I find it an honor to be amongst this class of solid members who continue to refuse to compromise or/and debrief under any circumstances nor allow our minds to play tricks on us. It has been a continuous struggle fighting against the obstacles CDCR officials, IGI, ISU, SSU alike with their SNY’s now referred as designated program yard in attempt to derail positive progress.
Now we are up against an even more deadly beast called COVID-19 that data showing it is largely attacking and killing the Afrikan American and minority population that’s at a higher risk who suffering from hypertension, diabetes, cancer, sleep apnea, etc. Many of us like myself suffer from all these diseases listed as a high risk under COVID-19.
A lot of prisoners here including myself recently had our CPAP machine confiscated due to the COVID-19 virus. It’s being a lot of hype from some politicians lifers convicted of a violent offense should not be released under COVID-19.
Governor Newsom must be reminded of the longstanding undisputed data (record) elderly 60 & over serving a life sentence only has a 1% recidivism rate of returning. The older you are make us less likely to reoffend and less of a danger to public safety.
Here something overlooked or/and being ignored by CDCR/Board.
All of us released from the SHU by DRB under Step 4 and Step 5 were documented by DRB / Classification as inactive under a 12-months observation. Inactive is defined by CDCR officials as not being involved in criminal gang activities. Even when they later changed it to current activities. It still meant not involved in any current criminal gang activities. Their own language and definition make us a low-risk to moderate.
Let’s take it a step further at one time when some prisoners were completing the earlier step down programs. CDCR officials were handing out Rehabilitative Certificates stating folks completed their step down.
Those were certificates printed up by CDCR officials.
Next point: many of us under our sentences already got our max time served, which means, legally the board has no authority to hold us past our maximum term, which means: a period grossly disproportionate to his or her individual culpability for the commitment offense.
Case in point: the California Supreme Court in Danneberg has acknowledged:
“Section 3041(b) can not authorize such an inmate’s retention even for reasons of public safety beyond the constitutional maximum period of confinement.”
Turn to in Re Palmer II 33 CA, 5th 1199 (April 5, 2019), the court said prisoners may bring claims directly to the court through petitions for habeas corpus if they believe because of the particular circumstances of their crimes, that their confinements have become constitutionally excessive as a result. We can presently cite in Re William Palmer II 33 CA 5th 1199 as precedent in the pleadings.
There’s no time under COVID-19 to go through normal habeas corpus channels. Food for thought here under compassionate release provision section PC 1170(e)(a) read in part, the court shall have discretion to resentence or recall if the court finds that the facts described in subparagraph (a) and (b) exist.
The prisoner is terminally ill with an incurable condition caused by an illness or disease that would produce death within month as determined by a physician employed by CDCR.
Now the court said in order to ensure that such cases may be resolved fully and expeditiously we urge any party or counsel appealing under section 1170(e) to advise the appellate court at the earliest possible time of the nature of the issues on and date which a medical professional determined the defendant had no more than six months to live and to seek calendar preference (Cal. Rule of Court Rule 8.240).
My point for bringing this up, under this COVID-19, we can use to expedite hearings and releases for all of us meeting the high-risk of this deadly COVID-19 deadly no curable virus. Our fight continues. Each one, teach one.
Baridi J. Williamson and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa in a photo collage
Liberate our elders! Please join California Prison Focus (CPF) in demanding that Governor Gavin Newsom protect our incarcerated elders and peacemakers from COVID-19 by releasing them immediately. Read CPF’s letter below for more details.
Here’s the demand: Release all CA state prisoners who are medically fragile or over 60, starting with the authors of the Agreement to End Hostilities and followed by the remaining members of the Ashker Class Action Settlement.
ATTENTION: GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM AND RALPH DIAZ, SECRETARY OF CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS (CDCR)
DEMAND FOR IMMEDIATE STRATEGIC RELEASE and Support Letter for the Principal Thinkers of the 2011 and 2013 California Prisoner Hunger Strikes and all members of the Ashker Class Action Settlement
California Prison Focus is calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom and Corrections Secretary Ralph Diaz to act immediately under the current humanitarian health crisis to release imprisoned human rights activists and members of the Prisoner Human Rights Movement (PHRM) and Principal Thinkers who authored and signed the historic 2012 Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH), including Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Arturo Castellanos, Antonio Guillen and Todd Ashker. (See the full list of signers below.)
California Prison Focus stands by these human rights activists who were subjected for decades to the cruel and unusual punishment of long-term solitary confinement, who are not a threat to public safety and, to the contrary, are much needed in their communities.
These men are particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, and thus immediate action under the Emergency Services California Act, Government Code section 8550, must be taken. In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used these powers to immediately reduce prison overcrowding in California (CCPOA v. Schwarzenegger (2008) 163 Cal. App. 4Th 802).
We demand this same power be asserted today. These men have been historically stigmatized and devalued by CDCr; therefore, priority attention at the highest level of government is critical.
As we know, COVID-19 poses the greatest risk of death to people such as the elder peacemakers named above and others 60 and older, and all people who are medically fragile.[i] Many of these men with and for whom we advocate, have compromised immune systems, chronic illnesses and complex medical needs.
Their serious medical conditions, including Post-SHU Syndrome,[ii] PTSD, asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, make them particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. These conditions were caused or exacerbated by decades of deplorable conditions, abuse, and medical neglect while confined within CDCr solitary chambers, the Security Housing Units (SHUs).
Throughout 2016, CDCr was forced to release approximately 2,000 prisoners from indefinite solitary confinement in the SHUs. This victory came as a result of the heroic efforts of the organizers from the Pelican Bay SHU and the 30,000 participants of the 2011 and 2013 California Prisoner Hunger Strikes.
These hunger strikes propelled the Ashker v. Brown litigation that eliminated indefinite solitary confinement. Ultimately CDCr, which for years had presented these men as “the worst of the worst,” was forced to admit that the strike organizers and over 2,000 others who had been held in solitary confinement for 11 years or more could be released from SHU without risk to public or institutional safety.
Because of the sacrifices those individuals made, countless others have been saved from going through decades-long solitary confinement torture as they did.
“Release the elders. We have to be mindful when talking about this corona virus in prison and how it affects us, that the prison population already has an issue with health and the lack of proper health care and treatment. The unsanitary living conditions in prison were already at an epic proportion and have been continuously deteriorating. With that being said, now we have this corona virus situation. And the elderly are at the highest risk.
“We need to look at the prisoners who they were supposed to start releasing in the first place after the Coleman Lawsuit and release them right now so they can be home with their families in a safe, non-genocidal environment, and where they won’t be affected or put other people at risk when they come up in here.
“We demand and we should demand that the elders be released on these terms. The 60 and over bill should be passed.”
— K.A.G.E. Universal Artivist, Ragee, from No Joke Theater at Lancaster State Prison
Since their release from SHU, these men have been promoting the Agreement to End Hostilities and alternatives to violence on the yards and throughout the prisons. They have been engaged in positive programming and mentoring the youth around them. Many are active in community-building and social justice work outside of the prison walls.
CDCr not only fails to recognize the huge contribution of these human rights activists, but has systematically retaliated against them and continues to undermine the Agreement to End Hostilities. CDCr’s use of confidential information that is often coerced and unreliable is one of several tactics being used to do so (see Prison Focus Issue 53, page 19 and PF Issue 56, page 9). Testimonies from incentivized informants result in manufactured rule violations used to impose loss of privileges and parole denials of one, three, seven or 15 years.
These are state-sanctioned policies being used to obstruct parole for those individuals that CDCr wishes to silence and/or retaliate against, and to undermine the Agreement to End Hostilities under the color of law. This is also how CDCr undermines decisions made by California voters and legislators with Propositions 57, 47 and 64; Senate Bills 260, 261, 394 and 1437; Assembly Bills 1308 and 1448; and other legislation passed to reduce California’s imprisoned population.
Among the elder peacemakers who need and deserve immediate release are James Baridi Williamson, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Ruchell Cinque Magee, Romaine Chip Fitzgerald, and Louis Powell.
One of the Principal Thinkers who is 61 years old, survived 32 years in solitary confinement and has been incarcerated since 1981 – who is known as a peacemaker on the yard and often referred to as the Nelson Mandela of the Prisoner Human Rights Movement – recently suffered a stroke and still has not been released. Keeping him in prison is a flagrant violation of AB 1448, which was voted into law to provide an opportunity for release to those who are 60 or older and who have served a minimum of 25 years of continuous incarceration, such as this individual and six of the other elders who signed the Agreement to End Hostilities and are still in prison. Statistically, the chance of these men reoffending is negligible. This is not an issue of public safety, but rather of power and politics.
Keeping him in prison is a flagrant violation of AB 1448, which was voted into law to provide an opportunity for release to those who are 60 or older and who have served a minimum of 25 years of continuous incarceration, such as this individual and six of the other elders who signed the Agreement to End Hostilities and are still in prison.
Deliberate indifference by CDCr—another act of retaliation—including medical neglect, often has resulted in repeated misdiagnosis (such as asthma rather than a hole in the heart) causing significant injury to individuals, both physically and mentally, from which many continue to suffer. Today, those same lasting ailments are reportedly being untreated due to delays within the prison medical Duckett system, caused by the virus.
In addition, many of those who participated in the 60-day hunger strikes of 2013 now have lasting medical conditions such as compromised kidney function. One organizer and signer of the AEH, Raymond ‘Chavo’ Perez, has already died – in prison – after surviving 18 years in solitary confinement, leaving behind his wife and family, who were never able to welcome him home.
Of the 15 surviving signers of the Agreement, the median age is 59, and the average time served is 33 years. Each one of these men spent no less than eleven years in solitary confinement. Not only has the torture not been acknowledged nor restitutions made, not one of these men has been granted parole, despite the fact that their parole eligibility dates are as follows: 1982, 1984, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2016. These men have few if any valid behavioral violations against them.
Thus, the people who are at the greatest risk for death from COVID-19, who have contributed to a dramatic reduction of violence within California prisons, who pose the least public safety risk to our communities, and have the most to offer MUST BE RELEASED.
The California Hunger Strikers and members of the Ashker class settlement have suffered enough while in the custody of CDCr. These individuals had their constitutional rights violated for many years under the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment. Their illegally enhanced sentences must not be allowed to become death sentences.
To this end, we present the following demand for actions to be taken immediately:
RELEASE all adults in CDCR custody who are medically fragile or over the age of 60, starting with the authors of the Agreement to End Hostilities and followed by the remaining members of the Ashker Class Action Settlement and participants of the 2011 and 2013 Hunger Strikes. Apply AB 1448, California’s Elderly Parole Program for release of prisoners aged 60 and older who have been in prison for at least 25 consecutive years, as intended.
PROTECT THE RIGHT for the signers of the Agreement to End Hostilities, the members of the Ashker Class Action, and all 2011 and 2013 hunger strikers to be safe from retaliation as a result of these demands, including further torture, isolation or, as laid out in the Prisoner Human Rights Movement Blueprint, from being coerced, threatened and blackmailed to betray fellow prisoners with false accusations.
Release to the public updates on the existing plan and procedures in place to address COVID-19 and how adequate care will be provided for all who fall under the Coleman and Ashker Class Action Settlements.
Expedite parole hearings and release all people who have anticipated release dates in 2020 and 2021 to parole supervision.
Provide free tablets within all CDCR institutions and facilitate email communication through Corrlinks services to support prisoners in the establishment and maintenance of family ties and bonds. This is needed to mitigate the closing of all visitations at CDCR institutions which adversely impacts family communication and bonds.
Support Nancy Skinner’s Senate Bill 1064, prohibiting an employee of, or private entity under contract with, the department from finding any state prisoner guilty of a rules violation if that finding or decision is based on, or relies on, in whole or in part, any uncorroborated information from an in-custody confidential informant.
Create transparency regarding the application of AB 1448, Prop 57 and other California resentencing laws so that they may be applied as intended.
Reduce jail admissions by reclassifying misdemeanor offenses that do not threaten public safety into non-jailable offenses and diverting as many people as possible to community- based mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Eliminate parole and probation revocations for technical violations for behaviors that would not warrant incarceration for people who are not on parole or probation.
Shut down immigration detention centers.
End police brutality, inside prisons and out.
Founding members of the Prisoner Human Rights Movement
These are the peacemakers, cherished leaders known as the “four main reps”: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa.
“We decided standing up together, asserting our humanity even at the cost of our own lives, was better than rotting and dying alone in our concrete tombs. Nonviolent united action was the only path that made sense … Our programs for the youth aim to break the cycle of violence. The programs we created show we are ‘the best of the best’ not ‘the worst of the worst.’”
– Solidarity statement from the four prisoner representatives, aka Principal Thinkers[iii]
“It’s only because of the Agreement to End Hostilities that I am now home, after 18 years. It’s because the agreement created a positive self-help environment where each group can now safely engage in the cultural exchange of materials, tools and ideas, in unity. It is because of these Principal Thinkers that there are no more mass race wars within California prisons, despite the false propaganda orchestrated by CDC small r, that these men are violent, dangerous, ongoing threats to public safety. We must liberate the elderly.”
– Min. King X of California Prison Focus and KAGE Universal, mentee of and outside delegate for the organizers of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes
“The Prisoner Human Rights Movement and friends are demanding that prisoners who have been held over 25 years and beyond be released in the interest of justice, especially the elderly and all ill prisoners who are clearly vulnerable and at risk of not only dying from the coronavirus or suffering from a civil death – where men and women are left to suffer indefinitely – which falls under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.” – PHRM activist
AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES August 12, 2012
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, that now is the time to 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 October 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 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 [i.e., forcing CDCR to open up all GP main lines, and return to a rehabilitative-type system of meaningful programs/privileges, including lifer conjugal visits, etc. via peaceful protest activity/noncooperation e.g., hunger strike, no labor, etc. etc.]. 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, OCS, and SSU’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 [i.e., 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/CCPOA – Prison Guard’s 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 [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg Units], for decades!!!
We send our love and respects to all those of like mind and heart… onward in struggle and solidarity…
Presented by the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective:
Danny Troxell, B76578, D1-120
George Franco, D46556, D4-217
Ronnie Yandell, V27927, D4-215
Paul Redd, B72683, D2-117
James Baridi Williamson, D-34288, D4-107
Alfred Sandoval, D61000, D4-214
Louis Powell, B59864, D2 – 117
Alex Yrigollen, H32421, D2-204
Gabriel Huerta, C80766, D3-222
Frank Clement, D07919, D3-116
Raymond Chavo Perez, K12922, D1-219
James Mario Perez, B48186, D3-124
*Please note:The list of signatories to the Agreement to End Hostilities has been copied verbatim from the original list. The cell numbers (e.g., D3-124) next to the Agreement drafters/signers’ names and CDCr #’s were part of their addresses in Pelican Bay State Prison SHU in August 2012 (not now).
These men, known as the “four main reps,” Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, conceived, planned and led the historic 2011-2013 California mass hunger strikes that drew 30,000 participants at their peak, according to CDCr’s own records.
Introduction by Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
What follows below is an update from the leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes against indefinite solitary confinement and other mistreatment across the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr), the world’s largest prison system. These “reps” had been in solitary for decades and sought to draw attention to their plight through a series of non-violent hunger strikes, two in 2011, the first drawing 6,600 participants statewide, the second 12,000, and a third in 2013 that drew 30,000 participants, the largest prison hunger strike in history.
In 2012 the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with several other prominent California prison rights attorneys and organizations, formed a team, partnered with a representative group of 10 Pelican Bay SHU prisoner plaintiffs and filed a lawsuit on May 31, 2012. The lawsuit, Ashker v. Brown, charged that California’s practice of indefinitely isolating prisoners in solitary confinement violated U.S. Constitution protections against “cruel and unusual punishment” and guaranteeing “due process.” In the same year, the four reps and several other SHU prisoner reps issued the Agreement to End Hostilities.
A third hunger strike began July 8, 2013, and ended 60 days later making solitary confinement a major issue across the United States. All major U.S. newspapers’ editorial pages had at least one condemnation of the practice in the weeks that followed. The third strike ended when the California State Senate and State Assembly committees overseeing prisons held unprecedented joint hearings that outlined promises of major change.
On Sept. 1, 2015, a landmark settlement was achieved in Ashker v. Brown ending indeterminate solitary confinement in California prisons and allowing the legal team to monitor the California prison system to ensure compliance. This month, February 2020, the four reps have issued this update on their situation.
by the ‘four main reps’: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (names listed in alphabetical order)
A shout out of solidarity and respect to all class members and prisoners across the state. As the four reps, we felt a public report on the current state of California prisons from prisoners was overdue.
As leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes that captured the attention of the nation and the world on the role of solitary confinement in United States prison systems, particularly California, we four prisoner reps became recognized as speaking both for the Ashker class, former Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, but also more broadly in many respects for the entire California prisoner class.
California’s prison system, the largest in the world at that time, was the also the greatest abuser of long term solitary confinement. We were housed in the Short Corridor of the notorious Pelican Bay Super Max SHU (Security Housing Unit) and, as all Short Corridor prisoners understood, the only way out of that isolating tortuous hell was to “parole, snitch or die.”
We decided standing up together, asserting our humanity even at the cost of our own lives, was better than rotting and dying alone in our concrete tombs. Nonviolent united action was the only path that made sense; our only avenue to act was a hunger strike. It took widespread unity, preparation and work among us prisoners, but also work on the outside by our families, friends and a growing list of supporters across the state and the country.
Without prisoners speaking about our conditions of confinement, the public narrative about imprisonment and mass incarceration is missing a critical voice – our voice, the incarcerated. We are the first-hand experts on the daily experience of being caged in prison generally and the trauma of extreme isolation.
All other experts collect data, do studies, view our experience without living it. Many, not all, are our oppressors. Their expertise is not about what incarceration is like, but why we and so many millions of people in the U.S. should be imprisoned. No voice has more expertise about the experience and impact of incarceration than the voice of prisoners.
No voice has more expertise about the experience and impact of incarceration than the voice of prisoners.
Here we make five points:
First. Prison in the United States is based on punishment, not rehabilitation. The United States has the largest prison population in the world and the highest percentage of a state’s population housed in cages. We are held in punishing ways that cause fear, emptiness, rage, depression and violence. Many of us are more damaged when we leave prison than when we entered.
According to the National Reentry Resource Center, a high percentage of state and federal prisoners will be released back into society. National statistics indicate that there is a high rate of released prisoners returning to prison. All of those who leave are older, some smarter, but all of us are less able to be productive in the society at large or good for our communities or our families. It is very hard for former prisoners to get jobs.
Prison presents an opportunity for society to rehabilitate or help people. Many of us could use support services. That opportunity is lost and buried by a vindictive ideology of punishment.
Rather than us being hypervigilant, concentrating on violence, dangers, our fears and rage, prison could be a place to engage our minds in useful jobs and job training, with classrooms for general learning, training in self-awareness and understanding, anti-addiction approaches. Instead, we are mostly just warehoused, sometimes in dangerous yards with angry, frightened, vicious guards.
California’s Gov. Newsom has the opportunity to help institute a massive prison reform movement.
Second. California likes to think of itself as a progressive national leader, yet in sentencing California is among the harshest in the nation. In California, a life term is given for second degree murder. Second degree murder is a non-premeditated killing. Only 17 states are that punishing. Two thirds of the states and the U.S. federal system give a flat 15 years.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that evolving standards of society’s decency should create a national consensus on sentencing standards. Our prison journeys begin in those courts. We four reps of the California prison class call for reform in sentencing. Massive money could be spent for education, training and jobs here and in our communities rather than on caging human beings to harm rather than help us or society.
Third. The trauma we experience in these overcrowded institutions with a culture of aggressive oppression, as if we are violent animals, is harmful and breeds violence. We prisoners should not join in our own oppression. It is not in the interest of the prison class to buy into promised rewards for lying on other prisoners.
The use of lying confidential informants is widespread and legendary in California prisons and jails. We see even among ourselves, who have great active lawyers ready to pay attention to our situations, just how regularly vicious retaliation, evil lying and disregard of our medical needs occurs. Broadly among the California prisoner class, there is mistreatment, horrid isolation, medical disregard, terrible food, cells that are too cold, too hot or too damp.
The history of positive social change demonstrates that when those who are oppressed stand together – as a group, a class – against that oppression, change can happen. Our own experience with eliminating endless solitary confinement in California proves that.
We need to stand with each other, behaving respectfully, demanding respect and not turning on our fellow prisoners for promises of crumbs. We four reps stand for major prison reform that helps us, not harms us, that betters society, not makes it worse.
California’s Gov. Newsom has the opportunity to help institute a massive prison reform movement.
Fourth. We four reps are for the principles we outlined in the Agreement to End Hostilities, the cessation of all hostilities between groups. We called on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes.
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. We encourage all prisoners to study the Agreement to End Hostilities and to try to live by those principles to seek your support to strive together for a safer prison environment.
We are not there yet. Dangerous cross-group hostility remains. What we experience in California prisons is not just developed in prison but is also widespread and supported in free society. Racial antagonisms, ghettoized housing, separation, institutionalized racism and promotion of beliefs of each other as less than human, as stupid, as criminal barbarians can cause us to fear and hate each other.
It does not serve us or society well. There are no easy ways to challenge these deep American divisions; forcing us together in joint yards, visiting rooms or classrooms will lead to violence and deepen the danger.
We four reps especially call out and stand against 50/50 yards. We oppose forced mixing of hostile groups where mortal enemies are forced together; 50/50 yards are dangerous and will make things much worse by causing fresh horrific encounters. No matter the policy’s intention, the state is responsible for our safety and wellbeing while we’re living under its jurisdiction.
We are entitled to respect and safety. We seek what we are entitled to. The 50/50 yards as a CDCr policy provokes violence. At this time, we endorse separate yards, separate programming and separate visiting.
We also call on California leadership, Gov. Newsom and the State Assembly and Senate to implement policies that encourage and grow support for the Agreement to End Hostilities that do not include 50/50 yards or forced interaction, but rather engage our minds and energy with productive jobs, education, training – major prison reform to a genuine rehabilitative system.
Fifth. The guard culture, especially in the yards, is vicious and provocative. Here where we live, the guards do not care about our safety. The guards get extra pay when there is violence; it is in their financial interest to promote it. Not surprisingly, guards regularly provoke disputes. Many enjoy the resulting violence.
California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the powerful guards’ union, is led by men who for the most part consider prisoners less than human. The CCPOA by their network and behavior supports the use of set ups, targeting, lying and isolation for random punishment. This intentionally causes widespread fear.
California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the powerful guards’ union, is led by men who for the most part consider prisoners less than human.
The CCPOA as one of the most politically influential organizations in California and holds many righteous political leaders hostage. The CCPOA members benefit with large overtime pay bonuses from violence and lockdowns.
Only if prison reform becomes a widespread demand of California voters can the influence of CCPOA be challenged. We need our families, friends and communities to build and extend our allies and develop strong support to vote for politicians who recognize our worth and are for widespread serious prison reform and an end to brutal warehousing that endangers society every day.
CDCR and California itself are legally responsible and accountable for prison conditions. Neglect does not free them of state institution responsibility for those in their “care.” The guards’ union should not be permitted to purchase power for abuse.
California citizens need to vote for prison rehabilitation as a priority: money for teachers, instructors, prisoner jobs instead of lockdown overtime and more guards.
Finally, we close with an update on our legal challenge. Our class action constitutional challenge to long-term solitary confinement was filed in May of 2012. We won a landmark settlement on Sept. 1, 2015, that resulted in thousands of people being released from SHUs across the state.
The settlement also gave us and our legal team the right and responsibility to monitor whether CDCr is following the requirements of the settlement for two years. That monitoring period was set to end in 2017, but in January 2019, U.S. Magistrate Judge Illman granted our motion to extend monitoring of the settlement agreement based on ongoing systemic constitutional violations in CDCR’s use of confidential information and in its reliance on past gang validations to deny parole.
Magistrate Judge Illman’s order extended our monitoring for 12 months. CDCr appealed and asked the court to suspend monitoring pending the appeal outcome. U.S. District Court Judge Wilken intervened and allowed us to continue monitoring pending any appeal outcomes.
When those who are oppressed stand together – as a group, a class – against that oppression, change can happen. Our own experience with eliminating endless solitary confinement in California proves that.
Our legal team has two pending appeals that CDCr has filed seeking to overturn the lower court orders in our favor. One appeal covers the extension of the monitoring as discussed above; the other covers enforcement of the settlement agreement regarding conditions of confinement in Level IV prisons and the RCGP (Restricted Custody General Population) unit.
As our legal team continues to monitor implementation of our settlement agreement, they are looking closely at how CDCR uses confidential information to place and keep validated and nonvalidated prisoners in Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation) and RCGP for long periods of time and sentence people to SHU for bogus RVRs (Rules Violation Reports). They are also trying to keep track of how validations continue to impact us, especially when we go before the parole board.
If you have any information about any of these issues, although they cannot respond to every letter, please write our team at: Anne Cappella, Attorney at Law, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, 201 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Fourth Floor, Redwood City, CA 94065.
In closing, we remind all of us prisoners and supporters that we are human beings who have a difficult shared experience. We have a right to our dignity, even inside these punishing walls. We present an opportunity to make society better rather than meaner.
We ask all prisoners to stand together, read and act within the principles of the Agreement to End Hostilities, whether you are in Ad Seg or RCGP or General Population, see yourselves as part of an international Prisoner Human Rights Movement.
We four prisoner reps send regards and recognition to each of you as fellow human beings who are entitled to fairness, dignity and respect. We send our respect to all our brothers and sisters incarcerated anywhere with hopes for genuine rehabilitative programming, jobs, education and training in this coming year.
We send our greetings to all the friends, family and communities from which we come, to all our allies in the general society, and we send our hopes for an understanding of the opportunity California has to again be a leader in reform to make the world a better place with so many of us who need help gathered together in state institutions.
We send extra love, support and attention to our Brother Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, who is experiencing challenging health issues. Our Brother Sitawa sends his extra love to all those prisoners, prisoners’ families and general supporters of the International Prisoner Human Rights Movement.
The authors requested the Agreement to End Hostilities be appended to their statement.
by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington and Nube Brown of the Liberate the Caged Voices Coalition
Peace and blessings, sisters and brothers!
Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa during a visit in Sept. 2019
There is a saying among the Muslim brothers: “Want for your brother what you want for yourself.” In the case of Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, principled thinker, leader, brother, son and community member, we want freedom for him.
Last year in July 2019, Malik was granted parole by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In July 2020 we want to see the Parole Board in the state of California grant our Brother Sitawa his freedom when he goes before the board after five previous denials and 39 years of captivity, 32 of those years spent in solitary confinement.
It is not just a plea based solely on Elder Sitawa’s physical health. He is of a particular class of politicized prisoners subjected to decades of the torture of solitary confinement seen only in California, with rare exceptions in other states such as the decades of solitary endured by the Angola 3 in Louisiana.
And yet, Sitawa remains a stellar example of what positive transformations a human being can undergo in the most inhumane environments. Sitawa inspires us!
Many people fail to recognize that Sitawa, along with three other strong and principled leaders of the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective, inspired 30,000 courageous prisoners, who, in their struggle for freedom from the torture of solitary confinement – or the threat of it – chose to shun violence and rather embrace a peaceful strategy in order to bring about much needed change in CDCr (California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation) by implementing the powerful tenets of the Agreement to End Hostilities, an agreement that holds today, despite non-cooperation by CDCr.
Rather than being systematically punished for his leadership and commitment to the community on both sides of the wall, Sitawa should be rewarded with freedom and the opportunity to thrive and empower the community from which he was taken and show the world he is undaunted in his quest for change and peace.
We cannot and will not remain silent while CDCr uses a “death by incarceration” tactic on Sitawa and numerous other elders and leaders trapped in state prisons all across the United States.
Sisters and brothers, we suggest strongly that this should be our battle cry in 2020 for all incarcerated elders. Sitawa is a human being who deserves and has earned not just a national show of support, but an international freedom campaign, and we plan on helping to lead the way! Will you help us?
We leave you all with a quote from Victor Frankl that we would like all of you to meditate on – with the hope that it resonates in your heart, mind and soul. Perhaps it will motivate you to join this Freedom Campaign today:
“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed … for what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform personal tragedy into a triumph.” – Victor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Washington Square Press, New York 1969
I, Malik, have faced the reality that being an outspoken New Afrikan man in Amerika means I must accept being despised and hated. How I respond to the hate is totally up to me! Today I choose a path of peace and love.
Activist Nube Brown says that love is the most powerful force in the universe. Let’s see if we can collectively tap into the power of love and encourage the state of California to FREE SITAWA in July 2020.
Meanwhile, as we organize the campaign and Brother Sitawa recovers from a stroke, please send him some love and funds, to Freedom Outreach, c/o Marie Levin for Sitawa, Fruitvale Station, P.O. Box 7359, Oakland CA 94601.
Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win! All Power to the People!
Keith “Malik” Washington is assistant editor of the Bay View, studying and preparing to serve as editor after his release in 2021. He is also co-founder and chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement, a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and an activist in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign. Visit his website at ComradeMalik.com. Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Malik” Washington, 34481-037, USP Pollock, P.O. Box 2099, Pollock LA 71467.
Nube Brown is a New Abolitionist and activist working with California Prison Focus and facilitator of Liberate the Caged Voices. She is actively co-leading the Free Sitawa! Campaign to promote the Prisoner Human Rights Movement and hosts Prison Focus Radio on KPOO 89.5 San Francisco and KPOO.com every Thursday 11:00 to noon. Nube is a proud member of the human race and seeks to dismantle the prison industrial slave complex and replace it with a transformative, healing justice paradigm. Connect with her at email@example.com.
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
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,
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, in 2017
Attn: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa
P.O. Box 7359
Oakland CA 94601
 Note: Original penal code 2600 prior to 1968, California prisoners suffered complete civil death which stripped prisoners of all civil rights.