[Ppnews] Press Release - Hugo Pinell Denied Parole

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 17 17:23:17 EST 2006


by Gordon Kaupp, Esq. with Kiilu Nyasha

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Board 
of Parole Hearing, for the 8th time, denied Hugo L,A. Pinell parole 
at a hearing held Tuesday, November 14, at supermax Pelican Bay State 
Prison, Crescent City.

Apparently, 42 years in California prisons, the last 36 in solitary 
confinement, including 16 in the windowless, hi-tech SHU (Security 
Housing Unit) with sensory deprivation in the extreme, was not enough 
retribution against Hugo Pinell, nicknamed Yogi Bear.  They gave him two more.

Since Hugo has had a clean record, no 115s, (rule infractions) for 24 
years and his last crime was committed 35 years ago, it was a almost 
purely a political decision.

Hugo was part of the Black Movement formed in resistance to the 
deplorable conditions and unspeakable brutality that was exacted on 
prisoners, especially Blacks, in the 1960s and 70s.  Born in 
Nicaragua, Hugo also resisted the Mexican/Latino segregation of 
Blacks.  i.e., he broke ranks, identifying as Black instead of 
"Latino."  That made him even more of a target and a bilingual threat.

It is indisputable that it was the prisoners' Movement led by George 
Jackson and W. L. Nolen, which brought attention to the appalling 
conditions and eventually Congressional oversight and overhaul of the 
California prison system. (See The Melancholy History of Soledad 
Prison, by Min S. Yee.)

The mandated changes that grew out of that struggle serve as an open 
and undeniable acknowledgment of just how bad it was and how 
necessary the resistance.  Although it's difficult to imagine worse 
conditions than those in today's 5000 prisons and jails across the 
country, most  grossly overcrowded -- yesterday's filthy dungeons, 
literal "holes," virulent hatred from racist guards and prisoners 
alike, officially sanctioned brutality, torture, and murder comprised 
more horrific conditions 40 years ago.

The stance Hugo Pinell took resulted in prolonged torture and 
isolation, plus a long record of 115s. E.g., Hugo often intervened 
physically when another prisoner was being beaten, getting beat up 
himself and thrown in the hole. Almost any Black person who has 
suffered guard or police assault knows that when the brutality stops, 
it's the victim who gets the charges or write-ups for assault, not 
the official aggressor.

At one point in the turbulent 60s, the Movement organized a hunger 
strike which lasted eight days.  Hugo's file reflects eight 115s, one 
for each day and that was used against him at the hearing!

During the hearing, the Commissioners virtually ignored his 24 years 
of clean time, and tallied his 115s, counting well over 
100.  Although Hugo has not gotten a violation since 1982, the Board 
found a way to hold that against him too.  Commissioner Shelton said 
something like, "when I see a man as violent as you and I see that 
you have not had a 115 for 24 years it makes me wonder, and it 
reminds me of a story I once heard.  At a parole board hearing of an 
inmate who had received many 115s early on but hadn't received any in 
a long time, a commissioner asked him how he was able to stay out of 
trouble.  The inmate told the Board, 'It's because I'm the shot 
caller on the yard and I can get anyone to take the fall for 
me.'"  That story is  incredible for several reasons: that a prisoner 
would even say such a thing; the fact that Hugo is never on the yard; 
and SHU prisoners are completely isolated, no phone calls, censored 
mail, restricted, monitored, no-contact visits.

What's more, the Board violated Hugo's right not to discuss or admit 
to the crimes for which he was convicted.  An in-depth look at Hugo's 
convictions reveals serious questions of reliability of evidence and 
basic fairness in the trials.  Except for the original case that 
landed him in prison, all of Hugo's subsequent convictions were for 
acts against prison guards, reflecting the historic struggle referred 
to above. Nevertheless, one Commissioner did hold his denial against 
him and berated him for it, saying, "and you continue to show no 
remorse and you even deny doing those things."  What good is the 
right not to admit to something, if your lack of remorse (for 
something you didn't do) can be used against you?

I'm reminded of the case of Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) who spent 27 
years in California prisons convicted of a murder for which he was 
ultimately exonerated.  He faced the same reason for being repeatedly 
denied parole -- his refusal to show remorse for a crime he didn't 
commit.  Similarly, Hugo's denial of guilt and lack of remorse was 
used against him, a clear violation of his rights under Cal. Penal 
Code Sec. 5011.

One of the requirements for parole is community support upon 
release.  Forty letters from teachers, professors, human rights 
advocates, social workers, friends, family, and even the Public 
Defender, Jeff Adachi, offering Hugo San Francisco's new reentry 
program upon parole, were discounted and scorned by the Commissioners.

Another point the Board used against Hugo was his unwillingness to 
"program."  Insistence on programming in reality is about domination 
and submission, since the extremely limited "programs" they provide 
do not produce truly marketable skills.  SHU prisoners don't even 
have access to the programs available to mainline prisoners. They can 
only take certain correspondence courses or read self-help books to 
demonstrate their compliance.

Hugo's lack of submission to the system's programming has to do with 
his own program of survival under conditions designed to produce 
insanity.  The supermax SHU is itself a human rights violation.  The 
United Nations and Amnesty International assert that the conditions 
of the SHU are inhumane and in violation of the international 
conventions on the treatment of prisoners.  Psychiatrists in the 
field of prison mental health have documented through dozens of 
studies since the 1970s that SHU conditions -- 23-24 hours a day in 
small cells with no natural light, no windows, no view outside their 
cells, no contact visits, prolonged isolation -- are always 
harmful.  One such expert, Dr. Terry Kupers, author of "Prison 
Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do 
About It," evaluated Hugo's mental health in 2004, and concluded that 
he is nothing short of amazing.  Hugo has been able to maintain his 
sanity through a strict regimen of vegetarian diet, exercise, 
prolific writing to relatives and friends, and other forms of self 
care.  This is a full time effort to be sure, and the result is that 
Hugo remains compassionate, mentally and physically healthy and alive 
against all odds.  It's even more remarkable considering that in 
2005, a record 44 prisoners killed themselves in California prisons; 
70% of the suicides were in segregated units.  In a national study of 
401 suicides in one year, 1986, two out of every three people who 
killed themselves were in control units. (Hayes and Rowan 1988).

In summary, this Parole Board Hearing was anything but fair and 
impartial.  We sit in a room in the SHU with the Commissioners facing 
Hugo and I (his attorney), three guards behind us and Hugo chained 
hands to waist, feet to waist.  Openly hostile, the commissioners 
recounted the history of 115s, alleged attacks on guards over 35 
years ago, with SHU guards looking at us, looking at them. It's 
unfair because the commitment offenses cannot change; only the 
prisoner can change.

Despite their unfairness, despite their violation of his rights, 
despite their refusal to display humaneness or common sense, and 
despite their utter rudeness and obvious contempt for Hugo, I must 
say my client remained strong and upbeat.  I felt proud of him.

We were all but sure that they wouldn't grant him parole before going 
into the hearing, but we knew that we had to make a good record so 
that we could move into the second stage of the strategy to get Hugo 
Pinell out of SHU, out of prison.

We intend to file a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with an 
outside court to appeal the Board's denial.  We are announcing our 
search and need for a law firm with the resources to represent 
Hugo.  If you know any law offices or friends in firms please ask 
them if they would be willing to take the case and to call or write 
me, his attorney, Gordon Kaupp, 115 1/2 Bartlett Street, San 
Francisco, Ca. 94110, (415) 285 8091.  For more information on Yogi, 
go to <http://www.hugopinell.org>www.hugopinell.org.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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