in his gut-wrenching 2009 New Yorker article, tens of thousands of Americans are tortured in this fashion every day, out of sight, in the "Supermax" prisons that have popped up like poisoned mushrooms on the American landscape since the 1980s. Some prisoners are consigned to these Houses of Unholiness for violations - both major and minor -- of prison rules. Some for gang activity. Others for trying to escape. Or for violent behavior. Some are placed there because they are mentally ill and there is nowhere else to put them -- the equivalent of casting a sufferer of pneumonia onto an Arctic tundra.

Save for the death penalty, solitary confinement is the most extreme sanction allowed by law. Like slavery and every other form of institutionalized inhumanity, it should be banished to the dark annals of American history as an example of what happens when our humanity slumbers.

Instead, it is being used as a method of terror and coercion by the United States government upon a citizen who has not even been convicted of a crime.

As Glenn Greenwald and several other courageous journalists and bloggers have documented, Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has been detained in solitary confinement for the last seven months, despite not having been convicted of any crime, having been a model detainee, and having evidenced no signs of violence or even disciplinary misdemeanors. Manning has been kept alone in a cell for 23 hours a day, barred from exercising in that cell, deprived of sleep, and denied even a pillow or sheets for his bed. As Greenwald reports, "the brig's medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation." No date for a court hearing has been set.

The message of the U.S. government to its citizens in this activity is clear: blow the whistle and your brain will be mutilated before you even have a trial.

But it may be that much to the shame of the U.S. government, our slumbering humanity is awakening. The solitary confinement -- the torture, for we must call it that -- of Bradley Manning is ironically shining a light on this brutality and tipping us off to the danger of authoritarianism. A United Nations probe is now investigating the Bradley case, and the drumbeat of outrage in the blogosphere grows louder every day. Protesters are organizing. Whatever one thinks of Manning and his involvement in the WikiLeaks release of classified information, there can never be any justification for torture. As Greenwald argues, such practices weaken the position of the United States government, both abroad and at home. Other countries will think twice before accepting extradition requests to a place where inhumane treatment of prisoners is sanctioned. Our moral standing in the world suffers, while the American citizenry, already suspicious of post-9/11 governmental abuses of power, grows even more alarmed. What kind of legitimacy adheres to a judicial hearing when the accused has been subject to sanity-threatening conditions? Trust and faith in American justice will deteriorate as long as such damaging practices continue.

As we spend time and rejoice with our friends and family this New Year's Eve -- enjoying the social interaction that human beings require -- let us pause for a moment to remember the thousands of people being tortured in American prisons, including Bradley Manning, and let us send our own message back to our government: We are Americans. We will not accept the intimidation and coercion of our fellow citizens, even from the Pentagon. Most assuredly, we will not accept torture in our name. Not of the accused. Not of the mentally ill. Not even of convicted criminals. When our civilized society is attacked, no matter what the justification, we will rise up to defend it.

The placement of human beings in solitary confinement is not a measure of their depravity. It is a measure of our own.


More links to info about solitary confinement:

Shut Down Control Units:  http://abolishcontrolunits.org/index.php

CMU: Federal Prison’s Experiment in Social Isolation:  http://vimeo.com/10588917

"Little Guantanamo"–Secretive "CMU" Prisons Designed to Restrict Communication of Jailed Muslims and Activists with Outside World:  http://www.democracynow.org/2009/4/17/little_guantanamo_secretive_cmu_prisons_designed

Sourcebook On Solitary Confinement:

'Terrible Tommy' spends 27 years in solitary confinement:  http://articles.cnn.com/2010-02-25/justice/colorado.supermax.silverstein.solitary_1_solitary-confinement-federal-prison-system-cell?_s=PM:CRIME

The Crime of Punishment: Pelican Bay Maximum Security Prison: http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Prison_System/CrimePunish_Pelican.html

Flier about CMU's (Control Management Units) in prisons:

U.S. Soldier Imprisoned for Releasing Video Of U.S. Military Slaying of Iraqi Civilians: VIDEO & PETITION included

Bradley Manning is the U.S. soldier now in a US military prison in Kuwait who has been arrested and charged with two violations for releasing classified information (the Wikileaks "Collateral Murder" video) and facing 54 years in prison. He is being held in isolation from the outside world - with no contact with his civilian attorneys working to defend him.

If the allegations are true, Bradley Manning is a hero for bringing to light the realities of the crimes being committed in the U.S. occupation.

We call for his immediate release and that his attorneys be allowed to talk to him.

  Sign-On In Support of Bradley Manning & His Right to Counsel


Short Version



We Stand With Bradley Manning

Bradley ManningThis statement was signed by almost all attendees at the Iraq Veterans Against the War conference this past weekend.

For more background information, see Wikileaks reveals video showing US air crew shooting down Iraqi civilians and Army Intelligence Analyst Charged for Releasing Wikileaks Video: Killers Remain Free

Also see: bradleymanning.org

Join the Save Bradley group on Facebook

Write to Bradley with your support:

Inmate: Bradley Manning
TFCF (Theater Field Confinement Facility)
APO AE 09366


On July 6, 2010, Private Bradley Manning, a 22 year old intelligence analyst with the United States Army in Baghdad, was charged with disclosing this video (after allegedly speaking to an unfaithful journalist). The whistleblower behind the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, has called Mr. Manning a 'hero'. He is currently imprisoned in Kuwait. The Apache crew and those behind the cover up depicted in the video have yet to be charged. To assist Private Manning, please see bradleymanning.org.


5th April 2010 10:44 EST WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff.


Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.


Full Version


The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured.


After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own "Rules of Engagement".


Consequently, WikiLeaks has released the classified Rules of Engagement for 2006, 2007 and 2008, revealing these rules before, during, and after the killings.


WikiLeaks has released both the original 38 minutes video and a shorter version with an initial analysis. Subtitles have been added to both versions from the radio transmissions.


WikiLeaks obtained this video as well as supporting documents from a number of military whistleblowers. WikiLeaks goes to great lengths to verify the authenticity of the information it receives. We have analyzed the information about this incident from a variety of source material. We have spoken to witnesses and journalists directly involved in the incident.


WikiLeaks wants to ensure that all the leaked information it receives gets the attention it deserves. In this particular case, some of the people killed were journalists that were simply doing their jobs: putting their lives at risk in order to report on war. Iraq is a very dangerous place for journalists: from 2003- 2009, 139 journalists were killed while doing their work.

This is from a website called Collateral Murder: http://collateralmurder.com/



Related Links from Democracy Now!

*With Rumored Manhunt for Wikileaks Founder and Arrest of Alleged Leaker of Video Showing Iraq Killings, Obama Admin Escalates Crackdown on Whistleblowers of Classified Information

*Families of Victims of 2007 US Helicopter Killing React to Leaked Video

*"This Is How These Soldiers Were Trained to Act" - Veteran of Military Unit Involved in 2007 Baghdad Helicopter Shooting Says Incident Is Part of Much Larger Problem

*EXCLUSIVE: One Day After 2007 Attack, Witnesses Describe US Killings of Iraqi Civilians

*Collateral Murder in Iraq

*Massacre Caught on Tape: US Military Confirms Authenticity of Their Own Chilling Video Showing Killing of Journalists

Georgia Prison System Retaliates Against Prisoners Involved in Historic Protest

From Our Friends at the US Human Rights Network and the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners’ Rights:

 "The Coalition is raising concerns about the potential cover up of an attempted murder and the refusal, to date, of the prison to identify the missing 37 or more inmates deemed “conspirators” by the Department Of Corrections."

Friday, Dec 31, 2010 The Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners’ Rights learned that on or about December 16, Terrance Bryant Dean was severely beaten by guards at Macon State Prison where he was incarcerated. The Coalition asserts this brutal beating was not isolated and was a retaliatory act carried out by the Department of Corrections (DOC) against non-violent striking inmates. The Coalition was formed to support the interests and agenda of thousands of Georgia prisoners who staged a peaceful protest and work strike initiated in early December.

The Coalition is concerned about continued violent retaliation against the multiracial group of prisoners who staged a peaceful protest to be paid for their labor, for educational opportunities, access to family members, an end to cruel and unusual punishments, and other human rights. The eight-day strike, begun in early December, involved united prison populations at various prisons, including Hays, Smith, Telfair and Macon State Prisons.

Dean’s mother, Mrs. Willie Maude Dean, stated that since she learned from inmates that her son had been beaten, she has been given no information about his condition or whereabouts by the DOC, and that she and Dean’s sisters, Wendy Johnson and Natasha Montgomery, have been denied access to him since they discovered he was hospitalized at Atlanta Medical Center.

It was around the same time of this beating that the Coalition was meeting with the DOC making the demand that a Coalition fact-finding delegation be provided access to certain prisons to investigate conditions inside.

The DOC acceded to provide such access to a Coalition delegation—starting at Macon State Prison. However, even as the delegation visited Macon State, the DOC was apparently covering-up Dean’s reported retaliatory beating there by several CERT (Correctional Emergency Response Team) Team members, who witnesses reported restrained Dean after an alleged altercation with a guard, dragged him from his cell in handcuffs and leg irons, removed him to the prison gym and beat him unconscious. The beating remained unreported by the DOC even though the Coalition specifically raised questions about reports of retaliatory beatings and about the status and whereabouts of 37—or more—men the DOC identified as strike “conspirators.”

Mrs. Dean told Coalition leaders last night that when she asked Macon State Warden McLaughlin where was her son, based on concerns raised by prisoner reports he had been beaten nearly to death, McLaughlin told her he was “in the hole,” or, an isolation cell. In fact, Mr. Dean was already in the hospital.

The Coalition is raising concerns about the potential cover up of an attempted murder and the refusal, to date, of the prison to identify the missing 37 or more inmates deemed “conspirators” by the DOC. The Coalition is calling for the DOC and other state officials to sit down with the inmates to start a process to realize the inmates’ human rights.

The Coalition, which has grown into an entity of thousands of supporters and hundreds of organizations across the U.S. and internationally, includes the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, the ACLU, the U.S. Human Rights Network, All of Us or None, The Ordinary People Society and many others, and is co-chaired by Dubose and author-activist Elaine Brown.

A Coalition fact-finding delegation visited Macon State Prison on December 20 and was visiting Smith State Prison yesterday, December 29th, when the Coalition uncovered facts about Mr. Dean’s reported, brutal beating. The Coalition is planning to release a full report of its investigations and prison visits once the investigations are completed.

Family members and Coalition members, including NAACP Georgia State Conference President Ed Dubose and Georgia ACLU Legal Director Chara Jackson, will attempt to see the beaten prisoner today at Atlanta Medical Center.

Photo Above: Young prisoner Rodriques Dukes in solitary confinement at Georgia's Hays State Prison.


Below are links to the limited coverage of the strike since it ended officially on December 18th.

It ended on the condition that a fact finding coalition would be permitted access to several of the Georgia prisons to investigate conditions inside as well as begin the process of negotiationon the demands.

The coalition has since discovered that on or around Dec 16th Terrance Bryant Dean was severely beaten by guards, nearly to death according to prisoners' accounts, and his whereabouts concealed from his mother who had contacted the warden.

37 or more men, whom the Georgia DOC had deemed conspirators of the strike, remain missing - their status and whereabouts unknown.

"The Coalition is raising concerns about the potential cover up of an attempted murder and the refusal, to date, of the prison to identify the missing 37 or more inmates deemed “conspirators” by the DOC."



Below are older links about actions in support in the Bay area and Richmond VA.




Largest Prisoner Strike in U.S. History Underway in Georgia!

Sunday, December 12, 2010, 10:18 PM

A general strike by prisoners throughout the Georgia prison system has shut down 10 prisons since Thursday.

Elaine Brown, former chairperson of the Black Panther Party, describes it as the biggest prison strike in U.S. history. She's taken the lead on advocating for the prisoners from the outside, and insists the strike was initiated and self-organized by the prisoners themselves. The story finally made it into the NYTimes today, where they report prisoners used contraband cellphones to communicate with one another, and now, to talk to the press.




Starting at 9:20, Elaine Brown reports on and anlyzes the prison strike for 20min       http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/65925



Thousands of Georgia Prisoners to Stage Peaceful Protest

December 8, 2010…Atlanta, Georgia

            Tomorrow morning, December 9, 2010, thousands of Georgia prisoners will refuse to work, stop all other activities and remain in their cells in a peaceful, one-day protest for their human rights.  The December 9 Strike is projected to be the biggest prisoner protest in the history of the United States.

            These thousands of men, from Baldwin, Hancock, Hays, Macon, Smith and Telfair State Prisons, among others, state they are striking to press the Georgia Department of Corrections (“DOC”) to stop treating them like animals and slaves and institute programs that address their basic human rights.  They have set forth the following demands:

·         A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK:  In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

·         EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES:  For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

·         DECENT HEALTH CARE:  In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.

·         AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS:  In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

·         DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS:  Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

·         NUTRITIONAL MEALS:  Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

·         VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES:  The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

·         ACCESS TO FAMILIES:  The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

·         JUST PAROLE DECISIONS:  The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

Prisoner leaders issued the following call: “No more slavery.  Injustice in one place is injustice to all.  Inform your family to support our cause.  Lock down for liberty!”

Georgia Prison Strike is Spreading

Georgia Prisoners’ Strike:
“We locked ourselves down.”

December 13, 2010
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

In a protest that appears to be spreading through Georgia’s prison system, inmates are striking for better conditions. One interesting facet of this rare prison strike, which reaches across multiple facilities and across racial and factional lines, is the participants’ use of self-imposed lockdown to serve their own goals.

Lockdown, in which prisoners are confined to their cells for up to 24 hours a day, is routinely imposed on inmates for punishment or as a “security” measure.  In this case, however, prisoners are refusing to leave their cells until their demands are taken seriously. The Georgia Corrections Department’s only response so far, ironically, has been to place the affected prisons on lockdown. As the New York Times reported

“We’re not coming out until something is done. We’re not going to work until something is done,” said one inmate at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville. He refused to give his name because he was speaking on a banned cellphone…

The Corrections Department placed several of the facilities where inmates planned to strike under indefinite lockdown on Thursday, according to local reports.

“We’re hearing in the news they’re putting it down as we’re starting a riot, so they locked all the prison down,” said a 20-year-old inmate at Hays State Prison in Trion, who also refused to give his name. But, he said, “We locked ourselves down.”

The best roundup we’ve found of information and context on the strike appears today on Prison Law Blog. (We are taking the liberty of running the post in full, but please visit–and subscribe to–the blog, which is well worth your attention.)

The Black Agenda Report, a Georgia-based news site “from the black left,” reported on Saturday that inmates were on Day 2 of a strikemirrored here at Open Left) (:

Inmate families and other sources claim that when thousands of prisoners remained in their cells Thursday, authorities responded with violence and intimidation. Tactical officers rampaged through Telfair State Prison destroying inmate personal effects and severely beating at least six prisoners. Inmates in Macon State Prison say authorities cut the prisoners’ hot water, and at Telfair the administration shut off heat Thursday when daytime temperatures were in the 30s. Prisoners responded by screening their cells with blankets, keeping prison authorities from performing an accurate count, a crucial aspect of prison operations.

Although there were some reports of a “media blackout,” the New York Times did report on the strike, here (online only) and here (online and page A13 of yesterday’s newspaper) (and picked up by Slate here), emphasizing the use of cell phones and social networking to coordinate the strike. However, most local news outlets reported, via the Georgia Department of Corrections, that the prisoners were not on strike, but rather had been placed on lockdown to pre-empt the strike. Examples of local Georgia coverage portraying the weekend’s events as a lockdown are here at the Rome News-Tribune, here from the AP, here from Atlanta’s WSB-TV, and here from Georgia Public Broadcasting.

With about 52,000 inmates, Georgia’s prison system is not among the largest in the country in absolute numbers. But relative to the state’s population, it has an outsize reach. In Georgia, 1 in 13 adults is either in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole — the highest rate of correctional control in the country. (Nationwide that figure is 1 in 31.) According to the Sentencing Project, over 4% of Georgia adults and almost 10% of African-Americans cannot vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws. The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights has been a leading advocate for prisoners in Georgia and its neighboring states.

A few more links and the prisoners’ complete list of demands after the jump.

And the full list of the prisoners’ demands, from the above-linked press release:

· A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

· EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

· DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.

· AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

· DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

· NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

· VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

· ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

· JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

Movement-Building: Petition & Statement of Solidarity with Georgia Prisoner Strike

Fellow human rights defenders,

Thank you to all those who have followed the inspiring lead of the Georgia prisoners responsible for the largest strike in U.S. history. Please visit this link (http://www.petitiononline.com/wagesnow/petition.html) to view the current
signers of the Solidarity Statement, which is in essence a petition to the
people of this country to take concrete actions to build this movement.

So many people have been committed to this for years already, and because of the bold and dignified stand taken in Georgia we have an opportunity build
on these efforts.

Please direct people on your lists to visit the link above to sign the statement from now on. I had to create this site now because I am having trouble keeping up with all the support that is pouring into my inbox from around the country. Also, I am attaching the updated word and pdf versions of the statement to be broadcast online, sent in press releases, and mailed into jails and prisons everywhere. The censors will get some, but they cannot keep them all out. Let's all stay plugged in and support the strike in Georgia, along with one another wherever we may be.


Bret Grote Human Rights Coalition (hrcoalition.org) (www.ontheblockradio.org) 412-654-9070

A Moment for Movement-Building: Statement of Solidarity with Georgia Prisoner Strike

On December 9, 2010, thousands of prisoners in at least six Georgia state prisons initiated the largest prisoner strike in U.S. history, uniting across racial boundaries to demand an immediate end to the cruel and dehumanizing conditions that damage prisoners, their families, and the communities they return to.


Prisoners are demanding a living wage for work, increased educational opportunities, decent health care, an end to cruel and unusual punishment, decent living conditions, nutritional meals, vocational and self-improvement opportunities, access to families, and just parole decisions. These demands are not only fair and just, but mandatory under international human rights law and the U.S. Constitution.


And it is not just Georgia where these conditions exist. Prisoners throughout this country are subject to routine dehumanization, violence, denial of basic medical care, separated from their families, exposed to illnesses, and obstructed from accessing the court. Jails and prisons throughout the U.S. are routinely in violation of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


It is imperative that members of the legal community, human rights advocates, social justice activists, faith communities, and concerned members of the general public mobilize in support of prisoners and their families in this urgent moment. Georgia prison authorities have reportedly reacted to the peaceful strike with violence. The threat of retaliation will remain for the foreseeable future, and we must rise to the occasion with increased vigilance and action.


We are especially asking that members of the legal community recognize their unique role and serious responsibility in working to support prisoners and communities targeted by policies of mass incarceration.


We must also seize this opportunity to support and strengthen those forces fighting against race and class-based policies of mass incarceration. Under the cover of a cynical drug war, the U.S. has constructed the largest prison economy in the history of the planet, incarcerating more of its own people than any other nation in the world. And when evidence of the pervasive targeting of communities of color at every level of the criminal legal system is recognized for what it is, there is only one conclusion to arrive at: mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow.


Like the old Jim Crow, this system serves to perpetuate institutionalized racism, economic inequality, and political disenfranchisement. It seeks to pit poor whites and people of color against each other in order to keep working and middle class communities subordinate to a political and economic order that prioritizes profit at the expense of our communities and our democracy.


The transcending of the politics of racial antagonism by the prisoners in Georgia striking for their human rights and human dignity is a profound call for the renewal of visionary mass movements for social justice and freedom in this country. Our communities outside of these walls are in dire need of human rights as well: health care, educational opportunities, jobs, food, housing, peace, and a livable planetIn building an integrated, mass movement for human rights inside and outside the prisons we are also working to undermine the conditions of social, economic, and political inequalities that fuel crime and violence.

We are asking that others sign onto this statement of solidarity and make a commitment to take action in support of the prisoners in Georgia, to take action in support of prisoners’ rights, and to help build a historic mass movement against mass incarceration and for universal human rights and dignity.


Solidarity and Struggle,

Center for Constitutional Rights
Noam Chomsky Professor
Michelle Alexander, Ohio State University Professor
Jules Lobel, University of Pittsburgh Law School Professor
Marjorie Cohn,Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Rosa Clemente, 2008 Green Party Vice President Candidate
California Coalition for Women Prisoners
Nkechi Taifa, Esq., Director, Legacy Justice Institute
Justice Now (www.jnow.org)
Drug Policy Alliance Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director,
Drug Policy Alliance
Human Rights Coalition-Chester
Human Rights Coalition-Philadelphia
Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up! Pittsburgh
Vania Gulston, www.ontheblockradio.org
Jordan Flaherty, Louisiana Justice Institute
Paradise Gray, Executive Director One Hood
Van Jones, author, The Green Collar Economy
International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition
MOVE Organization
Prison Radio - www.prisonradio.org
Redwood Justice Fund
Noelle Hanrahan
Pam Africa
Suzanne Ross, Co-Chair, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC) Spokesperson
Steven Gotzler, National Lawyers Guild National Vice President
Heidi Boghosian, National Lawyers Guild Executive Director
James Rucker, Executive Director, ColorOfChange.org
Annie Paradise, student, Anthropology Dept., California Institute of Integral Studies
Paul Wright, Editor, Prison Legal News - www.prisonlegalnews.org
Deirdre Wilson, Program Coordinator for California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and proud member of All of Us or None
Bruce Reilly, Behind the Walls Committee-Direct Action for Rights and Equality, Providence, Rhode Island
Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
Andrew Grant-Thomas, Deputy Director, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and
California Prison Moratorium Project
Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice
Lois Ahrens, The Real Cost of Prisons Project
North Star Fund
Women Who Never Give Up (www.wwng.org)
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network – United States
Michael Letwin, Co-Convener, New York City Labor Against the War; Former
President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325
Andy Switzer
Anthony Papa, author of 15 to Life
Dominique Reed
Pam Nath, Community Organizer, Mennonite Central Committee—New Orleans
Thousand Kites – www.kitescampaigns.org
Amanda Rosenblum
Laura Erickson-Schroth
Ali Brooks, Madison, Wisconsin, Groundwork Anti-Racist Collective
Bret Grote
Dr. Rachel Luft
Claude Marks, Director, Freedom Archives
Jamie Kalven, Invisible Institute
National Lawyers Guild – University of Pittsburgh Law School Chapter
Matthew Shelton
Emily Zeanah Shelton
Marlon Peterson
Jeff Hitchcock, Executive Director, Center for the Study of White American Culture, Inc.
Sarah Lomax-Reese, President, WURD Radio
Tema Okun, Dismantling Racism Works, Durham, North Carolina
Mollie Crittenden
Gary Johnson
Lisa Albrecht, University of Minnesota, Social Justice Program
Survivors Village, New Orleans
Russ Vernon-Jones, Alliance of White Anti-Racists (Hampshire Co., MA)
Serena Alfieri, Associate Director of Policy, Correctional Association of NY
Laurie Bezold, Baltimore, Maryland
Christian Peele
Amanda Johnson
Geri Silva, Facts Education Fund: Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes
Prisoners are People Too, Buffalo, NY
Camy Matthay, Wisconsin Books to Prisoners, Brooklyn, WI
Wendy Ake, Graduate Research Associate, Global Justice Program, The Kirwan Institute
for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Ohio State University
Alan Eladio Gomez, Ph.D., Arizona State University

StatementSolidarityPrisoners.pdf73.55 KB

Bay Area Protest In Support of Striking Georgia Prisoners Demands for Human Rights

Local Oakland activists show solidarity for striking Georgia prisoners

Supporters of the Georgia prison strikers rally in front of the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.

Supporters of the Georgia prison strikers rally in front of the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.

Bay Area community activists rallied Friday in front of an Oakland jail to show solidarity for Georgia prisoners who had organized an unprecedented strike in at least seven of their state's penitentiaries.

A diverse group of about 40 gathered at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland, including children and the elderly. Protesters exchanged personal statements of unity with the striking prisoners and their desires to reform the criminal justice system. They then marched to Oakland City Hall, where a scheduled line-up of speeches and performances was cancelled due to rain.

Gerald Smith, an electrician and long-time Oakland resident, said he resonated with the cause because he’s had incarcerated family members and knows the seriousness of prison conditions. Smith said even prisoners need dignity and a living wage.

“When you imprison and pay 25 cents an hour for the same work that people were getting $20 an hour for, that’s called super exploitation,” Smith said.

Georgia prisoners are not paid at all for their work, with very few exceptions.

The Georgia prison strikers have nine demands, including receiving a living wage for their work, as well as educational, vocational and self-improvement opportunities and nutritional meals. Prisoners began to organize themselves after a tobacco ban took effect in September. The New York Times reported the prisoners used contraband cell phones, many provided by prison guards at exorbitant prices, to communicate and organize themselves.

While Georgia prison officials said they locked-down four prisons after learning of the planned strikes, prisoners said they locked themselves down, refusing to leave their cells and work, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Timothy Killings said he felt inspired to participate at the local event because the Georgian strike reminded him of California’s system and how prisoners all across the country are treated.

“The Georgia prison strike is something that we should pick up here on the Bay Area,” Killings said. “It’s like modern-day slavery to me.”

California inmates make between 30 cents and 95 cents per hour, according to the California Prison Industry Authority, or CALPIA. Additionally, 20 percent of their net wages are mandatorily deducted to a fund that benefits victims of crimes. CALPIA employs 5,900 inmates in 22 state prisons offering goods and services ranging from license plates and office furniture to printing services and coffee.

Activists say they plan to keep organizing the local community through a larger campaign, which will include tactics such as boycotting companies that contract prison services, as well as planning public demonstrations and educational outreach.

Anastasia Gomes, a graduate student at San Francisco State University, said Californians should care about the Georgia strike because it is directly related to the lack of economic opportunities.

“There would be a lot more jobs with pay if prison labor wasn’t being used to undercut the wages of this kind of labor.”

Prison advocate and former Black Panther Party chair Elaine Brown was scheduled to give an update of the Georgia situation at Oakland City Hall, but cancelled due to the weather. Organizers said they plan to hold a meeting with her next week to debrief and to plan future actions.


Film about Angola 3: "In The Land of the Free" - Angola Prison aka Slave Plantation

New Film on Angola 3  

Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, of the "Angola 3" have been in solitary for 37 years and a new film has now been made about them and is due to be released later this month. Robert King, one of the Angola 3, was finally released in 2001. These three men have all been activists behind bars.

from THE GUARDIAN March 10, 2010:  Angola prison, the state penitentiary of Louisiana, is the biggest prison in America. Built on the site of a former slave plantation, the 1,800-acre penal complex is home to more than 5,000 prisoners, the majority of whom will never walk the streets again as free men. Also known as the Farm, Angola took its name from the homeland of the slaves who used to work its fields, and in many ways still resembles a slave plantation today. Eighty per cent of the prisoners are African-Americans and, under the watchful eye of armed guards on horseback, they still work fields of sugar cane, cotton and corn, for up to 16 hours a day. "You've got to keep the inmates working all day so they're tired at night," says Warden Burl Cain, a committed evangelist who believes that the rehabilitation of convicts is only possible through Christian redemption. Undoubtedly there is less violence and abuse among the prisoners under his wardenship than there was under his predecessors. But Angola is still a long way from being a "positive environment that promotes responsibility, goodness, and humanity", as he proclaims in the prison's mission statement. In fact at the heart of Cain's prison regime is an inhumanity that would make Jesus weep.

For more than 37 years, two prisoners, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, have been locked down in Angola's maximum security Closed Cell Restricted (CCR) block – the longest period of solitary confinement in American prison history. Having experienced the isolation of "23-hour bang-up" during my own 20 years of imprisonment, for offences of which I was guilty, I can attest to the mental impact that such conditions inflict. My first year was spent on a high-security landing where the cell doors were opened only briefly for meals and emptying of toilet buckets. If decent-minded prison officers were on duty we were allowed to walk the yard for 30 minutes a day. The rest of the time we were alone. The cells were 10ft x 5ft, with a chair, a table and a bed. You could walk up and down, run on the spot, stand still, or do push-ups and sit-ups – but sooner or later you had to just stop, and think. As the days, weeks and months blur into one, without realising it you start to live completely inside your head. You dream about the past, in vivid detail – and fantasise about the future, for fantasies are all you have. You panic but it's no good "getting on the bell" – unless you're dying – and, even then, don't hope for a speedy response. I had a lot to think about. When the man in the cell above mine hanged himself I thought about that, a lot. I still do. You look at the bars on the high window and think how easy it would be to be free of all the thinking.

Such thoughts must have crossed the minds of Wallace and Woodfox more than once during their isolation. They are fed through the barred gates of their 9ft x 6ft cells and allowed only one hour of exercise every other day alone in a small caged yard. Their capacity for psychological endurance alone is noteworthy. Wallace and Woodfox were confined to solitary after being convicted of murdering Angola prison guard Brent Miller in 1972. But the circumstances of their trial was so suspect that there are no doubts among their supporters that these men are innocent. Even Brent Miller's widow, Teenie Verret, has her reservations. "If they did not do this," she says, "and I believe that they didn't, they have been living a nightmare." One man who understands the nightmare that Wallace and Woodfox are living more than anyone else is Robert King. King was also convicted of a murder in Angola in 1973, and was held in solitary alongside Wallace and Woodfox for 29 years, until his conviction was overturned in 2001 and he was freed. Together, King, Wallace and Woodfox have become known as the "Angola three".

The case of the Angola three first came to international attention following the campaigning efforts of the Body Shop founder and humanitarian Anita Roddick. Roddick heard about their plight from a young lawyer named Scott Fleming. Fleming was working as a prisoner advocate in the 1990s when he received a letter from Wallace asking for help. The human tragedy Fleming uncovered had the most profound effect on him. When he qualified as a lawyer, their case became his first. "I was born in 1973," he says. "I often think that for my entire life they have been in solitary."

Through Fleming, Roddick met King and then Woodfox in Angola. Their story, she said later, "made my blood run cold in my veins". Until her death in 2007 Roddick was a committed and passionate supporter of their cause. At her memorial service King played two taped messages from Wallace and Woodfox. In the congregation was film-maker Vadim Jean who had become good friends with Roddick and her husband Gordon during an earlier film project. "Anita's big thing was, 'Just do something,'" says Jean. "No matter how small an act of kindness. Listening to Herman and Albert's voices at her memorial was like having Anita's finger pointing at me and saying, 'Just do something'." And so he decided to make In the Land of the Free, a searing documentary, released later this month. The story Jean's film tells is one that has resonance on many levels. All three men were from poor black neighbourhoods In New Orleans. They grew up fearing the police, who would regularly "clear the books" of crimes in the area, according to King, by pinning then on disaffected young black men. "If I saw the police, I used to run," King says. He admits to being involved in petty crime in his early years, but "nothing vicious". Eventually King was arrested for an armed robbery he says he did not commit and was sentenced to 35 years, which he began in New Orleans parish prison – and there he met Albert Woodfox.

Woodfox had also been sentenced for armed robbery – and given 50 years. On the day he was sentenced he escaped from the courthouse. He made his way to Harlem in New York, where he encountered the Black Panthers, the revolutionary African-American political movement. He witnessed the Panthers engaging with the community in a positive, constructive way, educating and informing people of their rights. He says it was the first time in his life that he had seen African-Americans exhibiting real pride, pride that emanated from the young activists, he says, "like a shimmering heatwave". Two days later Woodfox was caught and taken to New York's Tombs prison where he saw first-hand the militant tactics of imprisoned Panthers who resisted their guards with organised protests. In Tombs, Woodfox was labelled "militant" and sent back to New Orleans where he joined King on the parish prison block, known – due to the high concentration of Panther activists – as "the Panther tier". There Woodfox became a member of the Black Panther party.

Outside, confrontations between the Panthers – described by FBI director J Edgar Hoover as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country" – and the police were escalating. In an attempt to undermine the influence of the Panthers in New Orleans parish prison, officials tried to shoehorn men they termed "Black Gangsters" on to the tier – men like Wallace, also serving decades for armed robbery. One day Wallace was suffering from the pain of ill-fitting shoes. One of the Panthers, on his way to a court appearance, took his shoes off and handed them to Wallace. "Right then I knew that that was what I needed to be a part of," he says. In the summer of 1971 Wallace and Woodfox were shipped to Angola. The civil rights bill had been signed in 1964, but seven years later Angola was still operating a segregated regime. Prisoner guards carried guns and were also responsible, according to well-documented sources, for organising systematic sexual abuse of vulnerable prisoners, which flourished in the prison's mostly dormitory accommodation. And violence between prisoners had reached such levels that Angola was known as "the bloodiest prison in America". Woodfox and Wallace quickly extended the New Orleans chapter of the Black Panthers into Angola, establishing classes in political ideology and exposing injustices. They organised work stoppages, demonstrating to fellow prisoners the liberating power of acting with a "unity of purpose" and worked to eradicate the prevalent sexual abuses. But their political activities made them targets for the administrators. By the spring of 1972, tensions in the prison were dangerously high.

These were the conditions in which Brent Miller met his untimely death. That April, a prisoner work strike drew the attention of the guards who were called from normal duties to deal with the disturbance. Miller, a strong, athletic young man of 23, stayed behind alone. He entered a dormitory holding 90 prisoners and sat on an elderly prisoner's bed, drinking coffee and chatting. Moments later he was attacked and stabbed 32 times. Two days later, four men identified as "black militants", including Wallace and Woodfox, were accused of the murder. It was quickly ascertained that one of the four had been inserted into the case by the prison administration. Charges against him were dropped. Another, Chester Jackson, admitted to holding Miller while the guard was stabbed to death. Jackson turned state's evidence in return for a plea to manslaughter. The case was tried in a town called St Francisville, the closest courthouse to Angola. The jury had been picked from the local populace, many of whom earned their living from the prison or had families and friends that worked there; all were white. Wallace and Woodfox were found guilty of Miller's murder, sentenced to life imprisonment without parole and taken from the court straight to Angola's CCR block to begin their life in isolation.

Robert King was brought to Angola from the parish prison two weeks after Miller's killing, as part of a roundup of black radicals. King had never met Miller and was in a prison 150 miles away when the murder took place. Yet he was investigated for the crime and identified as a "conspirator" before being transferred to lockdown on CCR alongside Wallace and Woodcock. The following year a prisoner named August Kelly was murdered on King's CCR tier. A man named Grady Brewer admitted that he alone was responsible for the killing, which he said he carried out in self-defence. But King was also charged. The two men faced trial together in the same St Francisville courthouse where Wallace and Woodfox had been convicted the year before. The sole evidence against King came from flawed prisoner testimony. He and Brewer had not been allowed to speak to their attorneys for any length of time before their trial. When they protested, the judge ordered their hands to be shackled behind their backs and their mouths gagged with duct tape for the duration of their trial. The men were convicted and sentenced to life without parole. King later won an appeal; the federal court ruled that he had not been sufficiently unruly in the dock to warrant the shackling and gagging. He went back to trial in 1975, was re-convicted and immediately sent back to CCR.

When, after Scott Fleming's intervention in the case of Wallace and Woodfox in the 1990s, new lawyers reviewed the original trial of both men, discovering "obfuscation after obfuscation". The state had used a number of jailhouse informants against them, many of whom gave contradictory accounts of what they saw. One was registered blind. The key witness in the case was a man called Hezikiah Brown who testified he witnessed the murder. In his initial statement to investigators however, Brown said he had not seen anything. Three days later, when he was taken from his bunk at midnight by prison officials and promised his freedom if he testified, he agreed to say that he saw Wallace and Woodfox kill Miller. At the time Brown was serving life without parole for multiple rapes. Immediately after he agreed to testify he was given his own minimum security private house in the prison grounds and a weekly cigarette ration.

Wallace and Woodfox did not give up. They fought their convictions from their cells and in 1993 Woodfox was granted an appeal, forcing a new trial. The case was sent back to the same courthouse to be tried in front of a new grand jury. A local author, Anne Butler, who had published a book in which she detailed the case and was convinced that the right people had been convicted, acted as jury chairperson. No witnesses were called. Instead Butler was called upon to explain the case. Once again, the jury was composed of people who worked in Angola or were related to people who worked there. Butler's husband and co-author was Murray Henderson, who had been the warden of Angola when Brent Miller was murdered. It is worth noting that Henderson was a key member of the original investigation team and that, during that investigation, a bloody fingerprint was found close to Brent Miller's body. It was determined that it did not belong to Woodfox nor to Wallace, but despite the prison holding all the fingerprints of all the prisoners, no attempt was made to find out whose it was. The bloody print was also ignored at Woodfox's retrial. He was reconvicted and sent back to isolation in Angola's CCR.

It was 26 years before King won the right to another appeal. In 2001 the Federal court found that the jury in King's original trial had systematically excluded African-Americans and women and agreed that the case should be reheard. This time around the prisoner witnesses recanted and the federal court sent the case back to the district court for review. The state negotiated a deal with King. Reluctantly, and with his left hand raised instead of his right, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy; an hour and a half later he was freed. In September 2008, Woodfox's conviction was overturned; the federal court ruled that his core constitutional rights had been violated at his original trial. Louisiana attorney general Buddy Caldwell could have set Woodfox free immediately. Instead he decided to contest the federal decision and Woodfox, now 64, was returned to Angola's CCR, where he remains. Herman Wallace, now 68, was moved to another Louisiana prison last year, where he too continues to be held in solitary confinement. Today King, now 67, is still campaigning for justice for his friends. Albert Woodfox: "Our primary objective is that front gate. That is what we are struggling for and we are actually fighting for our freedom. We are fighting for people to understand that we were framed for a murder that we are totally, completely and actually innocent of." Robert King says he is free of Angola, but until his friends are free, "Angola will never be free of me." Jean hopes his film will make a difference. "These men need help," he says. "Louisiana needs to be shamed into doing the right thing."

Further information: angola3.org <http://angola3.org/> . If you wish to help highlight the plight of the Angola 3, you can write to the Governor of Louisiana at the Office of the Governor, PO Box 94004, Baton Rouge, LA 70804, US.
In the Land of the Free <http://www.inthelandofthefreefilm.com/index.html>  is released on March 26 


New issue of Turning the Tide - summer 2011

Download it HERE:

The new issue of Turning the Tide: Journal of Anti-Racist Action, Research &
Education, Volume 24 Number 3, July-September 2011, is now out from
Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART).
PDFs will be available on-line at <http://www.antiracist.org>www**
.antiracist.org <http://www.antiracist.org>

The latest issue includes the latest compilation of "Rumors," a blotter of
recent on-the-street anti-racist and anti-fascist actions, as well as an
exchange of views generated by the antifa confrontation with the NSM in
Pemberto, NJ, including "Off the Nazis!...But How?" from 'the Brigade' in
Bring the Ruckus, and a "Response" by Jerry Bellow. These address the
interconnection between public organizing and potentially illegal
militant/military action by anti-fascists.

Mutope Duguma (s/n James Crawford) contributes "The Call for All Prisoners
in Security Housing Units" regarding the hunger strike set for launch on
July 1 by prisoners in long-term abusive isolation in California's Pelican
Bay State Prison. Also of note are a review of Michelle Alexander's "The New
Jim Crow" by Death Row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, and information
on "Between the Bars," a new free blogging service for prisoners and
"Running Down the Walls" 2011, the fund-raising 5K organized by the LA
Anarchist Black Cross Federation, with solidarity runs at more than a dozen
prisons and in other cities in the US and Canada.

Several documents from "Anonymous," including their declarations of freedom
and of war, along with their message to NATO, are included, along with
sample information on US neo-nazis hacked by Anonymous Anti-fascists, along
with an account by the group of their work and its purpose.

The issue also includes a report of indigenous direct action to protect the
San Francisco Peaks in Arizona against the "Snowbowl" wastewater pipeline
(creating 'snow' from sewage), and "A Black Rider in Afrika," by Shango
Abiola, in which the "new generation Black Panther" describes his recent
visit to Tanzania and theorizes about the relationship between self-defense,
armed struggle and revolutionary Afrikan inter-communalism on the road to
the liberation of the continent and the Diaspora.

Other regular features include the ARA Network's Four Points of Unity and
contact information, a calendar of Anti-Racist Actions coming up in July,
August and September, including the national confederation planning meeting
on freeing political prisoners convened by the Jericho Amnesty Movement in
DC on Aug. 19-20, and the 17th annual ARA Network gathering in Chicago IL on
Sept. 16-18. Finally, the issue includes "PART's Perspective: End the Empire
Before It Ends You!" by Michael Novick of ARA-LA/PART. This editorial also
reflects on the issues of 'aboveground' and 'underground' work raised by
several other pieces in the issue.

The front cover of the latest issue is dedicated to Geronimo ji-Jaga (Pratt)
the recently-fallen former political prisoner and Los Angeles defense
minister of the Black Panther Party.

A free sample copy is available from ARA-LA/PART at PO Box 1055, Culver City
CA 90232, 310-495-0299,
>antiracistaction_la@**yahoo.com <antiracistaction_la@yahoo.com>. One-year,
4-issue subs are $16 for individuals in the US, $26 for international or
institutional subscriptions, payable to Anti-Racist Action at the above
address. (Bundles are available at $20 for 50 copies in the U.S. only.)
"Turning the Tide" has been distributed free to prisoners for over 2
decades, without partisan subsidies, foundation or corporate grants or
government funding. It relies solely upon subscriptions and donations from
its readers to sustain itself as a voice of grassroots, direct-action
anti-racism, anti-fascism and anti-colonialism. Financial contributions as
well as scene reports, investigations, and analyses or criticisms are always
TurnTheTide-Jul-Sept-2011.pdf519.16 KB

Prison Slaves in Toxic BP areas

BP Hires Prison Labor to Clean Up Spill While Coastal Residents Struggle

"They're not getting paid, it's part of their sentence"

Author Abe Louise Young: poet, activist, native to New Orleans, lives in Austin, TX   

July 21, 2010: In the first few days after BP's Deepwater Horizon wellhead exploded, spewing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, cleanup workers could be seen on Louisiana beaches wearing scarlet pants and white t-shirts with the words "Inmate Labor" printed in large red block letters.

Coastal residents, many of whom had just seen their livelihoods disappear, expressed outrage at community meetings; why should BP be using cheap or free prison labor when so many people were desperate for work? The outfits disappeared overnight. Work crews in Grand Isle, Louisiana, still stand out. In a region where nine out of ten residents are white, the cleanup workers are almost exclusively African-American men. The racialized nature of the cleanup is so conspicuous that Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, sent a public letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward on July 9, demanding to know why black people were over-represented in "the most physically difficult, lowest paying jobs, with the most significant exposure to toxins."


Hiring prison labor is more than a way for BP to save money while cleaning up the biggest oil spill in history. By tapping into the inmate workforce, the company and its subcontractors get workers who are not only cheap but easily silenced—and they get lucrative tax write-offs in the process.


Known to some as "the inmate state," Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration of any other state in the country. Seventy percent of its 39,000 inmates are African-American men. The Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) only has beds for half that many prisoners, so 20,000 inmates live in parish jails, privately run contract facilities and for-profit work release centers. Prisons and parish jails provide free daily labor to the state and private companies like BP, while also operating their own factories and farms, where inmates earn between zero and forty cents an hour. Obedient inmates, or "trustees," become eligible for work release in the last three years of their sentences. This means they can be a part of a market-rate, daily labor force that works for private companies outside the prison gates. The advantage for trustees is that they get to keep a portion of their earnings, redeemable upon release. The advantage for private companies is that trustees are covered under Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a holdover from Bush's Welfare to Work legislation that rewards private-sector employers for hiring risky "target groups." Businesses earn a tax credit of $2,400 for every work release inmate they hire. On top of that, they can earn back up to 40 percent of the wages they pay annually to "target group workers."


If BP's use of prison labor remains an open secret on the Gulf Coast, no one in an official capacity is saying so. At the Grand Isle base camp in early June, I called BP's Public Information line, and visited representatives for the Coast Guard Public Relations team, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Louisiana Fisheries and Wildlife Department. They were all stumped. Were inmates doing shore protection or oil cleanup work? They had no idea. In fact, they said, they'd like to know—would I call them if I found out?

I got an answer one evening earlier this month, when I drove up the gravel driveway of the Lafourche Parish Work Release Center jail, just off Highway 90, halfway between New Orleans and Houma. Men were returning from a long day of shoveling oil-soaked sand into black trash bags in the sweltering heat. Wearing BP shirts, jeans and rubber boots (nothing identifying them as inmates), they arrived back at the jail in unmarked white vans, looking dog tired.


Beach cleanup is a Sisyphean task. Shorelines cleaned during the day become newly soaked with oil and dispersant overnight, so crews shovel up the same beaches again and again. Workers wear protective chin-to-boot coveralls (made out of high-density polyethylene and manufactured by Dupont), taped to steel-toed boots covered in yellow plastic. They work twenty minutes on, forty minutes off, as per Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety rules. The limited physical schedule allows workers to recover from the blazing sun and the oppressive heat that builds up inside their impermeable suits.

During their breaks, workers unzip the coveralls for ventilation, drink ice water from gallon thermoses and sit under white fabric tents. They start at 6 AM, take a half-hour lunch and end the day at 6PM, adding up three to four hours of hard physical labor in twenty-minute increments. They are forbidden to speak to the public or the media by BP's now-notorious gag rule. At the end of the day, coveralls are stripped off and thrown in dumpsters, alongside oil-soaked booms and trash bags full of contaminated sand. The dumpsters are emptied into local HazMat landfills, free employees go home and the inmates are returned to work release centers.


Work release inmates are required to work for up to twelve hours a day, six days a week, sometimes averaging seventy-two hours per week. These are long hours for performing what may arguably be the most toxic job in America. Although the dangers of mixed oil and dispersant exposure are largely unknown, the chemicals in crude oil can damage every system in the body, as well as cell structures and DNA.

Inmates can't pick and choose their work assignments and they face considerable repercussions for rejecting any job, including loss of earned "good time." The warden of the Terrebonne Parish Work Release Center in Houma explains: "If they say no to a job, they get that time that was taken off their sentence put right back on, and get sent right back to the lockup they came out of." This means that work release inmates who would rather protect their health than participate in the non-stop toxic cleanup run the risk of staying in prison longer.


Prisoners are already subject to well-documented health care deprivations while incarcerated, and are unlikely to have health insurance after release. Work release positions are covered by Worker's Compensation insurance, but pursuing claims long after exposure could be a Kafkaesque task. Besides, there is currently no system for tracking the medical impact of oil and dispersant exposure in cleanup workers or affected communities.


To learn how many of the 20,000 prisoners housed outside of state prisons are involved in spill-related labor, I called the DOC Public Relations officer, Pam LaBorde, who ultimately discouraged me from seeking such information. ("Frankly, I do not know where your story is going, but it does not sound positive," she said on our third phone call.)


Going to prison officials directly didn't help. The warden of a South Louisiana jail refused to discuss the matter, exclaiming, "You want me to lose my job?" A different warden, of a privately-owned center admitted, on condition of anonymity, that inmates from his facility had been employed in oil cleanup, but declined to answer further questions. Jefferson Parish President Steve Theriot and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, and Grand Isle Police Chief Euris DuBois declined interview requests.


Transparency problems are longstanding with the Louisiana DOC. There is also scant oversight of private prison facilities. Following Hurricane Katrina, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a 140-page report that documented abuses and botched prison evacuations, as well as the numerous times its requests for official information were rejected. "It appears that you are standing in the shoes of prisoners, and therefore DOC is exempted from providing any information which it might otherwise have to under public records law," DOC lawyers told the ACLU National Prisons Project.


Some officials have been more forthcoming. A lieutenant in the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office told me that three crews of inmates were sandbagging in Buras, Louisiana in case oil hit there. "They're not getting paid, it's part of their sentence," she said. "They'll work as long as they're needed. It's a hard job because of the heat, but they're not refusing to work." In early May, Governor Bobby Jindal's office sent out a press release heralding the training of eighty inmates from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in "cleaning of oil-impacted wildlife recovered from coastal areas." DOC Spokesperson Pam LaBorde subsequently denied that any inmates participated in wildlife cleaning efforts.

Offering an exception to this policy of secrecy is Lafourche Parish Work Release Center, the only one in the state that is accredited by the American Correctional Association. It is audited regularly and abides by national standards of safety and accountability, which is perhaps why I was able to simply walk in on a Thursday afternoon and chat with the warden.


Captain Milfred Zeringue is a retired Louisiana state police officer with a jaunty smile, powerful torso, and silver hair. His small, gray office is adorned with photos of many generations of his Louisiana family and a Norman Rockwell print picturing a policeman and a small runaway boy sharing a meaningful look at a soda fountain counter. A brass plaque confers the "Blood and Guts Award" upon Zeringue. Of 184 men living under the Captain's charge, 18 are currently assigned to oil spill work. The numbers change daily and are charted on white boards that stretch down the hallway.

Captain Zeringue says that inmates are glad for any opportunity they can get, and see work release jobs as a step up, a headstart on re-entry. "Our work release inmates are shipped to centers around the state according to employer demand," he explains, describing the different types of skilled and unskilled labor. "I have carpenters, guys riding on the back of the trash trucks, guys working offshore on the oil rigs, doing welding, cooking. Employers like them because they are guaranteed a worker who's on time, drug-free, and sober."


"And," he adds, "because they do get a tax break."

Inside the center, men sit around long plastic tables watching TV, or nap on thin mattresses under grey wool covers. The windowless dormitories hold twenty to thirty men each in blue metal bunk beds. Hard hats hang off of lockers, ceiling fans circle slowly, and each bunk has a white mesh bag of laundry strung from one rung. An air of dejection and fatigue permeates the atmosphere, but the facility looks safe and clean. It's surrounded by chain link fence and staffed by former police officers. One long shelf stacked with donated romance and adventure novels serves as a library. GED classes and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings gather weekly. Individuals are free to walk around the halls, use pay phones, shoot pool, or sit and watch cars pass on the highway from a small outdoor yard. A doctor visits once a week. Inmates greet the captain as we walk and jump to hold doors open for us.


Zeringue exudes a certain affection for the workers in his center. "To me