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
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
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