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