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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Sitawa: Exiting solitary confinement – and the games CDCr plays

Published in the SF Bayview, December 29, 2016

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

It is very important that you all clearly understand the depth of human torture to which I was subjected for 30-plus years by CDCr and CCPOA.* The torture was directed at me and similarly situated women and men prisoners held in Cali­fornia’s solitary confinement locations throughout CDCr, with the approval and sanc­tioning of California governors, CDCr secretaries and directors, attorneys general, along with the California Legislature for the past 40 years.

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa hugs his sister, Marie Levin, for the first time in 31 years. For 31 years, he never felt a friendly touch. He says that as he hugged his sister, he thought of the 16 close family members he had lost during those years, including his mother, in 2014.

They have al­lowed for their own citizens – prisoners – to suffer horrible crimes with their systematic process of physically and mentally killing prisoners for de­cades, with no regard for human life.

I was placed in solitary confinement – the SHU – on May 15, 1985, on trumped-up, illegal and fabricated state documents by two leading CDCr lieutenants, Criminal Activity Coordinator (CAC) Lt. L.O. Thomas and Lt. Suzan Hubbard of North Block Housing (NBH) at San Quentin State Prison. Yes, these two leading lieutenants removed me from San Quentin general population, not for alleged criminal acts or rule violations, but for the politics of the revolutionary New Afrikan political organization and the beliefs and cultural views of the New Afrikan revolutionary leftist organization titled the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF).

I was targeted by CDCr prison officials at San Quentin during 1983 on up until I was removed from the gener­al population (GP) and housed in San Quentin’s Control Units within their solitary confinement housing building, North Housing Unit (NHU). The sole reason for my housing there was that I was educating all New Afrikan prisoners on San Quentin’s GP about our rich New Afrikan history behind California prison walls and across the United States.

I was teaching them that we as a people shall not be forced to deny ourselves the rights in the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution. Yes, I person­ally believe that every New Afrikan woman and man has the right to protest any CDCr Jim Crow or Black Code-type rules or laws which violate our human rights as a person or prisoner.

And so I was educating my people to our civil rights and human rights in the California prison system during the 1980s while I was within the GP. I continued to educate my people, the New Afrikan nation, when I was placed in solitary confinement from 1983 to Oct. 11, 2015. It was a tragedy for three decades – yes, 30-plus years I was forced to suffer all forms of torture and witness killings of human life at the hands of CDCr officials and staff for decades, aided and abetted by governors, stakeholders, the Legislature, CDCr directors and secretaries etc.

The New Afrikan Prisoner Government (NAPG) has suffered and endured the violent attacks upon our prisoner community for decades on all levels and functions at the hands of CDCr employees. We have a U.S. constitutional right to resist any form of tor­ture, repression and violations of both our human and civil rights.

I was placed in the SHU, not for alleged criminal acts or rule violations, but for the politics of the revolutionary New Afrikan political organization and the beliefs and cultural views of the New Afrikan revolutionary leftist organization titled the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF).

I shall not be found among the broken men and women! I shall live and die a warrior for our New Afrikan Nation and humanity!

After being transferred from CDCr’s solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay SHU to its Tehachipi SHU during the period of July 10-17, 2014, including a layover in the hellish Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation) unit at Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI), it would not take long before the CDCr officials at CCI (Tehachapi) would show their collective scheme to have me assassinated as the New Afrikan principal negotiator plaintiff in the Ashker v. Brown class action lawsuit.

During our peaceful protest by the solitary confinement prisoner class (SCPC) against Steps 3 and 4 of the CDCr-CCI Step Down Program (SDP), we collectively stopped participating in the dysfunctional SDP at CCI-Tehachapi Prison on May 11, 2015. This was because the SDP has been violating our SCPC liberty interest arising from the Due Process Clause itself, and CDCr had to stop its SDP from imposing stigmatizing classifications and concomitant behavior modification. I realize now that the SDP between 2012 and 2015 violated our constitutional rights, and it still does.

In an obviously sinister campaign to undermine the collective solidarity of our historic Agreement to End Hostilities, these officials tried to manipulate the other racial groups supporting the AEH to turn against me.

First, SHU Counselor Vanessa Ybarra went to one of our 16 Prisoner Human Rights Movement representatives, Gabriel Huerta, and tried to get him and other reps to turn against me, asking Huerta, “Why do you all let that Black inmate speak for you all during this boycott of the Step Down Program? My supervisors want to know.” Correctional Counselor II B. Snider, Capt. P. Matzen, Associate Warden J. Gutierrez, Chief Deputy Warden W. Sullivan, Chief Deputy Warden Grove and Warden Kim Holland are the supervisors she was referring to.

However, things did not go as planned because Brother Gabriel saw right through what this counselor and her supervisors were trying to do in creating a hostile, antagonistic atmosphere and consensus against me by my peers. First, Gabriel asked the counselor, “Who are you talking about?” Then the counselor replied, “Dewberry.” Dewberry is my given last name.

And Gabriel told that counselor, “Dewberry is one of the four principal negotiators who represent the Prisoner Human Rights Movement’s prisoner SHU class. And he is one of the main plaintiffs in the Ashker v. Brown class action lawsuit against CDCr, and he has been speaking on behalf of prisoners from 2010 to right now and he speaks for our best interests as our prin­cipal prisoner negotiator!” The counselor turned around and walked out of the sallyport area.

In an obviously sinister campaign to undermine the collective solidarity of our historic Agreement to End Hostilities, these officials tried to manipulate the other racial groups supporting the AEH to turn against me.

Next, the second attempt was by another SHU counselor from 4B building named Vaca, who approached the PHRM representative and other prisoners, then said, “You prisoners should go back to participating in the Step Down Program or all of you who are boycotting the SDP will not be released to the general population this year (2015) or next year (2016), all because you are listening to that Black prisoner.”

When Gabriel Huerta asked Vaca, “What Black prisoner are you referring to?” the counselor responded, “I’m talking about Dewberry. By the way, Huerta, since when do you Mexicans follow what this Black prisoner says?” The Rep refused to play into that old CDCr manipulation game and terminated the conversation by telling the counselor, “You can take me back to my cell,” and left.

This collage for an article in support of the hunger strike leaders shows Sitawa in 2012 and in 1988, when he was known as Ronnie Dewberry. – Photo: Adithya Sambamurthy, CIR

So neither of the attempts worked, because Brother Gabriel recognized what time it was. He summed it up in these words: “CDCr had been manipulating and playing us against each other in the past. They can’t do that any longer.”

This life-threatening CDCr campaign leading up to my release out of SHU in October 2015 would be followed by the unprofessional, illegal attitudes and actions by CDCr employees awaiting me as I entered the general population. It was necessary to understand their motives in their dealings with and around me.

Upon my preparing to allegedly be released to general population, I was notified on Aug. 11, 2015, that I would be attending my first Institutional Classification Committee (ICC) hearing in over 30 years which had any meaning. Let’s put this “ICC” into perspective as to why these ICC hearings now have merit for the solitary confinement prisoner class (SCPC).

We the SCPC had to take our struggle to the streets of this world by participating in three non-violent peaceful protests. In the first, commencing July 1, 2011, a total of 6,600 woman and men participated. And when CDCr failed to honor the agreements made to end it, we the SCPC were compelled to enter our second non-violent peaceful protest on Sept. 26, 2011, in which a total of 12,600 men and women participated across this state.

CDCr begged for us to discontinue our protest and allow for them to make the necessary interdepartmental major changes which would release the longest held SCPC first. The four principal negotiators – Brutha Sitawa, Arturo Castellanos, Todd Ashker and George Franco – along with our 16 Pri­soner Human Rights Movement (PHRM) representatives decided to suspend our protest in mid-October 2011 and allow for CDCr to show their good faith efforts to reform their illegal solitary confinement policies, laws and rules and place all 10,000 SCPC women and men onto a fully functional general population by Feb. 1, 2013.

We vowed to resume our protest to death or until CDCr negotiates with us in a real way. Yes, on Feb. 1, 2013, the four principal negotiators announced to our tormentors – CDCr, the governor, the Legislature, the attorney general and stakeholders – that we would resume our protest on July 8, 2013, being that CDCr wants to wage their war of attrition against me and similarly situated SCPC.

We the SCPC had to take our struggle to the streets of this world by participating in three non-violent peaceful protests.

On July 8, 2013, we entered into the largest hunger strike in prison history. Some 30,000 prisoners participated and our just cause forced Gov. Brown, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, all CDCr secretar­ies between 2010 and 2016 and their stakeholders, who all had the current data, to recognize the torturous conditions we SCPC had to endure for decades. I was one of thousands held at Pelican Bay, and I don’t want another woman, man or child to be forced to suffer what I went through. We SCPC observed and suffered the cruel and devasta­ting harm caused by CDCr.

On Aug. 11, 2015, I was approached by Building 8 Correctional Counselor I Vaca at approximately 8:25 a.m. at my cell door for the sole purpose of preparing my central files for possible release to a general population. Vaca informed me that I am the first solitary confinement prisoner class member whose case files he is currently reviewing and that I am scheduled to appear before a full ICC on Aug. 19, 2015.

Now, within a two-hour time period, this same counselor, Vaca, appeared at my cell door with a sinister smirk on his face suggesting that I could now appear before this ICC hearing “tomorrow,” Aug. 12, 2015.

Counselor Vaca was too enthusiastic for me to attend the earlier hearing, so I told Vaca, “I’ll stick to the original schedule date of Aug. 19, 2015,” instead of his suggested new schedule. This counselor was upset at me for sticking with the original ICC hearing date, which was very strange to me and it warranted me to reflect upon his previous misconduct of trying to manipulate and influence other California racial groups – Southern Mexican, White and Northern Mexican – to breach our Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH).

I was one of thousands held at Pelican Bay, and I don’t want another woman, man or child to be forced to suffer what I went through. We SCPC observed and suffered the cruel and devasta­ting harm caused by CDCr.

Vaca had personally tried to have a leading prisoner of each racial group to silence – assassinate – my voice of prisoner activism directed at CDCr and CCI (Teha­chapi) officials. These veteran prisoners did not fall for Vaca’s tactics of divide and conquer; they stayed true to our Agreement to End Hostilities.

Now, on Aug. 12, 2015, Hugo Pinell was set up by CDCr officials at New Folsom Prison and killed [by white prisoners]. CDCr delayed my scheduled hearing for over a month and during said time period, three special agents came to interview me about the murder of Mr. Pinell. These three special agents pulled me out of my Tehachapi Prison cage for an interview on Aug. 14, 2016, two days after the murder of Mr. Pinell.

These agents were dispatched by CDCr Secretary Jeffrey Beard and then Undersecretary Scott Kernan [now Secretary Kernan] to come and interview me and two other New Afrikan prisoners and others. The concern that was expressed to me was, how do I feel about the death of Mr. Pinell and would there be an all-out war between the two racial groups?

These are my thoughts in relation to Mr. Pinell’s assassination and my release to a general population: I had expressed to these three special agents, first and foremost, “Why did you all travel from another part of California to speak with me about a death that I have no facts on other than listening to the radio?” I told said agents, “I shall be engaging myself in pushing the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH). Mr. Pinell would not want for us to enter into a war conflict, especially after we signed the AEH back on Aug. 12, 2012.

[Photo in original article: Over the three years of hunger strikes, as the prisoners were making the ultimate sacrifice, risking their lives for freedom from the tortures of indefinite solitary confinement, supporters outside held an astounding variety of demonstrations to win the world’s support. One of the most successful and dramatic was Occupy 4 Prisoners that brought hundreds to the San Quentin gate on Feb. 2, 2012. CHP tried to prevent anyone from attending by prohibiting parking within a mile and harassing the demonstrators marching to the rally. Marie Levin, as usual, was a major speaker; her husband Randy is at her side. – Photo: Bill Hackwell]

“And we, the PHRM, must see that our historical document, the Agreement to End Hostilities, remains firm to our cause and objectives, which are to radically change CDCr’s behavior directed at the Solitary Confinement Prisoner Class, and those of us who have been released to the general population are responsible for enforcing our AEH here behind the walls of California prisons and jails and to curb all community violence across this state outside of prison.

“You agents wasted a trip to come and speak with me. So, when you go back to report on my pro-AEH comments concerning Mr. Pinell’s murder, let your superiors – that is, Gov. Brown, CDCr Secretary Beard, Undersecretary Kernan and the chief of the Office of Correctional Safety (OCS) – know I shall request that you, CDCr, allow for us to be re­leased to the general population forthwith. For we have been held illegally for the past one to 40 years.”

These three special agents never did answer my question as to why did they travel from the state capital to the mountain of Tehachapi Prison to speak with me prior to my being released to the general population. It became a concern to me, be­cause I know that CDCr did not condone our AEH historical collective solidarity document and its objectives. This raised some serious questions in my mind as to why these government officials would direct these agents to interview me. A question they refused to answer.

As you all can imagine, I was suspicious at best about whether I could expect any good faith from CDCr supervisors, officials or staffers upon my release from Tehachapi Prison solitary confinement housing, head­ing toward Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP).

On Oct. 13, 2015, I arrived at SVSP receiving and release (R&R), and upon my exiting the CDCr transportation bus and entering the R&R, I was met by three Institution Gang Investigators (IGI), the welcoming crew awaiting me. I was then es­corted into a property storage room where it was only the four of us.

Now, these three IGI officers wanted to know my state of mind as it related to the assassi­nation of Mr. Hugo “Yogi” Pinell. I simply informed them that I will be pushing the AEH when I’m allowed to be released to the yard with all racial groups and especially with all of my New Afrikan Prisoner Government (NAPG) and ex­plain to all people the importance of the AEH and that I personally signed off on that historical document. Yes, the IGI made their usual threats.

Now, within the next 10 days, I was allowed to attend the exercising yard, where all of the Afrikan tribes embraced me as their own Big Brutha! As in all situations, I went into my political prisoner activism mode in changing this modified general population prison into an actual functional general population.

There is minimal change. The CCPOA (prison guards) have been doing everything in their power to stop, delay or hinder and obstruct prisoners from being afforded work assignments and real educational opportunity. We are denied full exercising yard hours, vocational trades, the same dayroom time as other 180-design prisoners.

Correctional officers and sergeants continue verbal harassment with their Green Wall attitudes. It is clear that the above-mentioned CDCr employees have an ingrained dislike for all prisoners who are being released from California solitary confinement (SHU) chambers to CDCr modified general populations.

There is minimal change. The CCPOA (prison guards) have been doing everything in their power to stop, delay or hinder and obstruct prisoners from being afforded work assignments and real educational opportunity.

Now, just consider having to be faced with the above matters being denied to me and similarly situated prisoners, while preparing to have my first contact visit with my family in 30 years. Yes, I was compelled to close the lid on the jar and withhold all of this corruption and wrongdoing from my family.

Photo of Sitawa, Marie Levin, Randy her husband, 2016

Sitawa received his first contact visit from his sister Marie and her husband Randy, here on another visit, 2016

Upon my first visit to see my Queen, my sister, Marie A. Levin, and her husband, Randy Levin, my sister Marie left home in such a rush to come see me that she left her California ID at home, and I was unable to see her that Saturday, but I did have the opportunity to have a conversation with my brother-in-law. It was a great time for the two of us. Now, the following day, Sunday, I was able to see Marie and Randy together, without that thick shield of plexiglas between us.

Now, for the first time in my imprisonment, I was somewhat shaken to the inner core of this New Afrikan revolutionary nationalist man by a simple hug from my young­er sister, Queen Marie, during our October 2015 visit. A hug should be a natural form of affection between a brother and sister. However, while my sister was squeezing me so tightly, all I could think about during those moments was of the family members who died, and I will never be able to hug or speak with them again.

They include:

1) Stella, my cousin, who died in 1989;
2) Leon, my big brother, who died in 1991;
3) Steven, my nephew, 1994;
4) Morris, my uncle, 1994;
5) Tanner Birk, my uncle, 1995;
6) Tutter, my aunt, 1995;
7) Lonnie, my uncle, 1995;
8) Hillard Jr., my uncle, 1997;
9) Ardis, my cousin, 1997;
10) Ardis Sr., my uncle, 2002;
11) Bobbie Dean, my cousin, 2004;
12) Clifton, my uncle, 2009;
13) James “Ba-ba,” my cousin, 2009;
14) Carol, my big sister, 2010;
15) Nathan, my cousin, 2010; and
16) Queen Mama, lost April 28, 2014.

Another rally that not only garnered support from outside but raised spirits inside was at Corcoran Prison in the Central Valley on July 13, 2013, during the last hunger strike, where the prisoners were suffering the summertime heat combined with gnawing hunger. On a “solidarity fence,” notes composed of quotes from some of the leading strikers were pinned to a fence to inspire the demonstrators. This is a quote from Sitawa.

Each one of them was denied the right and opportunity to physically touch me for over 30 years illegally, due to my political and cultural beliefs – three decades for a “thought crime,” which did not exist. Yet, my family members who have died never having had the opportunity to sit and touch me for decades, because CDC and CDCr chose to make attempts at destroying me physically and psychologically for no other purpose than to break my mind and spirit and those of similarly situated prisoners held within CDCr’s solitary confinement – Ad Seg, SHU etc.!

This is just a window into what we prisoners had to suffer for decades by order of our tormentors – CDCr – and it continues to this day within the realm of CDCr modified general population. Our struggle for justice, equality and human rights continues.

We need the support of all people in California and the world to stop the in­justice we suffer at the hands of CDCr officials and especially by the CCPOA and their ilk.

I would be extremely irresponsible if I didn’t seek the support of my New Afrikan people – for example, Marie “FREE” Wright, Erykah Badu, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Hansen, John Legend, Beyonce Knowles Carter, Dominique DiPrima, Shauntae “DaBrat” Harris, Azadeh Zohrabi, Common, Gabrielle Union, Chrissy Teigen, Alicia Keyes, Lupita Nyong’o, Sanaa Hamri, Kellita Smith, Snoop Dogg, Serena Williams, Jamie Foxx, Janelle Nonee’, Sanaa Lathan, Dana “Queen Latifa” Owens, Keisha Cole, Danny Glover, Yolanda “YoYo” Whitaker, Maya Harrison, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Belafonte, Tatyana Ali, Tyress Gibson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett, Bryan “Baby” Williams, Shaun “Jay Z” Carter, and all sista and brutha entertainers across Oakland, the Bay Area and the country.

Yes, our New Afrikan Lives Matter here behind the enemy lines of California’s unjust prison system. On behalf of our New Afrikan prisoner community, I pray that you will show your support for our freedom campaigns and whatever you all can donate shall be greatly appreciated. Please send your donations to FREEDOM OUTREACH, P.O. Box 7359, Oakland, CA 94601-3023 or contact Maria Levin at levin1marie@gmail.com.

Send our brother some love and light: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, s/n R.N. Dewberry, C-35671, Salinas Valley State Prison C1-118, P.O. Box 1050, Soledad, CA 93960-1050, www.Sitawa.org.

*CDCr stands for the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation – the last word uncapitalized by many prisoners to signify how little rehab exists. CCPOA – California Correctional Peace Officers Association – is the guards’ union, which exerts great influence within CDCr and on state policy and legislation.

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