Lost in time: Lift up our brother Sitawa and strike down indefinite incarceration

by Mutope Duguma

Published earlier on the SF Bayview and on Sitawa.org

It’s always hard to stomach news that is disheartening. To hear that a brother and comrade has suffered a stroke after spending countless years in solitary confinement, as well as being held on an indefinite sentence for an alleged crime he did not commit, is even more disheartening.

I need not stress the sorrow that is felt amongst the whole prison

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa in July of 2018

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa in July of 2018

population for our brother Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, who, along with countless fearless prisoners, pioneered our Prison Human Rights Movement (PHRM) to the world’s stage. We continue to see men and women incarcerated far too long – beyond anyone’s imagination – and continue to be held indefinitely.

Our beloved brother Sitawa is amongst this class of men and women. The inhumane treatment of prisoners must end.

Our brother Sitawa and many others have suffered enough and should not continue to do so based on being given a life sentence that equals a civil death. Prior to 1968, under original Penal Code Section 2600, California prisoners suffered complete civil death, which means prisoners were stripped of all civil rights.

The prison system is actually covertly executing all of its lifers. The United States is the only country in the whole world that incarcerates people indefinitely – forcing them to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Men and women have been incarcerated for 35 years or more.

Many of these people are lost in time. They came to prison as youth in their teens and early 20s in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Yes, many of them were immature, many had no real direction, but they all became adults in the Amerikan prison system.

At present these prisoners, Baby Boomers, most of whom have survived decades of incarceration, are now between the ages of 60 and 80. Many of these senior citizens are wheelchair-bound or use assistive devices such as walking canes.

Like most seniors, many are on special medications, require special medical therapy for seniors, and suffer from aging illnesses of various sorts. I hear some say that a few manage to get around good at 70 years young.

Many say, yes, they should be in prison, and that may be true in some cases. Given the things they did in society, the way they carried themselves in the youth of their lives was utterly wrong and disrespectful, but that was decades ago when they were young! Decades!

They are now older, mature, grown, senior adults, who have fulfilled all requirements from various parole boards around the U.S. Multiple prisoners have complied with all laws, rules and regulations of the prison and carried themselves as role model human beings and in many cases have done so for decades.

Still, many of them are forced to remain in prison when the maximum amount of time on their sentence has long since expired. This is terrible and extremely cruel to force rehabilitated human beings to remain in bondage and especially when statistics clearly show that 90 percent of them are not returning to prison once released.

Sadly, 89 percent of prisoners across the US are Black and Mexican. From 1619 through the 1800s, the chattel slavery plantation concept lurks in the shadows like the Wizard of Oz.

This “behind the scenes” type strategy involves money laundering exclusively into white rural areas under the Prison Industrial Slave Complex (PISC). (That’s where prisons were built during the height of mass incarceration, in small rural communities that had lost their economic base, where people were so desperate for jobs, they were willing to work in a prison. These were white communities with deep prejudice toward Blacks. – ed.)

Many of us may very well die in these man-made tombs. It should be stipulated that these deaths are in clear violation of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

The suffering is indefinite where there exists no end to the punishment. Many have died, and many will continue to die where there is no remedy to resolve the cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners.

We must resist to end this cruel and unusual treatment of human beings and encourage our brother Sitawa, who is fighting for his life. We will fight for his freedom and the freedom of the thousands of men and women lost in time.

One Love, One Struggle,

Mutope Duguma

Sitawa is recovering from a major stroke. Send him some love and light (Sitawa is currently housed near San Diego, mail will be forwarded):

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa with arms crossed 2017

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa with arms crossed, in 2017

Freedom Outreach
Attn: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa
Fruitvale Station
P.O. Box 7359
Oakland CA 94601

[1] Note: Original penal code 2600 prior to 1968, California prisoners suffered complete civil death which stripped prisoners of all civil rights.


Injustice Runs Deep

In: SF Bay View, September 27, 2013

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

I am a 55-year-old New Afrikan man. I came to prison in 1980 for a first degree murder that I did not commit. The prosecutor, judge, victim’s family and my family know that I did not commit this murder. How is it that I can say it as a matter of fact? Because the actual killer confessed to the murder during the trial, did the time for the murder and he has since been released in 1986.


Two photos of Sitawa show him in 1988 and 2012. – Photo: Adithya Sambamurthy, CIR

But because I wouldn’t give up information on an alleged drug dealer that the Oakland police wanted to take down, I was also charged for this crime and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law although everyone involved knew I was innocent. This is Amerika’s justice.

I was then sent off to one of the many CDCR prisons. I ended up, 22 years of age, young and very innocent and never been into any trouble with the law or involved with any criminal activity prior to being sent to one of the most violent prisons in the U.S., and there I was forced to make my own way.

Prison guards do not save or protect prisoners despite all the hype around the safety and security of the institution, nor do the police protect the average Amerikan or New Afrikan in the free world. People are literally on their own where there exist all kinds of predators. We all are prey and predators. I was a young man who was looked upon as prey and, in order for me to survive in an environment where my life was in constant danger, I had to learn the ways of a predator and it is this understanding that allowed me to survive.

But being that I came from a home where my mother was a follower of Martin Luther King Jr. and John Kennedy and my father was a follower of Marcus Garvey, violence was not and has never been a part of my household or something that I chose to indulge myself in. I know how to defend myself where there lurks danger, but preying on prisoners was something I personally despised, so I became someone who could help prisoners improve their lives!

I have never had a violent history nor do I aspire to have a violent future.

Since I had some schooling and my mother was a school teacher, I became a teacher, but behind these prison walls. I started educating some of the many prisoners who were given outrageous times by racist judicial proceedings for petty drug charges, three strikes laws – gang members who could not read or write nor understand some of the simplest curriculums.

My civilization was realized through my education, and I don’t care what anyone says; I’ve seen many, if not countless, prisoners change their lives and I have been privileged to have a hand in some of those changes. I have never been in no gang and never had the desire to be in any gang, but I understand their situation: Many of these individuals were born into these gang cultures in some of the harshest conditions. Just like when I lost my freedom, snatched off the streets and placed in the deadliest prison for a crime – murder – I did not commit.

But prison officials did not like the fact that I was contributing to the growth and development – education – of many prisoners and I am talking across the board: Whites, New Afrikans, Mexicans, Latinos, Asians etc. I have never had a violent history nor do I aspire to have a violent future.

I was locked up in solitary confinement because of my ability to educate prisoners successfully. Yes, I have been held in solitary confinement for the last 29 years because I am an “educated nigger” in the eyes of my captors.

My captors use gang labeling as a justification for subjecting prisoners in solitary confinement to cruel and unusual punishment – torture. For the 14,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, CDCR gets $70,000 a head annually to hold prisoners inside administration segregation units and security housing units and only $50,000 for holding prisoners on general population (GP). This is a waste because each and every one of us can program on general population. Yet we are deemed unable to program because CDCR officials do not want to lose any money they get for holding prisoners in solitary confinement.

People like Debra J. Saunders of San Francisco Chronicle speak from a position of ignorance or she’s a conspirator toward exploiting taxpayers out of their tax dollars. She generally casts her criticism based on information she has not investigated. So when she made a statement without taking the time to get the inside story of the individuals she spoke to, it’s obvious that she practices junk journalism, where people attempt to pop-off at the mouth to make a name for themselves off the backs of others’ pain and suffering regardless of their innocence.

She can care less that I am the one who has been subjected to many injustices by the state and continue to suffer at the hand of the state. Ms. Saunders believes that it is justifiable for me to be held in solitary confinement for the politics I chose to believe in, although I have not committed not one violent act or criminal act nor have I been associated with any rules violation reports (RVRs).

I was locked up in solitary confinement because of my ability to educate prisoners successfully.

I have been held in solitary confinement for 29 years, and if you think this is right, then the problem is people like yourself, which is what’s wrong with this country. It is the same mentality of the torturers: Gov. E.G. Brown, Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard and state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Ms. Saunders takes prisoners’ post-convictions that occurred over 20 years ago and re-prosecutes prisoners who are serving time for their alleged crimes.

To use their post-convictions to justify why they should be subjected to torture goes against everything this country supposedly stands for. This is still a nation of laws, isn’t it? Or do our captors get to arbitrarily persecute us however they see fit, whenever they want to?

Ms. Saunders, none of us were sentenced to torture. While I know you believe all the people in prison are criminals as long as they have been convicted, you do not know what are the circumstances that led to the alleged incidents in respect to the four [main hunger strike] representatives. You are speaking from a position of ignorance because you know no one and have no desire to meet any of us, especially since your interests stem from pure greed for prestige.

I know all these men and all of them have become my personal friends – men who, for over 30 years, were seen as my adversaries. This in itself is change. I’ve spent the last 13 years with these men and some longer, and I see their humanity every day. We’ve talked endlessly about many subjects that pertain to our livelihood and how we can, as men, improve on our lives and the lives of our fellow human beings – prisoners.

None of us were sentenced to torture.

Ms. Saunders, you know the system once said I was only three fifths of a human being and it was not true. They will not always tell you the truth. There were no weapons of mass destruction. The bill giving the media access to prisons and prisoners was vetoed by Gov. Brown so they can continue to control the narrative, always.

We are also clear here: CDCR officials cannot protect no one nor do they desire to. CDCR has for the last 40 years murdered, beaten and tortured prisoners while given immunity. Gov. Brown is continuing CDCR’s legacy. He clearly knows what is going on and what’s been going on and has no desire to end it.

Torture. Prisoners are the victims of state-sanctioned torture and any Amerikan or New Afrikan citizen who wants the facts to when, where and how CDCR has deliberately murdered prisoners, beaten prisoners and tortured prisoners in solitary confinement, I will personally give you a breakdown of these atrocities, historical and current.

This current strike is not about our captors; it is about prisoners and the civil and human rights afforded to us by the Constitution of the “USA.” The blatant violations of the Constitution when it comes to prisoners’ First, Eighth and 14th Amendment rights are a direct result of a society that has gone lawless and government’s abusing the powers they have been entrusted to use in the name of the people.

We prisoners fight for our justice because no one else will fight our cause.

Resist, resist and liberate

I hear demagogues go on their vicious attacks about how violent prisoners held in solitary confinement are, yet we are actually the role model prisoners, if there is such a title. Many of us have sat in these tombstones back here under concerted torture while correctional officers have violated and disrespected us routinely, subjecting us to physical and psychological torment each day we have been back here.

Photo: Occupy San Quentin Marie Levin, Sitawa’s sister, speaking 022012-4 by Bill Hackwell, web

Sitawa’s sister, Marie Levin, speaking here at Occupy San Quentin, a large rally outside the San Quentin gates on Feb. 20, 2012, has become a leading spokesperson in the struggle for justice for her brother and everyone in solitary confinement. – Photo: Bill Hackwell

We have collectively opted to refrain from any violence – even though CDCR has been very violent toward us! Especially when they took a mentally ill New Afrikan prisoner and forced him into boiling hot water, then laughed about it, saying, “He’ll be a white boy now,” as his skin fell from his flesh. [See the AP story dated Sept. 18, 1993, on the trial that first revealed the torture of Vaughn Dortch.]

I witnessed this with my own eyes. This was an insidious, racist attack that was unprovoked by prisoners. So we have been very disciplined, and this is just one of many attacks prisoners have suffered.

The “gang shot-caller or leader” rhetoric is a farce. One thing CDCR does well is label its prisoners as gang members or associates. Of everyone in solitary, 85 percent have been given a gang title; of the 137,000 prisoners in California, 11,600 are labeled as gang members or associates.

CDCR throws gang titles around to dehumanize prisoners to the public; that is why they label everyone. You’ve got to seek the truth. There are 14,000 prisoners held in solitary confinement. There are 3,000 who prison officials say are gang leaders or generals.

They say everyone they hold in solitary confinement is the most violent of prisoners. We are the masterminds, they say, but they cannot show the public anything but rhetoric. No violence, no criminal gang acts committed by these gang leaders or generals who are supposed to control or “lead.”

The “gang shot-caller or leader” rhetoric is a farce.

They try to use hype and old alleged incidents in order to propagate to the public. With all the rhetoric, one would think they could show and tell, but it’s all hype. And we prisoners have to dispel these lies because it’s done to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in order to win their support.

I am one of the four representatives. When CDCR uses a violent act to denigrate my character, they generalize and go back 40 years, as did Secretary Beard. Why do you think he referred to the 1970s in order to speak to violence he alleges we are associated with? Because he has no evidence. I wasn’t even in prison in the 1970s, nor were any of the other four representatives.

Then he went to the streets when he tried to link us to violence, because he had no record of any violence inside prisons. So he associates us with whatever violence he can out there! Those allegations are placed on us, but we’re never charged or prosecuted. They just use it to propagate to the public that we’re the worst of the worst.

The public needs to know we are under more scrutiny than those held in Guantanamo Bay. Our isolation has been for up to 43 years for the longest held prisoners, for me 29 years and others 10, 20, 30 years straight for only being validated as a gang member or associate.

There is NO VIOLENCE! The CDCR lied when they said we are violent men. Our lockups are “administrative lockups,” not in response to violence. They can show NO Rules Violation Reports – disciplinary reports. We have not committed any offenses to be placed in solitary confinement.

Allegations are placed on us, but we’re never charged or prosecuted. They just use it to propagate to the public that we’re the worst of the worst.

The prison gang officers screen our incoming and outgoing mail. They do not allow us to have phone calls. We sit in our tombstone 23 hours a day, if not 24.

There is no way any of us could do what CDCR is charging that we did, if we even wanted to. Their lies are not about your safety and security. They are about your hard-earned tax dollars. They have prisoners they hold in solitary confinement that they know are going home sooner or later, but they won’t let them out on a prison yard because they’re “too dangerous,” according to them. But it’s cool to release them back into the public after they have been subjected to years of torture.

So much for the public safety. Wouldn’t it be safer to allow a prisoner to program in a social atmosphere inside the prison in order to get him or her out of that isolated anti-social state? Plus, if we are to be tormented each day of our lives, why won’t the state just murder us? Why hold us back here under these torturous conditions?

We’re not animals, although we’re treated like animals. We’re not savages, although we’re treated like savages. The issue is that we are a commodity – a surplus – and CDCR is profiting off our lives and using violence as a premise to justify it.

This is why Gov. Brown keeps the media out of the prisons. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Ombudsman and Internal Affairs will never investigate against their own interests. They get paid because of prisons and prisoners’ placement in them.

We had the OIG Chief Deputy Rusty Davis walk the tier talking about he’s here to check on the hunger strikers. When people made complaints, he disregarded them, nor did he take one note. He just wanted to look at us. He had no interest in our suffering, nor did he care to see any facts in relation to our situation.

We’re not animals, although we’re treated like animals. We’re not savages, although we’re treated like savages. The issue is that we are a commodity – a surplus – and CDCR is profiting off our lives and using violence as a premise to justify it.

He used this opportunity to reacquaint himself with his old prison official colleagues. There were countless complaints he could have looked into, but he refused to do his job. This is what’s wrong with this system: no checks and balances.

The CDCR is run where all personnel fail to uphold their responsibility, which is why the system is self-destructing from the inside out. We can only do what we’re doing to secure our lives from such torture. Peacefully resist … Resist …

In struggle,

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

Sitawa is one of the four main prisoner representatives who called for the peaceful protest that began in 2011 and resumed July 8, 2013, with 30,000 participants.