CDCr must effect genuine changes in its old policies, culture and practices

by Baridi and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa
March 25, 2017, in SF Bayview

Photo of Baridi Williamson in 2016

Baridi Williamson in 2016

As always, allow us to begin by paying our respects to the families who lost their loved ones during the historic California hunger strikes. Prior to the solidarity hunger strikes, the four principal negotiators, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Todd Ashker, found ourselves locked inside Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor. There we would discuss the vision of effecting genuine change in CDCr’s long term solitary confinement combined policies, prac­tices and conditions. (See our Five Core Demands.)

Photo of Sitawa and Marie arm in arm

Sitawa and his sister Marie, on their first contact visit since decades

And Brutha Sitawa would continue to share the broader vision, foreseeing not only our tortured class being released from solitary confinement, but also changing the backwards direction of the California and U.S. governments’ new Jim Crow systems of mass incarceration.

Then came the hunger strikes (2011-2013) and we saw CDCr (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – the last word often not capitalized because it’s proved to be an empty promise) being compelled to start releasing some of our class members – aka DRB (Departmental Review Board) kickouts – out of soli­tary confinement into the general population. And upon our arrival out to the GP, some of us knew that CDCr-CCPOA guards were plotting and scheming to not only figure out a way to stop from having to release the rest of our class from the SHU by finding a way to use us as their pretextual excuse, but to begin re­filling those multi-million dollar SHU unit cages with the next generation of solitary confinement-tortured subjects.

CDCr-CCPOA guards have a long, sordid history of manipulating and playing prisoners against one another like pawns in the game being pulled on puppet strings, which is well rooted in its old ingrained culture, traditional patterned practices and institutional racism and impu­nity.

Many if not most of us DRB SHU released class members refused to allow CDCr-CCPOA staff assigned to OCS (Office of Correctional Safety), SSU (Special Services Unit), ISU (Investigations Services Unit) and IGI (Institutional Gang Investigations) to manipulate and play us against each other out here so the rest of us could have the same fair, rightful release out to see the sun, enjoy contact visits with their loved ones, socialize and begin the long process of healing from years and decades of being tortured by CDCr-CCPOA, OCS, SSU, ISU-IGI and LEIU (Law Enforcement and Investigations Unit).

Shout out to all those who understand the bigger picture of our solidarity efforts coming out of the hunger strikes, which continue today as the Prisoner Human Rights Movement (PHRM).

Unfortunately, there are some California prisoners still allowing themselves to allow CDCr to pull them backwards into that old CDCr way of thinking and behaving that allowed us to be set up to be wrongfully placed and kept inside CDCr’s solitary confinement torture system under their old “snitch, parole or die!” mass validation, indeterminate SHU, coerced, enhanced, interrogative debriefing mind and spirit-breaking scheme.

Whether it be what happened at New Folsom last Au­g. 12, 2015 – condolences extended to the family of Hugo Pinell for the loss of our Brutha Hugo to the old, evil, backward thinking of the past – or when it appears elsewhere throughout CDCr, we have to be mindful of what we witnessed and experienced during the solidarity hunger strikes, class action lawsuits, standing up against this wicked system together with our families, relatives and supporters who challenged and rocked CDCr and this state’s government to its core with our Five Core Demands, Agreement to End All Hostilities etc.

And now a course has been set to demand and win back most if not all the rights, privileges and amenities that were wrongly taken away and denied to California’s incarcerated residents being warehoused on these Level 180 and 270 institutions. We deserve fair and equal access to the state- and federally-funded rehabilitative programs and services, including access to immediate family and conjugal visits, vocational trades and classes, workable-skills jobs, computer literacy education etc.

Upon arriving at CDCr’s Level 180 Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP) Facility-C general population (GP) Yard 1, which reflects a traditional CDCr GP for adult men, that is, Southern Mexicans, Afrikans, Northern Mexicans and Whites, except the other nationalities are over on Yard 2, along with some more Afrikans, Fresno Bulldogs and New Flowers, it was clear to us disciplined solidarity supporters of the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH) that we had gone from one messed up, non-rehabilitative reality to an old traditional CDCr environment.

We even heard that certain staff had been overheard betting that “those guys won’t stay out here a month, certainly not six months.” And now they’ve come to realize that not only is this former indeterminate SHU class out here to stay, but we are still standing united in solidarity to demand and get our rights to all be treated with respect as human beings and provided with the same opportunities to have a parole date and to be released back home with our families, communities and society!

The winds of change are beginning to blow again in the direction of opposition to mass incarceration, rehabilitation and recidivism, as well as opposition to the long-term use of solitary confinement, which must include abuses even for short-term solitary. While much of this new direction for change is still in its idea and/or early stages of being worked out through the very same governmental branches and systems that have been identified as play­ing a large if not total part of causing the problems in the first place, it will take the courageous people, organizations and groups, independent of the govern­ment, to continue to stand in solidarity both inside and outside U.S. and California institutions to call for, demand and make real tangible change.

We prison activists recognize that CDCr and each of the solitary confine­ment housing units – SHU, Ad-Seg, Stand Alone etc. – have been illegally warehousing women and men prisoners for four decades. We knew that during the three non-violent peaceful hunger strike protests in 2011 and 2013. And we lost some prisoner ac­tivists who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We shall always honor those heroes!

We prison activists recognize that wardens and their subordinates are governmental peace officers and must be held accountable to discharge their public service duties and responsibi­lities in a professional and transparent manner. To ensure governmental ac­countability and transparency, these peace officers working in CDCr should also have body cameras on their California governmental CDCr peace officers’ uniforms, just like the outside peace officers throughout California.

We prison activists recognize that CDCr is operating semi-general population and modified general populations within the prisons, thereby violating general popu­lation prisoners’ constitutional rights. And as such, we prison activists cannot fulfill the personal goals and objectives of rehabilitative success.

We prison activists recognize CDCr Secretary Kernan’s statement: “To change CDCr employees’ attitudes as he (Secretary Kernan) tries to alter a culture that often pits prison guards against inmates and outsiders, CDCr has to train and bring racial di­versity to its leadership for prison employees.”

In solidarity, Baridi and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

Send our brothers some love and light: James X (Baridi) Williamson, D-34288, and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (R. Dewberry), C-35671, Salinas Valley State Prison, Yard 1, C1-118, P.O. Box 1050, Soledad CA 93960.

PrisonerHumanRightsMovement.org

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i Went inside My Heart To Survive The Torture

Baridi-sister1stcontactvisit2016

Baridi on his first contact visit since decades, with his sister, 2016

To: OUTSIDE HUMANITY: This is part 2 of my Shared Journey inside the Tombs of California’s Solitary Confinement Torture Chambers, inspired by those of you Outside Representatives of Humynity who cared enough to take time out of your personal lives (even step out of your privileged comfort zones) and See Us (SHU Men) as Human Beings. I/WE THANK YOU ALL (special Shout Out to Sista Sharon, Cile & HRPP Reps).

Part II: I WENT INSIDE MY HEART TO SURVIVE THE TORTURE
By Baridi “X” Williamson
JW © June 6, 2016

When i entered this California branch of the New Jim Crow system of mass incarceration thirty-two years ago, there was nothing in my mind that could have prepared me for the torturous ordeal that awaited my arrival to this prison station along my Life’s journey – especially the last twenty-plus years of being buried alive in the State Government’s Solitary Confinement Torture Prison Tombs called various names — “AD-SEG” (Administrative Segregation), “SHU” (Security Housing Unit), etc.

Yet, it was the clear insight that was shared by a Freedom Fighter named George Jackson, who tells us in this internationally-acclaimed publications that “It takes some serious psychological adjustments to deal with prison life … ” (Soledad Brother). So you can imagine what that meant when having to come face-to-face and either deal with, or run (debrief/snitch/lie on others) inside Solitary Confinement for years/decades under California’s “Snitch, Parole, or Die” Mass Validation/Indeterminate SHU Classification/Indetermined SHU Classification/Debriefing (coerced enhanced interrogation) scheme (1980s to recent).

And there i was staring this inhumane, cruel and torturous creature in its face, as i entered that strange man-made diabolical construct called “Pelican Bay SHU” in the early 1990s. And just as George said, “Nothing can prepare you for this.” In January, 1995 U.S. federal court Judge Thelton Henderson described the conditions behind the Pelican Bay SHU walls/gates:

The Prison setting at Pelican Bay SHU offers a tremendous potential for abuse by guards who have powerful weapons and enormous manpower at their disposal and exercise nearly total control over the inmates under their supervision. Adding to this volatile mix is the fact that the prison setting of the SHU is far removed from the usual sights and sounds of everyday life. From the outside, the SHU resembles a massive bunker; from the inside, it is a windowless labyrinth of cells and walls, sealed off from the outside world by walls, gates, and guards. The physical environment thus reinforces a sense of isolation and detachment from the outside world and helps create “palpable distance from ordinary compunctions, inhibitions, and community norms.”
(Madrid v. Gomez, 889 Fed. Supp. 1146)

Sadly, it took decades for the outside world at large to learn the shocking truths about the inhumane, degrading, brutal and fatal horrors that were being secretly visited upon those of us inside the SHUs (which included SHUs at Corcoran, New Folsom, and Tehachapi). And that was only after the historic California Hunger Strikes (2011-2013) that we were able to finally break through CDCr’s secret redwood (Del Norte County/Crescent City) curtain wall of lies to hide their torture. But by then, the damage of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — Solitary Confinement had already been done. This is why it is taking some of us so long to try to share with you — the Outside World Humanity — what we just experienced. It is the trauma that we must face, to grasp an understanding of, and expose to you.

During and following those peaceful Hunger Strikes, one of the interesting questions that those of you representing Outside Humanity that either took the (much-welcomed/-appreciated) time to write and/or come in and visit — (Shout Out to Everyone in the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) — would ask me/Us was questions like:

How Do you Cope/Deal With Being In There All This Time”?

I will not try to speak for others, because we each had to find our own personal ways to “cope/deal” and (most of all) “SURVIVE” the traumatic torment we were subjected to in there. But i want to share that i am finally able to take a deep breath and learn about my personal struggles inside there.

During the first five to ten years in PBSP-SHU, i watched the guys around me outwardly showing their struggles as they slipped deeper into the abyss and ultimately lost their Sanity. This was especially blatant for those whom the prison staff deliberately separated from the rest of us (within the other SHU units) and moved them to a separate torture place called “VCU.” Many of them were driven insane within months (possibly due in large part to their already unstable mental state?)

I recall how these guys would be taken from VCU and brought into the other SHU units where i/WE were located and you could see that they were all the way gone. A guy would spread feces all over the cell and his body and be inside his assigned cage like that with no care. And in the case of the young mentally-ill Black man named Vaughn Dortch, the staff (both medical and guards) forced Mr. Dortch into a tub of scalding hot water and held him down while they scrubbed his skin with a steel brush and his skin peeled away and hung loosely at the bottom of his legs [see here for a 1996 SF Gate article, and Madrid v. Gomez, or google “Vaughn Dortch.”]

Another prisoner had climbed atop the highest rail bars on the Second Tier and jumped off head first. Some guys banged their cups and spoon on the bars and screamed and yelled all night. And these are just some examples of the blatant symptoms of SHU prisoners losing their sanity. Then there are those who, like myself, were able to internally find the wherewithal to battle/resist (often with outside Humanity’s supportive help) and cope/survive.

For me, i survived by trying to identify which ways our CDCr SHU tormentors were using to penetrate our inner-being and manipulate/play on our vulnerabilities and weaknesses as Human Beings to try and Break our Minds and Spirits — such as playing games, denying all natural Human and social contact with anyone, including our Families, depriving us of the normal use of our natural senses to see the grass, trees, sun (feel its rays/warmth), to smell/taste nutritional, wholesome food, to hear natural sounds like birds singing, human laughter, etc. We were physically entombed in a 3-walled concrete, windowless Box with little holes at the front formed around a locked, rectangular slot that they shoved the food tray through. All we could see was a larger wall directly in front of the cage. I sensed the need to have some kind of defense around me inside. But how?

Once i saw that the entire Solitary Confinement ‘creature’ was set up to attack my overall Being (inside and out), i started trying to find effective ways to cope. So for years i relied heavily on mainly exercising my body and mind, reading, studying and writing. And whenever I felt the stress and strain of the ‘creature’ tugging at my inner-Being, trying to pull my Sanity over the edge into the abyss, i would quickly get to exercising. That worked for awhile, but then came the mundane, everyday monotony of waking up and having to face and deal with the same ole tired, boring regimen, day-in and day out. It would be at this stage of my internal struggles that i feel this ‘creature’ tugging at me. So i learned to go inside myself, find memories of my Family and hug/hold onto them for dear life. I would place us in a sacred place deep inside the Heart and there we would remain throughout the duration of my traumatic ordeal. I would somehow fix my Mind to shut down, block out, and close off any noticeable access by our Tormentors to get into that safe sanctuary of my Heart and Soul.

I erected some unnormal psychological walls to guard my-Self/Sanity that i have no idea what i created to SURVIVE!

To be continued . .. Next “Exiting the Madness Thru Humynity”

Baridi Williamson, D34288; SVSP C1/118; PO Box 1050, Soledad, CA 93960

Upon leaving Pelican Bay SHU Solitary Confinement: My Firsts (of Many :-) )

Upon leaving Pelican Bay SHU Solitary Confinement: My Firsts (of Many 🙂 )

Photo of Baridi Williamson in 2016

Baridi Williamson in 2016

By Brutha Baridi Williamson

Leaving out of Pelican Bay Solitary Confinement Torture Prison-Facilities/Units-Cages for the first time on Jan. 23rd, 2015 (after arriving there Nov. 29, 1990), I remember witnessing my first sunrise as the CDCr [CA Dept. of Corrections and rehabilitation] “gray goose” transportation bus travelled up the mountainside along Highway 101. Staring out the window at the skyline as it transformed into a mixture of blended orange-red-violet-blue colors, I sat there in deep silence just appreciating the beauty of Nature … It would be the first of many first time experiences of using my natural senses again after being buried alive in that concrete box deprived of the natural use of those senses for the last twenty five (25) years . . . a quarter century.

My next First was at the San Quentin Receiving and Release Center where our bus stopped over. And while we was standing in small holding cages waiting to get back on the bus, another of the men (in another cage) asked to use the restroom across the hall. I was surprised when the guard walked over to the cage, unlocked the door, and let the guy walk out and across the hall (around other staff) unhandcuffed! I knew that I had to experience this after years/decades being chained and cuffed (like a 19th century slave). I asked to use the restroom and the guard let me out to walk freely across the hall uncuffed. It was not far, but just the absence of cuffs made a world of difference between being treated like a (chained) animal and feeling Humyn!

My next First may seem small to many outside hearing this, but for me it was special for my humanity. On January 28th, 2015 I arrived at SVSP (Salinas Valley State Prison) general population and was housed with a fellow human being named Malik. He gave me a brand new toothbrush (that he was allowed to purchase from an outside quarterly package vendor.) This was not the 2″ miniature size toothbrush (normally for brushing pet animals’ teeth) I had been using since the 1990s. This was the normal regular-size toothbrush used for brushing humans’ teeth. And each time (twice in the morning, afternoon and evening-night) I use it. The feel of being human is always at the front of my mind. With each stroke of the brush I humbly give in to the use of this part of my deprived senses.

There has been many more Firsts since then over the course of this first year, but the one that is so close and dear to heart was my first visit (contact) with my family in my thirty-plus (30+) years of confinement in CDCr, when I was able to visit my sister Donnita Benson, when she flew out from Oklahoma City and we hugged/kissed for the first time since 1980. It was a memorable experience to go from tears of hurtful pain and suffering (that dates back to our childhood struggles – domestic violence, being separated at ages 10 [me] and 14 [her], as “survivors” -she survived breast cancer and I survived being lost to the street jungles at age 15, then these concrete prison jungles, including decades in solitary confinement) then went to tears of joy, laughter, and happiness as we enjoyed those two days together. She said I squeezed her hand so tight and would not let it go that it went numb … Oops, my bad. I guess I subconsciously was that little child back home walking everywhere holding securely to my older sister’s hand.

I will close this off with a solidarity salute of respect, appreciation, and honor to all of the PHSS-PHRM outside supporters who believe in our cause enough to keep the spotlight upon both this states’ massive dysfunctional system of mass incarceration, its evil solitary confinement torture use, non-rehabilitative and social re-entry parole opportunities, and their contributions for helping those released from long-term solitary confinement and its own unique post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome (PTSD-solitary confinement) identi[ty], cope-heal, etc. from its effects. Thank you/Asante to each and all.

In solidarity with all oppressed peoples struggles, Brutha Baridi

Photo of Baridi Williamson in 1994

Baridi Williamson in 1994

J. Baridi Williamson, D34288
SVSP C1-118
P.O. Box 1050
Soledad, CA 93960-1050

Artwork by Baridi Williamson entitled Stop Mass-Incarceration, Solitary Confinement, Police-Brutality, Racism

Stop Mass-Incarceration, Solitary Confinement, Police-Brutality, Racism, art by Baridi J. Williamson, illustration originally published here


Baridi was one of the original signers of the Agreement to End Hostilities. Read Baridi’s profile seeking correspondence on webpage Bruthas of Consciousness and Universal Humanity