We stand together so prisoners never have to go through the years of torture we did

Published on the SF Bayiew, March 1, 2018
by Todd Ashker

This is a follow-up to our October 2017 Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement’s statement of prisoner representatives on the second anniversary of the Ashker v. Brown settlement.

In our collective October 2017 statement, we stressed: “(P)risoners and our families will have to re-energize the human rights movement, to fight against the continuing violations of our rights.” We reminded all involved, “We must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to.”

With this in mind, I am sharing a copy of my proposed “Open Letter to Gov. Brown, California legislators and CDCR Secretary Kernan on ongoing human rights violations and lack of reparative action for decades of torture” with the hope of helping to re-energize our movement, by gaining widespread support for the positions presented in the “open letter.”

As many are aware, our current collective movement began in the bowels of Pelican Bay State Prison – the SHU Short Corridor, wherein prisoners of different races and geographical areas became openly conscious of what we had in common, rather than what was different and divisive. We recognized we’d all been subjected to the same adversary’s boots on our necks, all members of a prisoner class subjected to decades of solitary confinement torture.

We became aware of the fact that those of us serving “term-to-life” sentences were all akin to the living dead, our existence being that of a mind numbing, spirit destroying, endless nightmare. I believe coming together in the Short Corridor, where we witnessed the toll of our slow decay, together with the prisoncrats progressively punitive, oppressive provocations, was one cause of our awakening, leading to us coming together as the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective.

Our struggle was focused on ending long-term solitary confinement and improvements to conditions. We stood up together and collectively we educated our loved ones and the general public about what had been in society’s shadow for far too long. We publicly “drew the line” and said, “No more!”

As a committed collective of fellow human beings, a large majority hailing from working class, poor communities, we lead our struggle from behind the walls, putting our lives in the balance – at that point, our lives being all we had. We demanded an end to our torture, based on our inherent right as human beings to humane treatment, inclusive of dignity and respect for our loved ones and the unfortunate generations to follow.

Notably, our collective membership had been the subject of the state’s decades long tough-on-crime war against the working-class poor. Politicized, we were vilified and branded as “the worst of the worst” in order to justify our subjection to endless torture – lasting for many of us more than 30 years.

In our collective October 2017 statement, we stressed: “(P)risoners and our families will have to re-energize the human rights movement, to fight against the continuing violations of our rights.” We reminded all involved, “We must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to.”
In this climate, we came together and utilized non-violent, peaceful protest actions, mass hunger strikes and work stoppages, which, together with the support of our awakened loved ones and countless other people of conscience outside the walls – while all along suffering with us – exposed our plight to the world community.

In 2012, we introduced our collective “Agreement to End Race-based Hostilities,” making clear our united intent to no longer be the source of our mutual adversary’s manipulation tactics, centered on keeping us divided and violent towards one another, which was thereby used to justify our adversary’s agenda – supermax, indefinite warehousing.

In that way, we demonstrated our humanity in the face of the provocations of our oppressive torturers. We pointed out the fact that, in the absence of race-based violence, our mutual adversary would be forced to end its policy of warehousing us in the small cells indefinitely, and open the prison up for meaningful programming and privileges, beneficial to the prisoner class.

I mention the above points as important reminders of the fact that the main basis for the success we’ve achieved to date has been our collective unity inside and outside the prison walls, making strategic use of combined litigation and peaceful activism, action tools, which, together with our related collective belief in and commitment to our cause, is a great example of “the power of the people.”

Our adversaries are constantly resisting any change beneficial to the prisoner class! History demonstrates the importance of our need to stand together collectively and refuse to allow those in power – at the will of the people – to halt our progressive movements’ demands for human rights and real justice, because, historically, every class action, civil-suit “victory” for the prisoner class in California has been manipulated by prisoncrats to the ultimate detriment of those that such “victory” was intended to benefit. It’s a non-stop battle!

What I greatly appreciate and respect about our Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement is what I hope is our part in society’s evolutionary leap in collective human consciousness. Standout examples of this for me go back to the Arab Spring and the massive Georgia prison system-wide work strike in December 2010 and then the January 2011 hunger strike at Ohio State Prison.

The main basis for the success we’ve achieved to date has been our collective unity inside and outside the prison walls, making strategic use of combined litigation and peaceful activism, action tools, which, together with our related collective belief in and commitment to our cause, is a great example of “the power of the people.”
Reflecting on the above, as well as our historic, collective group mass hunger strike protests across the California system of 2011-2013, brings to mind an often quoted phrase – a sort of benchmark of what’s wrong with society. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, reflecting on his own incarceration, famously said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Our collective composed of working class poor coming together in the context of having been demonized – tortured over three decades, facing extreme adversity from a powerful, well-funded adversary toppled and to an extent losing their supermax jewel, the PBSP SHU, by our peaceful protests and related global condemnation and litigation – epitomizes a great side of our society! I hope it’s an example of a growing social revolutionary process.

Related to the above, and to our common struggle in general, I want to share a few excerpts from “The Zinn Reader” – a bit of food for thought. On the subject of “Law and Justice,” Zinn wrote in “Obedience and Disobedience,” page 369:

“’Obey the law.’ That is a powerful teaching, often powerful enough to overcome deep feelings of right and wrong, even to override the fundamental instinct for personal survival. We learn very early (it’s not in our genes) that we must obey ‘the law of the land.’ …

“But the dominant ideology leaves no room for making intelligent and humane distinctions about the obligation to obey the law. It is stern and absolute. It is the unbending rule of every government, whether fascist, communist or liberal capitalist. Gertrude Schultz-Klink, chief of the Women’s Bureau under Hitler, explained to an interviewer after the war the Jewish policy of the Nazis: ‘We always obeyed the law. Isn’t that what you do in America? Even if you don’t agree with a law personally, you still obey it. Otherwise, life would be chaos.’

“’Life would be chaos.’ If we allow disobedience to law we will have anarchy. That idea is inculcated in the population of every country. The accepted phrase is ‘law and order.’ It is a phrase that sends police and military in to break up demonstrations everywhere, whether in Moscow or Chicago. It was behind the killing of our students at Kent State University in 1970 by National Guardsmen. It was the reason given by Chinese authorities in 1989 when they killed hundreds of demonstrating students in Beijing.

“It is a phrase that has appeal for most citizens, who, unless they themselves have a powerful grievance against authority, are afraid of disorder. … Surely, peace, stability and order are desirable. Chaos and violence are not. But stability and order are not the desirable conditions for social life. There is also justice, meaning the fair treatment of all human beings, the equal right of all people to freedom and prosperity. Absolute obedience to law may bring order temporarily, but it may not bring justice. And when it does not, those treated unjustly may protest, may rebel, may cause disorder, as the American revolutionaries did in the 18th century, as anti-slavery people did in the 19th century, as Chinese students did in the 20th century, and as working people going on strike have done in every country, across the centuries.”

I appreciate Zinn’s view that absolute obedience to the law may achieve order for a time, while lacking justice. My point in sharing it is: Just because it’s a law – or a rule or regulation – does not make it right or just. And when it’s not, especially when those in power recite it to justify violations of human rights, it’s the responsibility of all to protest, to rebel, to cause disorder as necessary to force change.

From Zinn’s “The Optimism of Uncertainty,” “(T)he struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold onto it. That apparent power has, again and again, proven vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience – whether by Blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.”

In “We are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism,” Herbert Read writes: “What has been worthwhile in human history – the great achievements of physics and astronomy, of geographical discovery and of human healing, of philosophy and of art – has been the work of extremists, of those who believed in the absurd, dared the impossible.”

I greatly appreciate your time, attention, courage and dedicated, supportive commitment to our collective struggle. Our strength and power come from our unity! And I am certain we can and will continue to make positive impacts upon the system, forcing real changes beneficial to all.

I hope we all continue to move forward, confident our fight is a worthy and just cause, working together in imaginative, strategic ways. It would be great if people will share, promote and build on the subject. Examples are in my “Open Letter,” possibly adding a supporting petition, signed by as many as possible, even if the petition is presented after public presentation of the “Open Letter” to the named parties.

There are more innovative, imaginative ideas that I’m working on and will share for your consideration soon. In the meanwhile, stay strong.

In Solidarity and Respect,

Todd

Send our brother some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, KVSP ASU2-194, P.O. Box 5106, Delano CA 93216.


Open Letter to Gov. Brown, California legislators and CDCR Secretary Kernan on ongoing human rights violations and lack of reparative action for decades of torture
Re: Attention to ongoing human right violations and related lack of reparative action necessary to begin making amends for more than three decades of systematic, intentional, state-sanctioned torture

I respectfully present the above-named parties with this “open letter” requesting attention to ongoing human rights violations and related lack of reparative action necessary to begin making amends for more than three decades of systematic, intentional, state-sanctioned torture and related harm therefrom to the prisoner class, as well as the general public, marked by the stain such policies cause subsequent to global condemnation; e.g., 2011-2013 mass, peaceful prisoner hunger strike protests against decades of subjection to torturous solitary confinement.

I present this “open letter” as a proudly involved principle representative of the growing Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement, as a peaceful action-activist, prison conditions litigator (inclusive of being lead named plaintiff in Ashker v. Brown) and 30-year survivor of CDCR’s state-sanctioned torture policies and practices.

I bring to your attention five examples of CDCR policies and practices equating to egregious, on-going human rights violations, resulting in numerous deaths and terrible, permanent harm to tens of thousands of prisoners, to our outside loved ones of the prisoner class and the general public, with hope for meaningful, tangible action to ensure this never occurs again; as well as timely, reparative action necessary to begin making amends for harm caused.

I. Examples of CDCR policies and practices equating to egregious, on-going human rights violations, harming tens of thousands

A) Status-based (CDCR classification as validated gang affiliate), indefinite placement in solitary confinement (SHU) “until you parole, die or debrief.” Many prisoner class members were subjected to this endless, torturous nightmare for more than three decades. Secretary Kernan called this a “failed experiment” during an October 2017 TV interview on “60 Minutes.”

B) Building more than 23 prisons, equating to thousands of cells, basically designed as massive human warehouses, with little thought about work, education, vocational and rehabilitative opportunities – thus causing severe shortages of support structures (classrooms, shops etc.), resulting in the majority of prisoners languishing in small cells for years on end. This is in spite of the fact that providing prisoners with such opportunities of substantive meaningfulness is proven to reduce recidivism.

C) Building several large prisons in the southern Central Valley desert areas of the state, known to be covered with deadly valley fever spores. The knowledge goes at least as far back as WWII, whereupon the same areas were sites for German POWs and Japanese internment camps, where hundreds died of valley fever.

Notable is the fact that, in an approximate four-to-six-year time period, 60 to 70 CDCR prisoners died of valley fever, with countless others, including staff, becoming deathly ill, many permanently damaged. Around 2014-2015, the federal court medical overseer, in connection with the class action Plata case, ordered the immediate transfer of approximately 300 at-risk prisoners to prisons outside the known valley fever zone. This order was initially resisted. The media quoted Gov. Brown stating, “It’s not been proven valley fever is the cause of deaths and illnesses. Thus, we will challenge the order, pending a study.” His statement held until a New Yorker magazine published an article with data regarding WWII deaths at the same sites.

D) Decades of constitutionally deficient medical and mental health care, resulting in countless preventable deaths, medical and suicidal, which the state fought tooth and nail to preserve, demonstrated a total lack of respect for the federal court orders in the mental health class action Coleman case between 1990 and 2006, when CDCR violated more than 70 court orders issued by Judge Karlton. This resulted in the creation of the federal three-judge panel, combining the Coleman and Plata cases, wherein it was determined that “overcrowding” in the CDCR system was the primary cause of decades of failure to provide the minimum of medical and mental health care mandated by the U.S. Constitution. The panel of judges ordered a reduction of prisoners, which the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost, based on the well-established on record, shocking abuse. To this day, thousands are denied adequate treatment to cure their Hepatitis C.

E) CDCR policy and practice that subjects countless women prisoners seeking contraception and other types of care to permanent sterilization! Without their knowledge or consent!

F) CDCR policy and practice, arguably resulting in at least 39 deaths and hundreds of severe, permanent injuries, amounting to criminal homicide and assault with great bodily injury in a nine-year period, from January 1987 to December 1995, when CDCR used the “The Warning Shot” and “Integrated SHU Concrete Yard” policies. Under these policies, staff are mandated to respond to any and all physical altercations with deadly force – high power assault rifles, using specialized ammunition designed to cause maximum damage, e.g., 9 mm “glazier” rounds and mini-14, 223s. At that time, CDCR “integrated” the small concrete yards at New Folsom and Corcoran, placing segregated SHU prisoners – segregated based on historic rivalries – on yards together.

In a federal court civil trial, Eastern District, Sacramento 1994, a top CDCR administrator, Diggs, testified that they “knew the above policies would initially result in chaos, but viewed such as ‘collateral’ because they believed, over time, prisoners in SHU who wanted their only out-of-cell yard time would learn to get along.” Another “failed experiment.”

To reiterate, the above are presented as examples of on-going human rights violations in the CDCR system. They are each notable to have gone on unchecked for long periods of time, known to be morally and ethically – in addition to legally – wrong beforehand.

Each of the above continued for long periods of time, until finally being publicly exposed and condemned, thereby forcing some changes, often after protracted legal battles as well.

Unfortunately, several areas referenced above continue to be unresolved, meaning decades of egregious, harmful violations continue to this day! I hope you will take them seriously and take reparative action. Some suggested actions follow:

II. Suggested reparative actions necessary to begin making amends for more than three decades of systematic, intentional, state-sanctioned torture

The following are suggested examples of reparative-type actions to begin to amend the process for tens of thousands of warehoused prisoners in general, as well as towards the damage done to those members of the prisoner class subjected to the “failed experiment,” having been subject to more than 30 years of solitary confinement torture, the damage of which persists to this day. See, for example, the 2017 Stanford report, “Mental Health Consequences Following Release from Long-Term Solitary Confinement in California.”

The following suggestions are briefly summarized, and more detailed support will be presented soon.

A) Term-to-life sentences and parole suitability:

Many prisoners used as guinea pigs in CDCR’s decades-long solitary confinement, a “failed experiment,” per Secretary Kernan, are serving term-to-life sentences: seven years to life, 15 years to life or 25 years to life, incarcerated since the early 1970s or the ‘80s and ‘90s. They are above and beyond their base term and their minimum eligible parole dates, many having served double, triple and more beyond those dates. I know several men who are still serving seven-years-to-life sentences given between 1970 and 1978.

We spent 20 to 30-plus years in solitary confinement, based on “status,” rather than “behavior,” and were denied work, vocational training, education and rehabilitation opportunities for most if not all of this time. When we go to our parole hearings, we are issued multi-year deferrals until our next hearings, again based on “status” alone for the most part, rather than individual evidence of current, serious danger to the public if released. We hear rote recitations of gang validation, lack of programming, lengthy SHU, refusal to debrief, participation in hunger strikes and relatively minor prison rule violations, like “possessing cell phones,” which nets a more than five-year deferral by itself.

Much of the above is related to our being included in the “failed experiment.” We are now in our 50s, 60s, 70s, begging the question: How do you repair the decades of damage done to our ability, under current standards, to receive a parole date?

Arguably, these points are applicable to a majority of lifers, “warehoused” and denied opportunities to achieve parole, due to the extreme shortage of programming opportunities at most institutions. They too are at and above their “minimums.” Notably, California has approximately 30,000 lifers above their “minimums.” Most are elderly, thus costing more annually than today’s average California prisoner does, at more than $70,000 annually. It’s also a matter of proportionality, coupled with “current danger” factors. Statistics nationwide, over the course of decades, demonstrate that prisoners sentenced to life, who have served more than 10 years and are paroled above age 40 have a less than 2 percent recidivism rate.

I suggest the following changes regarding lifer parole:

i) Reintroduce and pass a streamlined version of Sen. Hancock’s Feb. 21, 2014, SB1363, seeking amendment to California Penal Code §3041, which in a nutshell proposed, “Absent substantial evidence with respect to entire record demonstrating a current, serious danger to public safety, the Board shall set a parole release date for those who have served beyond their base term” – reasonable, considering that current law states, “Parole shall normally be granted at the minimum eligibility date.”

ii) Enact legislation designed to prevent the ongoing human rights violations, exemplified by references herein: For example, expand on the rights accorded the prisoner class in California Penal Code §§2600, 2601, et. seq., to include, but not be solely limited to the right to be free of solitary confinement in SHU or ASU, defined as spending 22½ hours per day in a cell for periods longer than permissible under international treaty law; rights to contact visits three to four days a week; right to same protections against CDCR’s use and abuse of confidential source information, as accorded to defendants in criminal prosecution, e.g., California Penal Code §§1111 and 1111.5, et. seq.

Provide the funding, with immediate mandate for CDCR to construct the support facilities necessary at each facility to provide programming and rehabilitation for the majority, rather than current minority, of prisoners, so that access is provided to sufficient numbers of classrooms, vocational training and rehabilitation workshop areas.

iii) Open up the Level IV general population prisons, allowing much more out-of-cell time in yard, day room etc. Such Level IVs are presently operated like modified SHU units, with thousands warehoused in cells, spending more time in small cells than SHU or ASU units.

iv) Expand contact visits, adding one to two days of visiting to the current weekends-only allowance. This can be accomplished without additional costs, simply by closing down a few of the nearly empty ASU and stand-alone units and re-routing costs and staffing from such units to visiting day expansions.

v) Remove “close custody” classification applied per revised regulation, Feb. 20, 2017; CCR, Title 15, §3377.2 (b) (1) (A), to most members of the Ashker v. Brown class action released from decades of “failed experiment” solitary confinement torture to general populations, based on the October 2015 settlement. “Close custody” prohibits 72-hour “family visits,” as well as further restricting various programming and privilege opportunities.

If we had not been “experimented” on for 10, 20 or 30-plus years, we would have been free from “close custody” in the 1980s and 90s. All of our CSRA scores are low.

vi) End close custody privilege group classification program failure determination based on “a significant disciplinary history, which may be evidenced by two serious or two administrative and one serious rule violations in a 180-day period,” per CCR, Title 15, §3000, which has the “program failure” definition.

This places severe punishments on the prisoner, in addition to those imposed for each rule violation. It is imposed regardless of the prisoner’s positive programming in every other way: work, school, rehabilitation, yard, day room etc., and actually strips away one’s job.

“Program failure” close custody status was created in 1985-1986 to punish those prisoners “refusing a job or education assignment.” That’s all it should apply to.

As stated above, the suggestions are a few examples of changes to the system that would be viewed as a positive amends-making, a beginning. It would be very helpful for you to meet with us, the principle prisoner representatives and our outside mediation team, for additional dialogue – asap.

Thank you for your time, attention and consideration,

Respectfully yours,

Todd Ashker, Prisoner Class Representative

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The way forward to end solitary confinement torture: Where’s the army?

January 25, 2015

by Todd Ashker

Published in the SF Bay View, Jan. 25, 2015 and on Prisoner Hunger Strike Support

On the subject of SHU and Ad-Seg constituting torture, for those of us who may not be familiar with the specifics and in light of CDCr’s steady stream of propaganda – saying, “We don’t operate any solitary confinement units or cells in the California penal system, nor do we torture anyone” – here’s a summary of relevant facts supporting our position that these SHU and Ad-Seg units and the operations thereof are designed (modeled) after techniques designed to break political prisoners as a control mechanism. They are intended to break prisoners via coercive persuasion into becoming state informants.

I’ll begin by asking you a simple question?

Why is it that CDCr is able to get away with portraying PBSP SHU (Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit) prisoners as the “worst of the worst” sub-human monsters ever encountered in modern times as justification for their policies and practices of treating said prisoners as sub-human via decades of what is clearly a form of solitary confinement with sensory deprivation – and yet, as soon as these men agree to become state stooges via debriefing, they are no longer a threat and are released to the sensitive needs yard (protective custody) general population prison of their choice?

One of the main reasons they are able to continue to get away with their BS is the failure of the people to hold the lawmakers responsible.

I’ve been in the SHU for 28.4 years, to date, 24.7 years of which has been here in PBSP-SHU. [Editor’s note: This was written Dec. 30, 2014.] I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation. (During our hunger strike I was issued two rule violations classified as serious. They were for: a) having a photo of my longtime friend; and b) a letter that someone had sent me, a stranger who represented herself as a supporter of our cause and wanted to be a pen pal. Staff gave me the letter, and then came around later and confiscated it and wrote me up.)

The above is intended to put the following into some perspective: Based on my personal experience in PBSP SHU during the past 24.7 years, I’ve experienced many techniques designed to break me. One is isolation from my social group. This is a tactic used here by prisoncrats to physically remove those prisoners deemed “problematic” to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or weaken close emotional ties, along with segregation of all natural leaders.

I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation.

What prisoncrats like to do is claim that this place can’t be considered a solitary confinement unit because you have eight cells to each pod and thus the prisoners in each pod are able to talk to each other. But here is how it actually operates. If you are deemed a “problematic” prisoner by any of the staff – for example, if you are a prisoner who is constantly challenging the prisoncrats’ policies and practices – their way of subjecting you to an informal form of punishment or to try to break you is to put you in a pod where there are no other people of your social group.

Let me give you another example of this, so there is no misunderstanding: I received my CDCr number in December 1982, and in all my time in prison I’ve never had a problem with a cell-mate. In October 1990, I was set up and shot by a guard here in PBSP SHU. This is supported by a published 9th Circuit Court ruling, upholding the federal court jury verdict in 1995, finding the guard in question had subjected me to assault and battery. This injury caused permanent disability and, between 1990 to 2002, I had cellmates who would assist me with daily activities, such as washing the clothes we are not permitted to send to the laundry and with writing.For example, if you’re an African, they’ll put you in a pod without any other Africans anywhere close to you so that you will not be able to speak to any other African prisoner for the duration of time you are on status with the staff. If you’re Southern Mexican (classified as Mexican Mafia), you’ll be put in a pod with no other Southerners – a pod composed of several Northerners, maybe a White and an African – the same if you’re a Northern Mexican or White.

Between November 1995 and December 2002, the man I was celled with and I achieved three published rulings that were favorable for prisoners across the nation, in 2003. And in August 2002, the 9th Circuit Court overturned the District Court’s dismissal of one of our lawsuits regarding pepper spray decontamination policy issues, finding that it could proceed as a respondeat superior claim as well, a rarity in prisoner cases. And in September 2002, the District Court issued two permanent injunctions on our lawsuits re books and the ability to receive materials downloaded from the internet in our mail.

In response, the prisoncrats issued a memo in October 2002 in which they sought to further restrict prisoners’ incoming mail. We had an attorney contact the warden and the deputy attorney general representing CDCr in our lawsuits, demanding they cease their retaliatory acts in response to the injunctions we’d just obtained. And by November they rescinded the memo re mail restrictions.

Then on Dec. 3, 2002, they moved my cellmate and me to a lexan cell, a cell covered with lexan plastic which restricts air flow and the ability to communicate with other people in the pod even more, as well as being either too hot or too cold; and the following day they separated us. The pretext used to justify these retaliatory acts was an incident in another pod, wherein a White prisoner attempted to spear an officer. We weren’t in the same pod and had nothing to do with this incident and were never written up for being involved. We were both isolated from all other Whites and kept in the single cell lexan cells.

“PBSP Abolish the SHU” – Art: Juan Gonzalez, P-44448, PBSP SHU C11-107, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

“PBSP Abolish the SHU” – Art: Juan Gonzalez, P-44448, PBSP SHU C11-107, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

In July 2003, the associate warden granted my formal request to be able to double cell with a good friend, so that he could assist me with my daily activities, as per ADA (American Disabilities Act). He was then brought over to the lexan cell that I’d been in since Dec. 2, 2002.

We immediately began to challenge various conditions of confinement via the 602 inmate appeals process, and on May 19, 2004, we filed our lawsuit challenging our indefinite SHU confinement and related no-parole policies. This suit was a precursor to what is now our class-action lawsuit, and on June 8, 2004, we were single celled. I objected to this clearly retaliatory act, and they knew they had a problem because we’d been allowed to double cell in response to my formal ADA accommodation request in 2003, so they put us in cells side by side, so that my friend and cellmate could still provide assistance in the form of writing. We were still in the lexan cells.

In the interim, we’d been pursuing our civil suit, which had been dismissed a few times for technical reasons; and beginning in late 2009, we began to add peaceful activism activities to our challenges against illegal policies and practices regarding conditions of confinement, leading up to our hunger strike moves in 2011, which brought some international attention to CDCr’s torture policies and practices toward those of us who’ve been confined in the SHU for decades. And we were increasing the pressure via the prisoner class collective efforts we began in 2010, seeking to force the end to long term SHU, and we issued our historic Agreement to End Race-Based Hostilities in August 2012.

On Sept. 6, 2012, IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) had me moved away from the collective as well as my assistant, into a cell covered in lexan, isolated from all other Whites. The IGI’s excuse or pretext for this clearly punitive move in response to my litigation and activism efforts – our attorneys had filed the paperwork seeking to amend our lawsuit as a first step towards seeking class-action status on behalf of all similarly situated PBSP SHU prisoners around May of 2012, and it was getting a lot of publicity in July-August 2012 – was that the move was done for my safety, which was 100 percent bullshit. But it’s another tactic used to try to break prisoners – reporting rumors with the intent of creating mistrust, convincing prisoners they can trust no one and are in danger and need the prisoncrats to protect them.

'Out of Control- A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons' by Nancy Kurshan, coverAdd to these isolative, punitive, retaliatory moves – isolation from one’s social group; separation from people you are working with collectively in order to more effectively challenge long term illegal policies and practices; placement into more isolative cells wherein one is subjected to increased sensory deprivation and extreme heat and cold temperatures; spreading rumors that the isolated prisoner has safety issues – many additional acts of psychological torment being perpetrated against us on a daily basis: for example, the systematic withholding and delaying of mail; loud noises blasted into the pods via the speaker system, and loud noises by staff as they walk the tiers at night to count; denying adequate medical care; telling prisoners that if they want to be able to get the care and treatment they need, they need to get out of SHU; telling prisoners, “You hold the keys to get out of SHU anytime you want to, and thereby get to general population where you can get better care and treatment,” and them knowing that our sole avenue for release from PBSP SHU is via death, insanity or agreeing to become an informant for the state via debriefing.

The above are all facts supported by solid evidence, and they constitute direct proof of CDCr’s policies and practices regarding decades of subjecting thousands to a form of torture for the purpose of coercion, as further demonstrated by the following excerpt from the 2013 book by Nancy Kurshan, “Out of Control: A 15 Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons.”

On pages 12 and 13, she writes: “(R)esearch the prisoners had conducted … revealed a 1962 Bureau of Prisons (BOP) meeting in Washington, D.C., between prison officials and social scientists. Billed as a management development program for prison wardens, it coincidentally took place the same year the BOP opened Marion.

“Dr. Edgar Schein of MIT, a key player at that meeting, had written previously in a book entitled Coercive Persuasion about ‘brainwashing of Chinese Prisoners of War (POWs). …

“Schein put forward a set of ‘practical recommendations,’ throwing ethics and morals out the window.

“They included physical removal of prisoners to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or seriously weaken close emotional ties; segregation of all natural leaders; spying on prisoners, reporting back private material; exploitation of opportunists and informers; convincing prisoners they can trust no one; systematic withholding of mail; building a group conviction among prisoners that they have been abandoned by or are totally isolated from their social order; using techniques of character invalidation, i.e. humiliation, revilement and shouting to induce feelings of fear, guilt and suggestibility; coupled with sleeplessness, an exacting prison regimen and periodic interrogational interviews.”

These types of brainwashing strategies that involve physical as well as psychological abuse were being adopted from international arenas and applied inside U.S. prisons. Examples include the tactics used by the Brits to try and break the IRA prisoners and similar tactics refined by the West Germans to try and destroy the RAF (Red Army Faction), who were fighting the imperialism in their country, which is to a large extent due to the West German government policies per USA government dictates.

“Dare to Struggle” – Art: Carlos Ramirez, P-69993, PBSP SHU C9-106, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

“Dare to Struggle” – Art: Carlos Ramirez, P-69993, PBSP SHU C9-106, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

Now compare the above notes regarding the 1962 conference to Dr. Schein’s recommendations, with the examples of how they operate in the PBSP SHU, that I’ve also included above, and try to tell me such policies and practices aren’t intentionally imposed for the purpose of torturing prisoners into becoming state informants.

Remember, when the Legislature had hearings on said policies regarding long term SHU, they asked the CDCr prisoncrats for evidence to support their claims that said policies and practices were in fact making the prison system – and the public in general – safer and secure. And the prisoncrats couldn’t produce shit.

The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants for the state –  period – which is 100 percent illegal.

Additional evidence that is as seriously harmful and painful is contained in the book by Matthew Lieberman, “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” wherein Dr. Lieberman conducted studies using MRIs that demonstrated that people experience social and psychological pain in the same way they experience physical pain. It’s probably even more painful in the psychological context.

Here’s an example: Think about the worst painful experience you’ve ever had. Most people will think about the loss of a loved one or the breakup of a relationship, rather than a broken bone or other physical pain experience. It’s important to also remember that in addition to the circumstances and conditions prisoners are subjected to in the SHU or AdSeg environment is the fact that you are deprived of all semblance of normal human contact.

You are basically on sub-human, animal status for the duration of confinement in such units. You are always in a cage and/or in restraints, under escort by at least two guards, being observed by guards in the control booths who are armed with high power assault rifles.

The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants for the state –  period – which is 100 percent illegal.

You are under constant surveillance via guards in the control booths and floor staff, who can and do listen to any and all conversations in the pods when men are talking over the tier and on the yards, via speakers on the yard walls. You have no physical contact with anyone other than while in restraints, via the guards escorting you with their hands on you, or at medical, where you are in restraints with guards hovering over you.

This cell, D1-119 in the Pelican Bay SHU, was Todd’s home for many years. He would transform his bed into a desk in the daytime.

This cell, D1-119 in the Pelican Bay SHU, was Todd’s home for many years. He would transform his bed into a desk in the daytime.

You have no physical contact with your loved ones. Those who are fortunate to get visits – a hardship for the majority of PBSP prisoners due to the remote location of the prison – visit behind glass, talking over a phone with a small video camera mounted on the wall. IGI staff are listening and observing you and your visitor the entire visit, and if either of you says or does anything the IGI observers don’t like, they can cancel your visit on the spot or, a few days or so later, they’ll issue you a write-up for alleged visiting violations and you end up on visit restriction for between 90 days to a year to permanently being banned from visiting with certain people.

Going back to Lieberman’s book, “Social,” it’s important to note that his studies included the subject of empathy, and he found that people really do “feel other people’s pain” when they observe people close to them being mistreated. The reason this is relevant is that not only are the prisoners being subjected to the above referenced coercive, torturous treatment FOR DECADES, but our loved ones and friends are subjected to the same psychological pain as we are. Supported by scientific studies conducted by Dr. Lieberman, and others, we find that the technique for conducting such studies has only become available over the past 10 years.

The point of the above summary is to educate the public and refute CDCr’s propagandistic claim, “We don’t operate solitary confinement units, nor do we torture any prisoners.” Facts prove otherwise.

What can people outside do about the above ongoing torture policies and practices by CDCr?

First, let me clarify a few things about where our cause presently stands from my perspective:

We successfully educated the public and exposed CDCr’s decades-old on-going subjection of thousands of prisoners to the torture of long term, indefinite SHU, via our peaceful activism efforts – the writing campaign (our formal complaint and other statements) and our three peaceful protest actions in the form of mass hunger strikes and work stoppages. By “we” I’m referring to those on the inside of these prison walls and our outside loved ones and supporters.

“Wake Up” – Art: Roger “Rab” Moore, G-02296, HDSP Z-168, P.O. Box 3030, Susanville CA 96127

“Wake Up” – Art: Roger “Rab” Moore, G-02296, HDSP Z-168, P.O. Box 3030, Susanville CA 96127

In my previous writings about our on-going struggle for real reform, the No. 1 priority being the end of long term solitary confinement, I’ve expressed the opinion that the prisoners remain responsible for leading this cause to victory via our actions inside these walls. And I’ve put myself out there with my peers pushing for additional peaceful actions on our part in here.

The response has been mixed, and it’s very difficult to get a collective consensus, as many of our outside people know. The administration has done all it can to prohibit us, the Short Corridor Collective, from being able to communicate. This began with IGI moving me from D1 block to D4 block on Sept. 6, 2012, and has continued with the recent move to D4-207, further isolating me from the prisoners who have influence in their respective groups, and the Step Down Program, with related transfers of many of the collective members to other prisons across the state.

Thus, I’ve had to reflect and re-evaluate our position. This is really not acceptable, and from my perspective is an excuse for non-action.Look, I’ve respectfully sent out several letters calling on the people to hold the lawmakers accountable.

It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.

The lawmakers must be held accountable

I’ve had to re-evaluate my prior perspective regarding prisoners continuing to lead this struggle in light of the above referenced factors. Subsequently, I snapped to the FACT that once we successfully exposed this torture program to the world, making the people aware, at least some of the responsibility shifts to the PEOPLE TO HOLD THE LAWMAKERS RESPONSIBLE.

And their failure to do so equates to THE PEOPLE enabling this to continue. The people have the power. The lawmakers hold their positions on behalf of their representative status – on behalf of the people.

It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.

With this in mind, here’s something people can do now towards holding the lawmakers responsible:

  1. Select a few of the lawmakers who we all know are in CDCr’s and CCPOA’s pockets for exposure as supporters and enablers of CDCr’s torture program, using social media to blast them worldwide. And you can also have people show up at their committee hearings to blast them as torture supporters. You’ll need to include references to public records supporting this position, such as the transcripts of the legislative hearings held regarding SHU, the September 2012 report by Amnesty International on PBSP SHU and the statements by Juan Mendez. The lawmakers you select for public exposure should be the five to 10 lawmakers who were the most vocal against Tom Ammiano’s bill
  2. Once these selected have come to be blasted in social media, you have a package together for presentation to the remaining lawmakers. The package needs to be a presentation supporting our position that this is a torture program, without cause or support for CDCr’s positions regarding making the system safer. Again, use the public records. And ask these lawmakers if they condone and support torture. Then, you present them with the things they can do to rein in CDCr’s abuse of power. This is a simple action. It’s something people can put in motion and have in motion while we plan our next moves.

Send our brother some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, D4-207, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

California prisoner representatives: All people have the right to humane treatment with dignity

Main reps mark the first anniversary of suspension of the 2013 Hunger Strike and the second anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities

by Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos and George Franco

October 2nd, 2014, published in the SF Bay View

We expect to hear soon from Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, the fourth of the main reps in the Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement. His remarks will be posted online as soon as they arrive and will be printed next month. He has been transferred to Tehachapi: C-35671, 4B-7C-209, P.O. Box 1906, Tehachapi CA 93581.

Greetings of solidarity and respect to all oppressed people and those committed to fighting for the fundamental right of all people to humane treatment – to dignity, respect and equality.

We are the prisoner class representatives of what’s become known as the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement. Last month we marked the first anniversary of the end of our historic 60-day Hunger Strike. Oct. 10 we mark the two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities. This is an update on where things stand with our struggle to achieve major reforms beneficial to prisoners, outside loved ones and society in general.

Our Agreement to End Hostilities would enhance prison safety more than any long-term isolation policies and yet it still has not been circulated and posted throughout the prison system. We urge that everyone read this document again and that you pass it around, study it, live it. (It is reprinted below.) The California Department of Corrections has yet to post this historic document. It needs to.

In 2010 -2011, many long-term SHU prisoners housed in the PBSP SHU Short Corridor initiated our “collective human rights movement” based on our recognition that, regardless of color, we have all been condemned for decades, entombed in what are psycho-social extermination cells, based on prisoncrats’ fascist mentality. That mentality is centered upon the growing oppressive agenda of the suppressive control of the working class poor and related prison industrial complex’s expansion of supermax solitary confinement units.

The pretext for that expansion is baseless claims that solitary confinement is necessary for the subhuman “worst of the worst” deemed deserving of a long slow death in hellish conditions. Supermax units were originally designed and perfected for the purpose of destroying political prisoners and now extend to a policy of mass incarceration.

Beginning July 1, 2011, we have utilized our collective movement to resist and expose our decades of subjection to this systematic state torture, via a campaign of peaceful activism efforts inside and outside these dungeon walls. We have achieved some success; we are not finished.

Last month we marked the first anniversary of the end of our historic 60-day Hunger Strike. Oct. 10 we mark the two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities.

We will not stop until there is no more widespread torturous isolation in California for ourselves and for those who will come after us. We remind all concerned that our third peaceful protest action was “suspended” after 60 days, on Sept. 6, 2013, in response to Assemblyman Ammiano and Sen. Hancock’s courageous public acknowledgement of the legitimacy of our cause and related promises to hold joint hearings for the purpose of creating responsive legislation.

Hearings were held in October 2013 and February 2014 which were very positive for our cause in so far as continuing the public’s exposure to CDCR’s unjustifiable torture program. Assemblyman Ammiano’s bill was responsive to our issues and it was thus no surprise that the CDCR and CCPOA (the guards’ union) and others opposed it – and it was DOA on the Assembly floor. Sen. Hancock worked to get a bill passed with some changes, but, according to a statement she released, even that failed when the Governor’s Office and CDCR gutted months of work by Sen. Hancock, her staff and the staff of the Senate Public Safety Committee.

California Department of Corrections has calculated that their alleged “new” policy known as Security Threat Group-Step Down Program (STG-SDP) will give the appearance of addressing the horrific inhuman treatment we experience daily. They argue the Step Down Program is a major positive reform of the “old” policy and thereby responsive to our core demands.

They hope to undermine the statewide, national and international growing support for our cause – the end of long-term indefinite solitary confinement, the torture we experience year in and year out.

We will not stop until there is no more widespread torturous isolation in California for ourselves and for those who will come after us.

The STG-SDP is a smokescreen intended to enable prisoncrats to greatly expand upon the numbers held in solitary confinement – indefinitely. Their STG-SDP policy and program is a handbook to be used with limitless discretion to put whoever they want in isolation even without dangerous or violent behavior.

Their Security Threat Group policy and language are based on a prison punishment international homeland security worldview. By militarizing everything, just as they did in Ferguson, Missouri, poor working class communities, especially those of color, become communities that feed the police-prison industrial complex as a source of fuel.

The daily existence of poor people is criminalized from youth on. We become a source of revenue – a source of jobs – as our lives are sucked, tracked into the hell of endless incarceration, our living death. The STG-SDP is part of the worldview and language of death, not life. It is not positive reform. Security Threat Group takes social policy in the wrong direction.

CDCR is explicit in that thousands of us are in indefinite solitary because of who we are seen to be by them, not because we have done anything wrong. They still decide this by our art, our photographs, birthdays and confidential informants who get out of solitary by accusing the rest of us.

An unknown prisoner in solitary confinement drew how it feels to be entombed indefinitely.

The only “program” in the Step Down Program is a mandatory requirement to fill out meaningless journals that have nothing to do with rehabilitation – rather, they are about petty hoops for longterm SHU prisoners to jump through. The step incentives are so small as to carry very little real value or meaning for a majority of prisoners. They don’t meet our Supplemental Demands.

In fact the SHU at Tehachapi, where they send Pelican Bay SHU prisoners who have “progressed” to “better steps” in the SDP, have less visiting, more filthy cells, horrible toxic water, no pillows, nasty mattresses, rags for cloths, used mattresses, loud noises and some officers who are brutal racists.

Some of the privilege opportunities we won for SHU prisoners as a result of our struggles exist only at Pelican Bay. Some mean a lot to us but, in the long view, are trivial.

We need to get rid of the “mandatory” aspect of the ridiculous journals. We need to touch our loved ones and they need to be touched by us. We need to hug our mothers, fathers, wives, children, brothers, sisters.

We need more packages and phone calls and photographs. We need the same canteen that general population gets. We need overnight family visits. Up until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits.

Ultimately, we call for California to end the shame of their policy of solitary confinement for innocuous social interaction.

Prisoncrats propagate the 800-plus case-by-case reviews to date as evidence that their STG-SDP is a new program. The last statistics showed that almost 70 percent of prisoners reviewed were released to general population – including some of us who have been kept in these concrete boxes buried alive for decades.

These statistics prove something entirely different. They are factual data showing, proving that for decades 70-plus percent of us have been inappropriately confined, isolated and tortured.

It is CDCR’s senior people who are ruling that we have been inappropriately confined. These high release statistics prove without a doubt that the force of public condemnation, of united peaceful activity by those of us inside and our human rights supporters outside are required to keep CDCR from continuing their intolerable abuse.

We call for California to end the shame of their policy of solitary confinement for innocuous social interaction.

CDC argues that the transfer of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners to other SHUs at Corcoran, New Folsom or Tehachapi SHU cells or to various general population prisons proves they have taken measures to address the horrors and inappropriate use of SHU. In fact, even with the large numbers of prisoners being transferred out of SHU cells, there are no empty SHU cells.

Across the system prisoners are being validated for art, innocuous social interaction and for lies and misrepresentations about our mail by confidential informants who escape the SHU themselves by accusing others of behavior that cannot be defended against because we are sent to the SHU for accusations that we do not know the specifics about!

We are isolated for confidential, uncorroborated “ghost” accusations with no due process review – because solitary isolation is categorized as an “administrative housing assignment” and not punishment. CDCR is filling up the SHU cells as fast as they are emptied.

CDCR administrators admitted in August 2011 that the programs and privileges sought in our demands were reasonable and should have been provided 20-plus years ago. Up until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits, but no longer today. Why not?

CDCR hopes to destroy our sense of collective structure and our collective unity. We hope to expand our sense of collectivity as we spread out. We work to keep all opinions open, to think through new ideas and options for peaceful activity to shut down the reckless use of isolation and other abuses.

California uses solitary isolation more than any other state in the United States, both in absolute numbers of prisoners isolated – 12,000 in some form of isolation on any given day – and in terms of percentage of the prison population. The United States uses solitary confinement more than any other country in the world – 80,000 prisoners in some form of isolation as part of the practice of mass incarceration and criminalization of life in poor communities.

“Step Down Program” – Art: F. Bermudez

CDCr cannot deny these facts. Our decades of indefinite SHU confinement and related conditions therein are what led us to peacefully rise up and make our stand as a united collective of human beings – and we have been clear about our opposition to the Security Threat Group-Step Down Program. The prisoner class human rights movement is growing and we’ve succeeded in exposing this nation’s penal system torture program – nationally and internationally.

This mainstream level of attention and global support for the prisoners’ cause is unprecedented and it will continue to grow – so long as we all remain united and committed to doing our part.

Our peaceful actions have demonstrated that we are not powerless and the concrete fact is that the operation of these prisons requires the cooperation of the prisoners – thus, the prisoners do have the power to make beneficial reforms happen when we are united in utilizing non-violent, peaceful methods such as hunger strike-work stoppage protests and forms of non-cooperation.

We are thinking about how to extend this power peacefully across the prison system to make these institutions more focused on rehabilitation, learning and growing so that our return to our communities helps us all. Following and living by the principles in the Agreement to End Hostilities can help make this happen.

With the above in mind, we remind all interested parties that this ongoing struggle for reform is a “human rights movement,” comprised of united prisoners, outside loved ones and supporters. The PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement’s 20 volunteer representatives remain united, committed and determined about achieving the Five Core and Forty Supplemental Demands and the principle goals of the August 2012 “Agreement to End Hostilities,” with the support of all like-minded members of the prisoner class, outside loved ones and supporters.

Our primary goal remains that of ending long-term solitary confinement (in SHU and ad seg). This goal is at the heart of our struggle.

California uses solitary isolation more than any other state in the United States. The United States uses solitary confinement more than any other country in the world.

Along the way we are also committed to improving conditions in SHU, ad seg and general prison population. We make clear that any policy that maintains the status quo related to the placement and retention of prisoners into SHU and ad seg cells indefinitely is not acceptable – regardless of what programs or privileges are provided therein.

We have rejected CDCR’s Security Threat Group-Step Down Program and presented our reasonable counter proposal for the creation of a modified general population type program for the purpose of successful transitions between SHU and general population. CDCR’s top administrators have refused to negotiate, insisting upon moving forward with their STG-SDP. We are evaluating options.

Again, we need an end to the “mandatory” aspect of the ridiculous journals. We need to touch our loved ones and they need to be touched by us. Until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits. There is no legitimate basis for not allowing them now.

We celebrate the brothers who are getting out of the SHU after decades of confinement and understand the willingness to participate in the current CDCr charade.

We recognize those brothers in Corcoran and others who are refusing to participate in the SDP.

We’ve patiently observed the political process at issue for the past year, since such was the basis for “suspending” our 2013 action, and it’s becoming clear that those in power are still not seeing us as human because they refuse to end long term solitary confinement – in spite of international condemnation – ensuring the continuation of such psycho-social extermination policies.

Lawmakers’ refusal to abolish indefinite solitary confinement in response to the established record of abuse and related damage it causes to prisoners, outside loved ones and society in general – supported by the record of the joint Public Safety Committee hearings – supports our position that we are subjected to systematic, state sanctioned torture. This is a permanent stain upon this nation’s human rights record. Their continued refusal will require us to re-evaluate all of our available peaceful options.

Keeping all of the above points in mind, we respectfully encourage people inside and outside these walls to commemorate this two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities by joining with us in living by these principles inside and outside these prison walls.

We remain united, onward in struggle, always in solidarity.

  • Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP SHU D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, PBSP SHU D1-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • George Franco, D-46556, PBSP SHU D4-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

Agreement to End Hostilities

To whom it may concern and all California prisoners:

Greetings from the entire PBSP SHU Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives. We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP SHU Corridor. Wherein, we have arrived at a mutual agreement concerning the following points:

  1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.
  2. Therefore, beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end. And if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!
  3. We also want to warn those in the general population that IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) will continue to plant undercover Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer “inmates” amongst the solid GP prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats and obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our mutual causes. People need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics and refuse to allow such IGI inmate snitches to create chaos and reignite hostilities amongst our racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU, (Investigative Service Unit), OCS (Office of Correctional Safety) and SSU’s (Service Security Unit’s) old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us prisoners and our best interests. 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 and CCPOA, the prison guards’ 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 – SHU and ad-seg units – for decades!

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.

We send our love and respect to all those of like mind and heart. Onward in struggle and solidarity!

Presented by the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry) and Antonio Guillen; and the Representatives Body: Danny Troxell, George Franco, Ronnie Yandell, Paul Redd, James Baridi Williamson, Alfred Sandoval, Louis Powell, Alex Yrigollen, Gabriel Huerta, Frank Clement, Raymond “Chavo” Perez and James Mario Perez

Editor’s note: Long-time readers may be curious why George Franco has replaced Antonio Guillen as the Northerner among the four main reps. Franco was one of the original four-man group but was sent to Corcoran during the first hunger strike. When he returned to Pelican Bay, he was moved from the pod where decisions were made. Antonio then stepped in. An attorney working closely with the reps reports both exchanges were very friendly.

 

This was published on Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, Sept. 18, 2014. The letter itself was written on Sept. 1st 2014

Todd Ashker writes from Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor:

“….I am requesting your attention and responsive dialogue-addressing these issues during the meeting with our outside mediation team- and with Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, James Williamson, and myself in the near future…
The following is from me.

We are presently at the one year point- post “suspension,” of our third peaceful protest hunger strike action against longterm-indefinite-solitary confinement [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg confinement]… and related conditions therein and damage therefrom- to prisoners, our outside loved ones, and society in general….

.…The bottom line is, longterm-indefinite-SHU is not effective and harms all concerned. It’s ending nationwide and this will be the case in Calif. too- better to be sooner than later….”

PDF of transcribed Memo HERE.  Handwritten letter HERE

***

Memorandum

Sept. 1, 2014

To: CDCR-Administration
Secretary Beard, UnderSec. Hoshino
Director Stainer, Assoc. Dir. Diaz,
PBSP Warden Ducart

From: Todd Ashker, C58191-
One of four PBSP-SHU Prisoner Reps
(via outside mediation team)

Subject: Five Core Demands, 40 Supplemental Demands,
and CDCR’s STG-SDP

This memorandum is directed to the above CDCR Administrators for the express purpose of respectfully reminding you about unresolved, and/or continued problematic, issues relevant to our 2011-2014 Five Core and 40 Supplemental demands… and CDCR’s Security Threat Group-Step Down Program [STG-SDP]…

I am requesting your attention and responsive dialogue-addressing these issues during the meeting with our outside mediation team- and with Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, James Williamson, and myself in the near future… The following is from me.

We are presently at the one year point- post “suspension,” of our third peaceful protest hunger strike action against longterm-indefinite-solitary confinement [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg confinement]… and related conditions therein and damage therefrom- to prisoners, our outside loved ones, and society in general, as supported by the public record from the legislative Joint Public Safety Committee hearings held in Oct. 2013/Feb. 2014…

I believe we have demonstrated out commitment to seeing the reforms sought in our demands implemented in principle and spirit, via our peaceful collective actions and I am reminding you of some relevant facts…

A)      In 2011, CDCR Undersecretary Kernan, and others, admitted that our five core demands were reasonable-and, many should have been implemented/provided [20] years ago-Three years later, many remain unresolved –

B)      It was our (2) peaceful hunger strike actions-involving thousands of prisoners statewide, and related international/national public exposure and condemnation of our decades of subjection to a form of coercive, state sanctioned torture… that brought out Undersecretary Kernan, and others’, public admission that CDCR had been over using the validation process’, and was going to revise such policies… responsive to our demands –

C)      Our Primary Goal has always been, and remains, …Ending Longterm Indefinite- SHU/Ad-Seg confinement!

Contrary to CDCR Secretary Beard, et al, claims the STG-SDP is not responsive to our Primary Demand because it continues a policy of indefinite SHU placement and retention. (And it’s structured in vague over reaching terms, that will ultimately result in many more prisoners being subject to indefinite SHU-in large part due to minor infractions- already being born out by fact of, more prisoners are in SHU-Ad-Seg today- than there were prior to start of STG-SDP pilot program Oct. 2012!)

D)      With our primary goal in mind -”Ending Indefinite SHU” policy- any policy/practice that enables such to continue is not acceptable, thus, while CDCR has been somewhat responsive to some of our demands re: SHU/Ad-Seg program/privilege issues- most of us in SHU for decades already,… remain here indefinitely! The point is, no matter how you dress it up- spending 24/7 in a small cell for months, years, decades- without normal human contact- especially, the contact of physically touching one’s outside loved ones… equals a form of torturous social extermination- period!!

E)      A major aspect of our collective movement to meaningfully reform this prison system in ways beneficial to prisoners, staff, outside loved ones, and society in general, is related to the system’s rank and file treating prisoners and our outside loved ones humanely- as fellow human beings, with dignity and respect.

I’m not sure how many of you current administrators were in the loop during our discussions about SHU policy change(s) in 2011-2012, …but we pointed out that “CDCR leadership knows how to create a reform policy- intended to be successful or, – one intended to fail.” …As summarized below, the current structure and implementation of the STG-SDP appears to be intended to fail- this will not bode well for CDCR!

Remember this, our 2013 peaceful protest action was “suspended” and many prisoners are not happy with much of the STG-SDP policy!! They aren’t being treated humanely-with dignity, or respect, under the present structure and implementation of said policy…

Like it or not, you need prisoners cooperation, support, and participation with any policy affecting thousands, or your policy fails!

For example, if all prisoners refused to participate in you SDP, while you go by the STG provisions- your policy fails you because you end up having tens-of-thousands on Step 1, indefinite SHU status… Add peaceful actions, resulting in additional peaceful protesting prisoners’ deaths, and costs, etc… should you have to force feed a hundred to two hundred etc. prisoners- and related global attention… At some point, jobs would be lost and changes made- ending the failed policy!! Will it come down to this?? The bottom line is, longterm-indefinite-SHU is not effective and harms all concerned. It’s ending nationwide and this will be the case in Calif. too- better to be sooner than later…

With the above in mind, the following are points supporting the referenced facts and unresolved issues you have the power to meaningfully resolve:

1)      Our alternative proposal to the STG-SDP has been on the table since Sept. 2012…. It’s based on principle points of (a) SHU placement being reserved for those guilty of felonious type violations-assessed determinate SHU terms, and (b) A modified type of general population transition program between SHU and G.P.- Our mediation team has details about this proposal, which have been provided to you as well. The SDP-Steps 3 and 4, aren’t even close to this (e.g. zero contact visits)

2)      In addition to provisions enabling continued indefinite SHU placement and retention, the following examples support the position that the STG-SDP as structured and implemented is designed to fail…

(a) The issue(s) re: legitimate- meaningful- incentives for each step have not been satisfactorily resolved (e.g. allowing more- phone calls, photographs, packages/special purchases, contact visits, etc.)

(b) Steps 3 and 4 at CCI-Tehachapi, are seen as a bad-step down re: conditions, programming and privileges- to the extent that many prisoners see no point in participating!

Examples are: visits are limited to (1) hour, on either Sat. or Sun.; cells are dirty and cleaning materials are not being provided; nor is laundry, clothing, linen, etc, being provided/exchanged; the T.V. and radio stations are very limited and out of signal all the time; the food is bad; shower program is poorly run- as is yard program; property is processed very slowly, and typewriters are not being allowed, etc.,etc.,etc; Staff attitudes are poor!!

Plus, many prisoners held in PBSP-SHU for decades have loved ones who reside in the Del Norte Co. area- with jobs, etc., and a transfer to CCI is a hardship to their loved ones…

You have ability to remedy the above, via use of former PSU [at PBSP] cell block(s) for Steps 3 and 4… These steps should also allow contact visits!! A Step 3 and 4 at PBSP should be an option for those with local family ties, etc!!

There’s no legitimate penological basis to deny these prisoners human physical contact with loved ones and friends… Up until mid 1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed contact visits- thus, it’s a reasonable, meaningful incentive for those prisoners participation in Steps 3 and 4…

(c)      The journals remain a problem for many (e.g. Corcoran) and I will point out that George Guirbino, et al, admitted at one of our meetings last year, that the journals were ‘lacking re:substantive rehab, value’ -qualifying this with- “but that’s all that’s available.” Look, we all know the journals have zero relevance to rehabilitation of prisoners transitioning between SHU and G.P. (demonstrated by the fact that prisoners placed on Step 5 by DRB’s case-by-case reviews of longterm SHU prisoners don’t have to do a single journal!!) You should make the journals a voluntary self-help program available to all CDCR prisoners… The way you’re using them as required part of SDP- Steps1-4, makes you all look bad- for many reasons!!

(d)      The case by case reviews at PBSP are too slow-100’s still wait on theirs.

Miscellaneous Issues Remaining To Be Resolved Include But Are Not Limited To:

  1. Mattresses (As you know, PIA mattresses are a big problem!??)
  2. Restriction on privileges should only be based on being guilty of abusing the specific privilege (eg., photographs, art materials)
  3. Allowable art materials expanded, per, principle of individual accountability (eg, woodless colored pencils, and all type of art paper)
  4. Photograph program for SHU/Ad-Seg visiting- as done in Vacaville in the 80’s (visitor and prisoner in photo, taken on visitor’s side of glass)

Your attention and anticipated positive responsive resolution(s) to the above subjects is appreciated.

Todd Ashker, C58191/PBSP-D4-121

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.1

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.1

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.2

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.2

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.3

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.3

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.4

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.4

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.5

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.5

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.6

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.6

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.7

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.7

How torture is inflicted on prisoners in solitary confinement

Published on SF Bay View on Feb. 24th, 2014

by Mutope Duguma and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

This is a glimpse into torture by prison staff, using any means available, of which solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison in California is only a reflection of the inhumane treatment and clear U.S. constitutional violations of our First, Fifth, Eighth and 14th Amendment rights that prisoners in solitary everywhere are subjected to.

Torture by deprivation

The objective of the deprivation method is not complicated. It is to attack the sensory organs and perception with methods to impair them. The weapon of deprivation cannot be effective without having in place a conditioning process to produce degeneration over a long period of time. The psychological, social and cultural trauma is observable in such a sterile and punitive environment.

Deprivation is cannibalistic for the spirit that is willing to stay the course. The flesh becomes weakened as men feed on themselves and others, eating away at human excellence. The feasting of deprivation will become more than flesh, blood or nature can endure. Indeterminate SHU confinement has left individuals with having to choose between discontinuity and becoming inflicted with a cannibalistic nature.

There are two aspects of deprivation, the psychological and the physical, where the mind acts upon the body. This two-edged torture can be effective either way. But in order for deprivation to eat away at the targeted prisoner’s consciousness, a conversion reaction must occur that breaks down the psychological defense mechanism.

Declaration on Protection from Torture

The “Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as Resolution 3452 (XXX) on Dec. 9, 1975. The declaration contains 12 articles, the first of which defines the term “torture” as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating him or other persons.”

Types of torture

Medical: Honorable Judge Thelton Henderson ordered a receivership to oversee CDCr’s PBSP SHU due to intentional medical neglect which led to prisoners dying, as frequently as one a week, in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation system. Many of these deaths were, and continue to be, in solitary confinement. This is torture.

Solitary confinement: Prisoners are held in isolation for 10 to 40 years despite having only non-disciplinary infractions during that time. This is torture.

Mail: Prisoner mail is being used to create physical and psychological torment. Mail can be arbitrarily withheld for weeks on a regular basis, and has been known to be withheld for years, even when there are court orders to release the mail to a prisoner being unjustly deprived. This is torture.

Food: Food is intentionally prepared poorly, contaminated and disproportionate. Nutritional food is deliberately denied. This is torture.

No human contact: Prisoners have no real, meaningful social interaction with other human beings, especially family and close friends. Our five senses – touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste – become dulled from deprivation. This is torture.

Visiting: Constantly, under the CDCr gestapo style agency of correctional safety, the Investigative Service Unit (ISU) and Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) and other such units deliberately intimidate visitors and prisoners. This is torture.

Cell searches: These are used to intimidate, harass and trash prisoners’ cells, leaving them in disarray while taking political writings, pictures, manuscripts, books, pamphlets, magazines etc., causing psychological torment. This is torture.

No sanitation: Prisoners are deliberately kept in unsanitary units. For example, showers are allowed four times a week, but the showers are cleaned only twice a week. There is an abundance of mold, mice, bugs, gnats, fungus etc. This is torture.

Climate: Prisoners are kept in freezing cold or burning hot cells, depending on the time of year, a complaint that has been made for over 21 years. This is torture.

Contraband watch, or potty watch: It is humiliating, dehumanizing and outright cruel and unusual punishment when prisoners are held in shackles and placed in the middle of a hall while being placed on a portable “potty,” while cops (female too) and prisoners with escorts are walking by. There are reports of prisoners being placed in cages, without a toilet or running water. Men are placed in a diaper with a prison jumpsuit over it, while the victim’s hands are bound into a fist-wrap. PVC pipe forced onto arms and black boxes over the hands have also been used. The prisoner is required to defecate three separate times during a three-day period. The torment and suffering are truly visible on the prisoner’s face. This is done to cause severe humiliation, along with mental, physical and psychological torment. This is torture.

Family: Each validated prisoner’s family is deliberately harassed, intimidated and intentionally hoaxed into false prosecution for a thoughtless crime by gestapo-type units (OCS, ISU, SSU and IGI) with the intent of discouraging any support or communication with the prisoner. This is torture.
Grievances: The 602 appeal process, at each of its three levels is deliberately set up to not afford a prisoner relief, regardless of whether prison officials are dead wrong in their accusations. This clearly establishes that there is no accountability for what officials do to prisoners. This is torture.
In addition, the structural features of the various solitary confinement units throughout the U.S. prison industrial complex (PIC) make it possible to target specific prisoners by utilizing sensory deprivation to undermine the social, cultural and ethical values that the targeted prisoners hold. Prisoners are rare who can escape the ravages of the torture that results from long term isolation and the negative assaults by guards in any of California’s supermax control units and similar units all over the U.S.

This is torture.

The science behind the use of deprivations has been perfected by the handlers to operate with devastating force. We know there is no separation between physical torture and mental torture. Torture is a double-edged sword that can slice effectively either way to exact punishment or revenge. It has the purpose of taking away a targeted prisoner’s human dimension and essence.

This is torture.

Send our brothers some love and light:

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, s/n R.N. Dewberry, C-35671, D1-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
Mutope Duguma, s/n James Crawford, D-05996, D2-107, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

Message from Pelican Bay prisoner representatives to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez

Published in: SF Bay View, Oct. 21st, 2013

by Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Antonio Guillen and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

Oct. 18, 2013 – We, the four principal representatives of the prisoners confined in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, hereby welcome Juan Méndez to California. We have followed your work and advocacy against torture throughout the world and congratulate you on your commitment and success in bringing your findings to the public’s attention.

We recently suspended our hunger strike against torture in the form of prolonged solitary confinement in California’s prisons after 60 days. Over 30,000 prisoners joined us in the largest protest ever against prison conditions in the United States and possibly the world.

We decided to suspend our hunger strike for several reasons:

1) We succeeded in making the issue of torture in California’s prisons into an issue of worldwide public and media attention. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC are just a few of the media outlets that covered our cause, with many running editorials in our support. Thousands of people joined demonstrations, signed petitions and letters, and spoke out in our favor.

2) State Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano promised to hold legislative hearings to address solitary confinement, the conditions of imprisonment, and sentencing policy in California and to introduce legislation for reform. They have already held one hearing on Oct. 9 – in a room filled with our supporters – and heard from experts, former prisoners and family members who spoke of the torture we endure and demanded change.

3) CDCR officials promised to meet with us to discuss our concerns, and we have already spent hours in talks with them.

But nothing has changed. Over 3,500 prisoners remain isolated in California’s SHUs with almost no human interaction and little opportunity to exercise or even see the sun, and are still forbidden contact visits or telephone calls with their families. They join thousands of others who are held in different forms of solitary confinement throughout the system.

We decided to suspend our hunger strike for several reasons: We made California prison torture an issue worldwide with major press coverage; the Legislature promised hearings and has held the first one already; and CDCR is negotiating with us. But nothing has changed.

Prisoners are revalidated for indefinite terms on the basis of unconfirmed rumors, anonymous misinformation from debriefers and informants, and possession of criminalized books, articles and art work. The only sure way out is to debrief and expose yourself to shame, further exploitation by prison officials, condemnation and violence.

Mr. Méndez, we ask that you join in our struggle. We would like you to testify at one of the upcoming legislative hearings. We would like you to consider becoming an expert witness in our lawsuit.

As a former prisoner yourself, we would like you to do your best to bring both our conditions and our human rights movement to the attention of the international community, with intention to take resolute action against the torture we, along with many other prisoners in California and elsewhere, have endured for far too long. We look forward to meeting you.

With respect and in solidarity,

Todd Ashker
Arturo Castellanos
Antonio Guillen
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

Send our brothers some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP SHU D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532; Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, PBSP SHU D1-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532; Antonio Guillen, P-81948, PBSP SHU D2-106, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532; Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (s/n R. Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP SHU D1-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

Gov. Brown commits crimes against prisoners’ humanity for guards’ campaign contributions

Published in: SF Bay View, Oct. 1st, 2013

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

Gov. Jerry Brown is the good ol’ boy of the 21st century prison industrial slave complex (PISC). I write this in the interest of my humanity and all humanity. My self-worth is not measured by the arbitrary placement of gang titles by my captors, over which I have no control. Yet I adamantly reject all labels placed on me to the day I die.

The governor is empowered by the people. Their voice is the voice he is supposed to adhere to in the state of California. He chooses to disregard the power of the people. The governor is so arrogant that he took the position along with his crony, Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard, to defy the highest court in this country.

This is the mentality of a good ol’ boy who attempts to rule with little regard for the interests of the common people of California. They exert their power to oppress and suppress the people, maintaining control over all aspects of our lives, whether we’re in or out of prison.

It amazes me how political officials who are empowered by the people have little or no respect for the people or the rule of law. They take the position that “this is how I run MY government.”

News flash: It’s not your government, governor. The government belongs to we the people. You are working to serve the peoples’ interest; we are not here to serve your interests.

You govern all the people of California, including prisoners, despite what you may think. If you are unable to do your job to the satisfaction of California taxpayers and voters, then it is time that you look for a new occupation this coming election. And you can take Secretary Beard along with you because the people will have spoken.

We say that our lives are more valuable than your re-election and we insist that you put politics aside and END LONG TERM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT NOW. Solitary confinement is torture.

Your silence does not excuse you for your crimes against our humanity. You are an overseer of CDCr prisons and we have evidence that clearly shows prisoners have been murdered, beaten and tortured throughout these solitary confinement units by CDCr officials who are subordinate to you.

We understand that you’re not willing to risk losing the $2 million in campaign money that the CCPOA – the prison guards’ union – contributes to your campaign for governor. We understand clearly that you are seeking re-election and do not want to jeopardize those donations.

But we say that our lives are more valuable than your re-election and we insist that you put politics aside and END LONG TERM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT NOW. Solitary confinement is torture. Amnesty International has condemned the pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured. The United Nations has condemned the pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

The United States Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons has been calling for an end to long term solitary confinement over the last seven years and has condemned this pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

We the people of California have condemned this pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

Amnesty International has condemned the pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

Governor, it is time for you and Secretary Beard to quit manipulating Californians with your Willie Horton racist rhetoric toward scaring the American people with the big Black boogie man syndrome.

The United Nations has condemned the pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

Stop it, governor! You and Beard should be ashamed of such divisive rhetoric that you use to pit Californians against each other by race, class and caste.

The United States Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons has been calling for an end to long term solitary confinement over the last seven years and has condemned this pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

We ask all supporters and non-supporters to vote politicians into positions of power who will hear the voice of the people. Reject those who abuse the power afforded to them due to some narcissistic, over-possessive control freak syndrome which many of them suffer from.

We the people of California have condemned this pattern of practice in which prisoners are tortured.

We prisoners insist that the people of California get the facts. Follow your money. See whose pocket it’s going into.

Investigate the solitary confinement units. You’ll see that CDCr has been lying to you. When you find that out, will you then hold them accountable? Or will it be business as usual?

Where is the accountability to the taxpayers? Any public official who tortures prisoners does so in your name – not his or hers.

In struggle,

Sitawa