[Ppnews] Prisoners in solitary petition United Nations: ‘CDCR destroys our minds, souls and spirits’

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 23 16:57:06 EDT 2012

Prisoners in solitary petition United Nations: 
‘CDCR destroys our minds, souls and spirits’

March 21, 2012

by Mary Ratcliff

Comparing their conditions to a “living coffin,” 
400 California prisoners held in long-term or 
indefinite solitary confinement petitioned the 
United Nations Tuesday to intervene on behalf of 
all of the more than 4,000 prisoners similarly situated.

“California holds more prisoners in solitary 
confinement than any other state in the United 
States or any other nation on earth. The 
treatment of these prisoners is barbaric and, 
numerous experts agree, amounts to torture.” 
Peter Schey, who heads the Center for Human 
Rights and Constitutional Law, is lead counsel 
for the prisoners who have “joined together to 
petition the United Nations to intervene by 
conducting on-site investigations, permitting Red 
Cross visits, and ultimately ruling that 
California’s policy on isolated segregation 
amounts to torture and violates well-established 
international human rights norms.”

The petition, released at a press conference in 
Los Angeles Tuesday, calls for U.N. action 
against California’s prison administration and 
deplores the conditions of thousands of 
California prisoners Schey says are “being 
detained in isolated segregated units for 
indefinite periods or determinate periods of many 
years solely because they have been identified as 
members of gangs or found to have associated with 
a gang.” “The policy that has resulted in their 
prolonged detention does not require that they 
have actually engaged in any misconduct or 
illegal activity, or that they even planned to” do so, explains the petition.

The 400 petitioners are held in 23-hour-a-day 
lockdown in California’s Security Housing Units 
(SHUs) and Administrative Segregation Units (ASUs 
or AdSeg) that “destroy their mental and physical 
health and destroy them spiritually. They live 
like prisoners held in a gulag, not a modern 
democracy,” states Schey. The prisoners have been 
joined in their petition by a coalition of state and national advocacy groups.

“Conditions inside California’s SHUs and ASUs 
were at the center of two massive waves of hunger 
strikes last summer and fall that saw the 
participation of thousands of prisoners in at 
least a third of California’s 33 prisons. A key 
demand of the strikes was the abolition of the 
California prison system’s draconian gang 
validation and debriefing processes, behind which 
a vast majority of prisoners in SHUs and ASUs 
have been held in solitary confinement,” says 
Isaac Ontiveros, spokesman for Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.

“I am being persecuted for exercising my First 
Amendment rights to protest the inhumane 
treatment and torture being applied directly 
against myself and similar situated prisoners 
held in CDCR (California Department of 
Corrections and Rehabilitation) torture chambers 
– SHU and AdSeg solitary confinement units. What 
my fellow CDCR prisoners don’t know is that CDCR 
has malicious intent to destroy the minds, souls 
and spirits of 4,000-plus prisoners by any means 
necessary,” writes Mutope Duguma, s/n James 
Darren Crawford, a frequent contributor to the 
Bay View and a leading hunger strike organizer 
housed in the SHU at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison.

His testimony is among those of 22 lead 
petitioners who provided extensive information on 
how they came to be placed in isolation and the 
toll it has taken. A total of 400 prisoners 
representing many races and prisons signed on to the petition.

“I have been housed in the SHU since July 1987. I 
have seen fellow prisoners murdered by 
correctional officers, mentally ill prisoners 
abused, I have seen men psychologically break 
down, cry, scream and go insane. I have been 
beaten by correctional officers, threatened and 
set up. I was told by a correctional officer at 
Pelican Bay State Prison that I would die here 
one way or another, and every day I meditate to 
keep control. The SHU is a soul sucking, 
mind-bending torture that murders all humanity in 
any human being. Some die quicker than others 
but we all die inside,” writes Alfred Sandoval, 
also a leading hunger strike organizer at Pelican Bay.

“As a result of the policies and practices that 
leave California with the largest population of 
prisoners in isolated segregation anywhere in the 
world, these prisoners suffer extreme mental and 
physical harm, including mental breakdowns, 
extreme depression, suicidal ideation, and breaks 
with reality, such that their treatment may be 
considered torture or degrading treatment illegal 
under well-established international norms and 
obligations of the United States and the state of 
California under, inter alia, the United Nations 
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, 
Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 
(CAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and 
Political Rights (ICCPR),” the petition states.

Alma Espinosa, whose brother in confined in the 
Corcoran State Prison ASU, was one of the 
prisoners’ family members and supporters who 
spoke to reporters at the Tuesday morning press 
conference: “I got involved when my brother asked 
me to help him and the others. In essence, the 
SHU, ASU, it’s a horrible, dehumanizing place. 
Four walls become your world, sunlight is rare, 
healthcare is rare, visits are only through 
glass, and inmates spend years and years in solitary confinement.”

Espinosa’s brother was in a neighboring cell to 
that of Christian Gomez, the first know martyr of 
the 2011 series of hunger strikes aimed 
ultimately at ending the torture of solitary 
confinement. At one point last fall, 12,000 
prisoners were simultaneously on hunger strike, 
many losing 30-40 pounds. Defying his duty to 
safeguard prisoners’ health, a captain at 
Calipatria, a prison in the Mojave Desert where 
the temperature in the cells often reaches 120 
degrees, cut off all water to the hunger striking prisoners.

“Inmates are human beings!” Espinosa cried out. 
“They made mistakes, but this punishment is 
beyond acceptable. Please, United Nations, help 
us tell the state of California and the United 
States that this is unacceptable, a violation of 
human rights.” The petition names as responding 
parties the United States of America, the State 
of California, California Gov. Jerry Brown and 
California Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matthew Cate.

For the love of my husband: How the historic U.N. petition was born

Organizing and emceeing the press conference was 
the culmination of eight months of work with 
Peter Schey and the Center for Human Rights by 
Kendra Castaneda. Her husband is one of the lead 
petitioners. “Not only have I been assisting 
Peter Schey, but my husband is being tortured in 
segregation by the California Department of 
Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was validated 
as a prison gang associate with fabricated 
‘evidence.’ He has done nothing to harm another, 
yet our little girl and I have been denied visits with him for a year.

“I can relate to what other family members are 
going through every day. At the press conference, 
Dolores Canales, with a son at Pelican Bay State 
Prison, Theresa Amen, with a son at Pelican Bay, 
Alma Espinosa, with a brother at Corcoran State 
Prison – they all spoke courageously from their 
hearts on the steps of the Ronald Reagan State 
Building to say that their loved ones along with 
thousands of other men in SHU, AdSeg and ASU 
throughout California need the United Nations’ help!

“During the July 2011 hunger strike led by 
prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU,” says 
Castaneda, describing the genesis of the U.N. 
petition, “I contacted many reporters and law 
offices to show I had legal documentation that 
CDCR was lying by labeling segregated prisoners 
the ‘worst of the worst’ with their prison gang 
validation. I needed someone to hear me and help 
my husband and all the other men inside suffering.

“I had sent my husband’s legal documentation to a 
reporter who had written a good piece on the 
hunger strike. Without my knowledge, this 
reporter saw what I was talking about and 
forwarded my documents to Peter Schey, president 
and executive director of the Center for Human 
Rights and Constitutional Law. Peter Schey called 
me and heard me out about the many men throughout 
the state in solitary confinement that CDCR was trying to hide.

“When he told me his idea of filing a petition to 
the U.N. on behalf of prisoners in segregation 
throughout the state, I remember him asking me, 
‘Can you get ahold of at least three different 
men from three different prisons?’ I laughed a 
bit and said, ‘There are hundreds more men. If I 
get more to contact you, will that be OK?” and he 
replied, ‘If you are able, then yes.’

“Peter thought of taking only those inmates with 
a known family member contact, making it easier 
to stay in touch with them. I explained that the 
majority of these men do not have families 
anymore, and I told him if I needed to be the one 
to write them, then I would in order for them to 
be able to participate in this petition he was 
thinking of. That’s how it all started.

“Many families started writing their loved ones 
at all different California prisons to get on 
board. As I began writing to hundreds of men 
throughout the state, my heart grew. Out of 
compassion especially for those who had no one, I 
befriended them with a card or short letter to 
let them know they were not forgotten.

“I tried to reply to every letter, as my 
responsibilities at the office grew and I tried 
to keep up. I input data, helped Peter Schey 
contact organizations to join the petition, and 
stayed in close contact with prisoners’ families. 
Most important to me was keeping in touch with 
the men inside. It’s one thing to send them a 
questionnaire to fill out with their untold 
stories of abuse and mental and medical issues, 
but it’s another thing to explain to each one why 
he as a person is important, explaining this was 
his decision to open up and if he didn’t want to, 
then he would still be included.

“I showed the men they could trust me with 
information they had never told anyone, not 
wanting to appear weak. Many opened up, sharing 
their deepest thoughts and the horrors of abuse. 
I had to read their statements one by one as I entered them into the database.

“It was not easy. Reading what my husband was 
going through was hard enough, but after reading 
over 400 testimonies, I felt as if I had stepped 
in their shoes. I heard their cries for help, and 
when we needed their legal documents, I told them 
that if they sent their only copy, we would copy 
and return it. It was a process, but we did that. 
The prisoners saw they could trust us, and 
hundreds of legal documents rolled in.

“The process of choosing the 22 lead petitioners 
was not easy. It was based on whoever fully 
filled out our questionnaire asking about their 
mental and physical health, legal actions, food 
quantities and so forth. Deciding we wanted a 
range of durations in segregation, we chose 
prisoners who had been held from one year all the way up to 39 years.

“The lead petitioners also represent a range of 
mental and medical conditions, lower level to 
extremely serious crimes, life sentences to those 
who are about to be released, ‘gang validation’ 
by a variety of illegal practices by CDCR and a 
racial balance. I’d edit the 22 statements and 
mail them back for review, and finally the petition was ready.

“I was honored that Peter Schey trusted me to 
speak with other attorneys and organizations on 
his behalf and to set up the press conference, 
assigning me as the media contact person. Peter 
respects me and all the family members as 
prisoner human rights advocates. He invited the 
families to make comments and suggestions on the 
draft questionnaire and involved them in the 
process of developing and drafting the U.N. 
petition draft. I must note that without the 
families’ involvement, the petition may have 
never taken off – they have been such a big help in all of this.”

Jean Casella and James Ridgeway of Solitary Watch 
observe, “The petition itself is a notable 
document for anyone concerned with solitary 
confinement in the United States. It runs to 63 
pages and includes case studies of each of the 
named plaintiffs, along with extensive discussion 
and documentation of how their confinement 
violates both U.S. and international law.”

The petitioners accuse California’s prisons of 
subjecting inmates to “cruel, degrading and 
extreme punishment prohibited by international 
human rights norms and obligations of the United 
States of America, including the State of 
California.” It describes their conditions as follows:

“[N]ot only do California prisoners face cruel 
and dehumanizing long-term and indefinite 
confinement in small concrete cells with no 
windows, no natural light and no furniture, they 
also endure frequent episodes of cruelty by 
guards, inadequate medical care, entirely 
inadequate mental health services, inadequate 
access to the outdoors and sunshine, inadequate 
food, inadequate access to legal counsel, 
inadequate visitation with friends and family and 
no opportunities to work or engage in productive 
activities of any type. They are effectively 
locked in a concrete small space that becomes a 
‘living coffin’ in which many have been confined for many years, even decades.”

The U.N. Committee against Torture established 
under the Convention against Torture has 
recommended that the practice of placing 
prisoners in isolation be abolished altogether. 
Ending each round of last year’s hunger strike, 
the California Department of Corrections and 
Rehabilitation promised to make substantial 
changes to its gang validation and debriefing criteria.

But initial responses from hunger strike leaders 
to a new gang management strategy proposed by 
CDCR on March 1 and made public March 9 soundly 
reject it as a ploy to place far more prisoners 
in segregation. They see the strategy as a means 
to offset the layoffs and budget reductions 
expected to follow a federal court order to 
reduce prison overcrowding, saying that housing 
prisoners in segregation costs about twice as 
much as housing them in “general population.”

The organizers of last year’s hunger strike are 
seriously considering a resumption of the strike 
this summer. Advocates hope that the U.N. 
petition will stimulate a strong enough public 
outcry to prompt CDCR to meet the hunger 
strikers’ demands. A day after its release, the 
petition has already generated 73 stories in major newspapers.

Statements of the 22 lead petitioners

1. “I’ve been in prison for 16 years, most of 
which has been spent in segregation hell. Every 
single moment I’ve spent in these torture 
chambers has chipped away my humanity. Prison 
life is hard enough. When you segregate a man and 
treat him worse than you would treat an animal, 
you not only break his spirit but you slowly 
crush his soul.” – Walter J. Coto, J-88438. He 
spent the last three years in “temporary” 
segregation at Calipatria State Prison ASU until 
his recent transfer to the Corcoran State Prison SHU.

2. “I’ve been in the SHU for over 25 years – 21½ 
years in Pelican Bay State Prison SHU, wherein 
each minute has been torturous to my mind and 
body! I’m permanently disabled and suffer chronic 
pain to the point of sleep deprivation and harm 
to all daily activities. I’ve been eligible for a 
parole date since 2004. I’ve had no human contact 
with loved ones in over 25 years. I’m told if I 
wanted adequate medical care, a chance at parole, 
a hug by family, then I must become a known 
informant against others for the state – 
otherwise, I will be tortured here until insanity 
or death!” – Todd Ashker, C-58191, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

3. “I have been in segregation for years and it 
feels like torture. Each day that goes by this 
isolation tries to break our spirit and humanity. 
I have not been put in segregation for 
disciplinary reasons. If you look into CDCR 
records for the last five to 10 years, it will 
prove that CDCR validates hundreds of inmates for 
no disciplinary reason. This shows hundreds of 
inmates are being tortured mentally and 
emotionally without cause.” – Christopher Flores, 
G-48073, California Correctional Institution SHU

4. “I have been housed in the SHU since July 
1987. I have seen fellow prisoners murdered by 
correctional officers, mentally ill prisoners 
abused, I have seen men psychologically break 
down, cry, scream and go insane. I have been 
beaten by correctional officers, threatened and 
set up. I was told by a correctional officer at 
Pelican Bay State Prison that I would die here 
one way or another, and every day I meditate to 
keep control. The SHU is a soul sucking, 
mind-bending torture that murders all humanity in 
any human being. Some die quicker than others 
but we all die inside.” – Alfred Sandoval, 
D-61000, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

5. “I am being persecuted for exercising my First 
Amendment rights to protest the inhumane 
treatment and torture being applied directly 
against myself and similar situated prisoners 
held in CDCR (California Department of 
Corrections and Rehabilitation) torture chambers 
– SHU and AdSeg solitary confinement units. What 
my fellow CDCR prisoners don’t know is that CDCR 
has malicious intent to destroy the minds, souls 
and spirits of 3,000-plus prisoners by any means 
necessary.” – Political Prisoner Mutope Duguma, 
s/n James Darren Crawford, D-05996, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

6. “For 16 years, I’ve been held in isolation 
solely because of who I am. Every moment of those 
16 years, my captors and the dehumanizing 
conditions of the SHU have psychologically 
tormented me. I struggle every day to hold onto 
my sanity and humanity, for I am a man. I am a 
man being tortured, dehumanized and 
psychologically tormented, but a human being 
nonetheless, praying that the world finally hears 
the cries of the tormented souls trapped inside 
the SHU.” – Javier A. Zubiate, J-83189, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

7. “I have been in the SHU for the past 11 years 
and counting solely based on my political 
ideology of New Afrikan revolutionary national 
scientific socialism. Though I did suffer slight 
bi-polar prior to SHU, only 40 days in isolation 
I began having auditory and visual hallucinations 
requiring medication and a greater level of 
psychological care. This torture without end has 
damaged my joints and legs to the degree that my 
normal function is diminished, and I no longer 
view any great distinction between death and my 
current existence. Struggle is my only hope, and 
I genuinely don’t care if I die in the process.” 
– Political Prisoner S. Heshima Denham, J-38283, Corcoran State Prison SHU

8. “I have been in ASU for three years now. With 
each passing year I see a change within myself. I 
no longer trust anyone and I have a distrust for 
all prison staff because I feel like they will 
assault me again. I feel hopeless and tired all 
the time. I am no longer an outgoing person 
anymore, I miss my family immensely, and I wonder 
how I will function normal again once I do 
parole?” – Scott D. Stoner, K-40009, Calipatria State Prison ASU

9. “I’ve spent the longest six years of my life 
here in segregation. This isolation has been a 
torturous experience and it’s growing worse as 
the time passes. It has broken my spirit, my 
soul, and it’s now even taking its toll on my 
mind. I just hope I won’t go insane before I go 
home.” – Victor Cantero, T-71200, California Correctional Institution SHU

10. “I have been in segregation 39 out of my 
40-plus years of imprisonment, which began on 
Dec. 1, 1971. My segregation, without meaningful 
review or oversight, coupled with the oppressive 
and draconian practices by prison and parole 
officials within administration segregation to 
restrict and deny correspondence and all 
productive and creative activities is 
demoralizing and dispiriting, causing me a sense 
of total hopelessness and despair – yes, 
torturous.” – DC, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

11. “I have been in the SHU on and off from June 
1995 until now because of a fake prison gang 
validation. Since being housed in the SHU, I’ve 
definitely experienced mental and physical abuse, 
torture and death threats at the hands of prison 
staff who are employed at this prison, especially 
in the SHU.” – Synrico J. Rodgers, T-21144, Corcoran State Prison SHU

12. “I am 63 years old and my chronic asthma has 
worsened while in segregation. I find myself 
fighting for oxygen in my SHU cell. I have been 
disciplinary free since November 1989 and should 
be released from the SHU. I am not dying from 
drowning, but kept on the verge of it relying on 
prison/medical staff for life-saving relief that 
comes ever so slow in the SHU. It affects me not 
only physically but also mentally 
 I am a 
life-term prisoner by the California courts, and 
CDCR has made me a life-term-SHU prisoner.” – 
Roberto Campa Lopez, C-22294, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

13. “I have been in SHU isolation for 35 years. I 
would not treat my worst enemy in such a way as I 
have been placed in isolation this long. To 
torture another human being with these horrific 
conditions should be contrary to what consists of 
a healthy society.” – Phil Fortman, B-03557, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

14. “I have been housed in isolation for 23½ 
years. Almost daily now I wake up to a feeling of 
dread. Over the past five years I have become 
convinced that death has to be better than this. 
This is the kind of hate that threatens to 
destroy us all. That makes a mockery of 
democracy. Isolation is horrible and inhumane. It 
crushes your humanity and faith.” – Political 
Prisoner Michael Reed Dorrough, D-83611, Corcoran State Prison SHU

15. “I’ve been sentenced to solitary confinement 
with no disciplinary infraction indeterminately. 
I’m being deprived of human contact with my wife 
and daughter, deprived of my right to an 
appliance (TV or radio), and all the oppression 
that comes with being in Calipatria State 
Prison’s ASU. Rather than being rehabilitated, we 
are being suppressed and being forced to mental 
anguish.” – Robbie Riva, T-49359, Calipatria State Prison ASU

16. “I have been in the SHU control unit for 
15-plus years and I have experienced the entire 
SHU psychological spectrum – mood swings, loss of 
interest, restlessness in the mundane repetition 
of doing the same thing over and over. I have 
witnessed the horrors of self-mutilation of 
prisoners, the prison guards assaulting 
prisoners, myself included. You become desperate, 
feel helpless and hopeless in the face of the 
inhumane treatment we face day after day, 365 
days a year.” – Michael E. Spencer, E-90535, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

17. “I have been in segregation for more than 
three years. It is completely stressful, 
depressing and torture.” – GR, California Correctional Institution SHU

18. “For 17 years I’ve been isolated to 
indefinite SHU confinement where living 
conditions of mental and physical suffering falls 
on deaf ears. My right to self-preservation is 
diminished by daily demeaning humiliation and 
torture in a country that prides itself on 
defending democracy, equality and humanity, in 
which my existence is nil.” – Donald Lee Moran 
Jr., J-20212, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

19. “It takes my breath to think I am spending my 
days in total isolation, without human contact. 
It’s slowly breaking my will, soul and spirit. 
It’s only been 17 months. This is called 
torture.” – Carlos Roberto Robledo, T-72730, 
Calipatria State Prison ASU. He spent the last 
almost two years in “temporary” segregation at 
Calipatria State Prison ASU until his recent 
transfer to Corcoran State Prison SHU.

20. “After eight years, you realize after doing 
everything they ask you to do, staying out of 
trouble and minding your own business was not 
enough. They (CDCR) want to take away your 
humanity. There is nothing more dreadful in the 
world then waking up in the middle of the night 
and feeling like you’re in a mortuary. Even sleep 
cannot spare me from this hellhole I’m in. Hope 
has been gone for many years.” – Derek Carbajal, 
H-86305, Pelican Bay State Prison SHU

21. “I have been in segregation for two years and 
there is no worse feeling than this in the world. 
It’s tortured my mind, soul, body as well as 
given me insomnia, mood swings and depression.”

22. “During my time in the SHU, I’ve been 
subjected to six to eight cell searches a year 
for false reasons. During these searches I’ve had 
the only things I consider dear to my heart 
disrespected, including my family photos. I try 
to address these issues, which I am ignored by 
prison staff and laughed at. Is that humane?” – 
Richard Satterfield, T-79743, California Correctional Institution SHU

Contact Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff at 
editor at sfbayview.com or             (415) 671-0789      .

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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