[Ppnews] Sacramento hearing exposes CDCR’s hidden agenda

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 6 15:59:28 EST 2013


    Sacramento hearing exposes CDCR’s hidden agenda
    <http://sfbayview.com/2013/sacramento-hearing-exposes-cdcrs-hidden-agenda/>

March 5, 2013
http://sfbayview.com/2013/sacramento-hearing-exposes-cdcrs-hidden-agenda/

/*by Denise Mewbourne*/

Almost two years later, the ripple effect of the 2011 hunger strike 
organized by the Short Corridor Collective in Pelican Bay prison 
continues to reverberate throughout California. In protest of solitary 
confinement torture in California’s Security Housing Units (SHUs), 
12,000 people in prisons throughout the state participated in the hunger 
strike.

California currently holds 12,000 people in some form of isolation and 
around 4,000 in long-term solitary confinement. Around 100 people have 
spent 20 years or more in these hellholes, including many who are 
activists against prison abuses, political thinkers and jailhouse 
lawyers. People imprisoned in the SHU have described it as 
“soul-crushing,” “hellish,” a “constant challenge to keep yourself from 
being broken” and “a concrete tomb.”

As a result of the strike, the first legislative hearing in Sacramento 
occurred in August 2011, and at the grassroots level family members of 
those inside formed California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement 
(CFASC) to continue the work they had done during the strike. The 
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) began strategizing 
how best to provide support well in advance of the hunger strike and 
continues its mission of amplifying the voices of people in the SHUs.

The strikers’ five core demands around abolishing group punishment, 
eliminating debriefing, ending long term solitary confinement, adequate 
and nutritious food, and constructive programming are still far from 
being met, although the California Department of Corrections and 
Rehabilitation (CDCR) claims to be implementing new policies on how 
people are sentenced to the SHU as well as how they can exit.

The hearing in Sacramento on Feb. 25, 2013, provided an opportunity for 
legislators in the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee to hear 
representatives of CDCR present their new policies and weigh the truth 
of their claims. The occasion also featured a report back from the 
Office of the Inspector General about onsite inspections conducted at 
Pelican Bay, as well as a panel of advocates.

Chaired by Tom Ammiano, the committee had a chance to question the 
panelists, and at the end there was a scant 20 minutes for public input. 
Attendance of grassroots activists, including family members and 
formerly incarcerated people, was organized by California United for a 
Responsible Budget (CURB). The CURB coalition focuses on reducing the 
number of people in prison as well as the number of prisons throughout 
California.


      The rally

Beginning with a rally held on the capitol steps, it was an emotional 
day for many, especially for family members of those suffering in the 
SHUs and prison survivors. The voices of those in the SHU were 
powerfully present, both in stories told by family members as well as 
statements they had sent for the occasion.

The opening of the letter Gilbert Pacheco read from his brother Daniel 
in Corcoran Prison summed up the solidarity of the day: “Allow me to 
expend my utmost respects along with my utmost gratitude and 
appreciation to all of you who are out here supporting this struggle and 
allowing mine along with thousands of other voices to be heard! 
Gracias/Thank you.”

Family members from all over California spoke about loved ones who were 
being unjustly held for 10, 15, even 25 years or more in solitary 
confinement, how they were entrapped into solitary and the conditions 
they face. Marilyn Austin-Smith of All of Us or None, an organization 
working for human rights of formerly incarcerated people, read a 
statement from Hugo Pinell, surviving and resisting solitary confinement 
for 42 years.

Daletha Hayden from Victorville, Calif., spoke about her son who has 
been in SHU in Tehachapi for four years. He has missed 12 years of his 
15-year-old son’s life, having not been able to see or touch him since 
he was 3. She said, “This is painful, and it tears families apart. We 
have to fight so our loved ones can be treated as well as animals! My 
son needs medical treatment, and SHU officials refuse for him to have it.”

Karen Mejia’s fiancé has been in SHU for 26 years. She stated that to 
her knowledge, the CDCR never got input from anyone imprisoned in the 
SHUs regarding their new policies. She went on to say that “if they 
followed their own policies, the SHU would be half empty, and they don’t 
want that because of their salaries and budget.”

Recently, they subjected her fiancé to particularly humiliating 
treatment. After she visited him, they punished him for being “sexually 
disorderly” with her. She said, “They painted his cell yellow and forced 
him to wear a yellow suit, which they do for sex offenders. In general 
population, he could have been killed for that.”

Looking at the hypocrisy in the U.S. around torture and human rights, 
Dolores Canales from CFASC angrily noted that in a recent case, “All it 
took was a federal order to stop chimpanzees from being held in solitary 
confinement. It has been determined it’s detrimental to their mental and 
physical health, because they are social animals and have a need to see, 
hear and touch each other. Aren’t humans also social beings?!”


      Luis “Bato” Talamantez, one of the San Quentin 6, said, “Sending
      your love to the people inside and helping them to stay connected
      and spiritually alive is the most important thing you can do with
      your life right now.”

The rally ended on a positive note with Luis “Bato” Talamantez, one of 
the San Quentin 6, saying, “Sending your love to the people inside and 
helping them to stay connected and spiritually alive is the most 
important thing you can do with your life right now.”

The crowd then filed into the hearing room, which filled up quickly, so 
around 40 people viewed it in an overflow area. For the next three 
hours, a few of the legislators, the human rights-focused panelists and 
the public in attendance did their best to sort through the 
obfuscations, omissions, misrepresentations and outright lies told by 
the CDCR and colleagues.


      The lies from CDCR

One mistaken idea the hearing quickly cleared up was that any real 
oversight might come from the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board 
(CROB) in the Office of the Inspector General.

Speaking from CROB was Renee Hansen, who became executive director of 
the board in 2011, after 20 years of working for CDCR. Perhaps that 
explains the board’s less than thorough attempt at a real investigation 
of conditions in the SHUs and the glowing report she gave. When asked by 
Ammiano if they had conducted any surprise visits, she replied they had not.

One of the myths the CDCR uses to justify SHUs is that they house the 
“worst of the worst,” and this hearing was no exception. Michael 
Stainer, CDCR deputy director of facility operations, testified: “The 
offenders in the SHU are 3 percent of the entire population. They have 
an inability to be integrated because of violence, and are affiliates of 
dangerous prison gangs. It’s necessary to isolate them to protect the 
other 97 percent.”

But Canales said: “My son is in there, and he has certificates in 
paralegal studies and civil litigation. At Corcoran he was Men’s 
Advisory Council representative, when one person from each ethnic group 
gets voted in by their peers, and others go to them for help with prison 
issues.” And it’s not just her son who doesn’t fit the “ultra-violent” 
profile. “A lot of the guys in there have all kinds of education and are 
helping others with legal work. Many of them have been using their time 
to educate themselves.”

Hansen testified they found no evidence of retaliation for the hunger 
strike. Yet Charles Carbone, a prisoner rights lawyer who testified on 
the panel, said, “Make no mistake about it: Participating in a hunger 
strike can get you in the SHU.”

Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell asked, “How can participation in an act of 
peaceful civil disobedience like a hunger strike be construed as gang 
activity?” Ominously, Kelly Harrington, associate director of high 
security transitional programming (STP) for CDCR, said, “Hunger strikes 
can be viewed as violating institutional security.”

Marilyn McMahon with California Prison Focus reports letters from people 
in SHUs about food quality going down and portion sizes shrinking, 
especially after the administration heard of the potential resumption 
this summer of the hunger strike. “I suspect,” she said, “they may be 
trying to get them very hungry before the strike, so they will have less 
desire to do it.”

In another bold mockery, CDCR claimed their new policies include 
substantial changes in the process of “gang validations,” the 
categorizing of people as “gang members or associates,” resulting in SHU 
placement for indeterminate sentences. In the past, the validation 
process has been based on points given for tattoos, possession of books 
or articles the CDCR deems gang-related, having your name on a roster, 
and/or the confidential evidence of a “debriefer,” another desperate 
soul who has identified you as a gang member to get out of the SHU 
himself. Three points is enough to send you to the SHU. According to 
many reports from SHUs around the state, it often happens that people 
get sent to there for things that are purely associational and in 
complete lack of any actual criminal behavior.

In point of fact, items given points toward validated gang status are 
often related to cultural identity and/or political beliefs. Some 
examples are books by George Jackson or Malcolm X, Black Panther Party 
books or articles, materials about Black August commemorations, the 
Mexican flag, the eagle of the United Farm Workers, articles on Black 
liberation, political cartoons critical of the prisons, Kwanzaa cards 
and Puerto Rican flags, just to name a few.

The CDCR gave a list of their own officials when asked who was doing the 
gang classifications, and Ammiano noted they were all internal to CDCR, 
with no independent verification. Family members at the rally spoke of 
many unfair instances of gang validation points given to their family 
members. Irene Huerta’s son was validated for a “gang memo” that was 
never found!

Carbone confirmed in his testimony that there was no real change in the 
source items given points, that still only /one/ of your point items 
even needs to be recent and the other two can be 20 years old, and that 
“the new program actually /expands/ rather than restricts who can be 
validated, by the addition of two categories. Initially we just had gang 
‘members’ and ‘associates,’ but now we also have ‘suspects’ and ‘to be 
monitored.’” He went on to say “only the CDCR could call expansion reform.”


      Charles Carbone, a prisoner rights lawyer who testified on the
      panel, said, “Make no mistake about it: Participating in a hunger
      strike can get you in the SHU.”

As Pacheco says from Corcoran Prison: “This validation process is not 
about evidence gathering that contains facts. It’s hearsay, corruption 
and punishment to the point of execution. It’s close to impossible to 
beat these false accusations on appeal. They know how to block every 
avenue. In other words, there is no pretense that rights are respected. 
Shackled and chained we remain.”

The centerpiece of the CDCRs deceptive “reform” is the “Step Down 
Program,” in theory a phased program for people to get out of the SHU. 
The program would take four years to complete, although they said it 
could potentially be done in three. It involves journaling, 
self-reflection and, in years three and four, small group therapies.

In a statement issued for the event by the NARN (New Afrikan 
Revolutionary Nation) Collective Think Tank or NCTT at Corcoran SHU, the 
writers roundly condemned the program, saying that CDCR “has, in true 
Orwellian fashion, introduced a mandatory behavior modification and 
brainwashing process in the proposed step down program.” Abdul Shakur, 
who is at Pelican Bay and has been in solitary confinement for 30 years, 
calls it the “equivalent to scripting the demise of our humanity” in his 
article “Sensory Deprivation: An Unnatural Death.”

At the hearing, Laura Magnani from the Friends Service Committee 
strongly agreed. Magnani pointed out that only in the third and fourth 
year does very limited social interaction start to happen, that having 
contact with one’s family continuing to be seen as a privilege instead 
of a right is fundamentally wrong and that the curricula itself is 
“blame and shame” based, an approach proven to be damaging. To add 
insult to injury, she said that what you write in the notebooks can be 
used against you.

Marie Levin with the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition 
spoke about her brother Sitawa N. Jamaa at Pelican Bay, a New Afrikan 
Short Corridor Collective representative and a political thinker. He 
told her his concerns about the step down program: “The workbooks are 
demeaning and inappropriate. No one with a gang label will be reviewed 
for two years of the program, and no phone calls for two more years is 
far too long.” He’s concerned about CDCR evaluative power over journals, 
fearing they won’t allow progression if they don’t like the answers, or 
that they will accuse people of insincerity.

Sundiata Tate, one of the San Quentin 6 and a member of All of Us or 
None, said: “In terms of CDC, it seems like they’re trying to put a 
cover on what they’re actually doing. If you take someone who’s been in 
the SHU for years or even decades and say they have to go into a step 
down program that will take four years, that’s really just adding 
cruelty to cruelty. It’s actually more torture.”

In an attempt to deflect blame from the destructiveness of their own 
policies, Kelly Harrington, associate director for high security 
transitional programming, admitted that some people did not want to 
participate in the step down program. When asked why, he said, “We have 
intelligence that people are being instructed not to participate in the 
program by leaders.”

Canales noted that CDCR is trying to cast blame on the leaders, when in 
reality the program itself forces people to sign a contract agreeing to 
become an informant.

The contract is arguably the most insidious part of the step down 
program. In order to complete the program, people would be forced to 
sign it in Step 5. It includes the stipulation that the signer become an 
informant on gang – or, in the new language, “security threat group” 
(STG) – activities, making it in effect no different at all from 
debriefing and putting the informant in danger of retaliation.

In the CDCR’s defense, there’s one lie they didn’t tell – that they care 
about people in the SHUs being able to have a supportive relationship 
with their family members. It’s very clear they don’t. One of the more 
frightening elements in this expansion disguised as reform for families 
with loved ones in the SHU is that the new STG classification is no 
longer for just inside the prisons.

Family members are wondering if they will at some point be “validated” 
as gang members on the streets. If that happened, they could be barred 
from visiting or writing to their loved ones in the SHU, even more 
completely isolating people in solitary confinement and cutting them off 
from an important source of support in case of hunger strike.

Of watching the CDCR representatives speak at the hearing, Manuel La 
Fontaine of All of Us or None said it was “so infuriating and very hard 
to watch. Honestly, it was re-traumatizing for me. Although comparisons 
can be dangerous, I began to imagine the feelings of a survivor of the 
holocaust watching the Nazi regime justify their actions.”

Jerry Elster, also of All of Us or None, said: “They pretty much showed 
who the worst of the worst really are. The guys inside are calling for 
peace and an end to hostilities between races, and the guys (at CDCR) 
have complete disregard for human suffering.”


      Jerry Elster, also of All of Us or None, said: “They pretty much
      showed who the worst of the worst really are. The guys inside are
      calling for peace and an end to hostilities between races, and the
      guys (at CDCR) have complete disregard for human suffering.”

The most powerful moment of the public comment portion of the hearing 
came when Cynthia Machado spoke of her late brother Alex. Formerly a 
bright and articulate man who helped others with legal work, he was 
driven to suicide after years of paranoia, degrading conditions and 
mental deterioration. She said: “We received letters from him indicating 
he was afraid. He reported seeing demons. Although they knew he was 
allergic to peanuts, they gave him peanut butter to eat.

“He wrote the family a suicide letter in February 2011 and attempted it 
in June. On Oct. 24, after screaming for 24 hours, he was found hanging 
in his cell.” Looking at the legislators, she demanded to know, “Where 
is the rehabilitation in that? Where is it?”


      The missing framework of torture

Sundiata Tate said after the hearing that “some of the assembly members 
asked good questions and the CDC tried to say they were changing. But 
they aren’t even addressing the question of torture! That really stood 
out for me. They aren’t recognizing it as such. The only way they will 
is if their hands are forced, by the courts or the legislature or the 
people. I really think the CDC should be forced to release all those 
people and pay them damages.”

People imprisoned in the SHUs and those who advocate for them have a 
deep understanding that solitary confinement is a horrific form of 
torture with long-lasting and highly detrimental emotional and physical 
effects and as such needs to be abolished. Their family members also 
have a bone-deep knowledge of this, feeling keenly as they do the pain 
that comes when loved ones are suffering unjustly.

In addition, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, the U.N. Human 
Rights Committee and Amnesty International, among others, all recognize 
solitary confinement as a form of torture whose use should be extremely 
limited if used at all. The U.N. Special Rapporteur has state 15 days 
should be the maximum.


      The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, the U.N. Human Rights
      Committee and Amnesty International, among others, all recognize
      solitary confinement as a form of torture whose use should be
      extremely limited if used at all.

So the question many are left with after the hearing in Sacramento is 
what will it take for the California legislature to catch up with this 
knowledge? And, more than that, what will it take for them to act to 
create some genuine accountability for the CDCR officials who are 
perpetuating the torture? And to act eventually to abolish the practice?


      Lobby Day

The following day around 40 people remained to lobby the legislators in 
teams, speaking to them about solitary confinement as well as upcoming 
legislation relevant to organizations within CURB. All of Us or None in 
particular was supporting AB 218, another version of the Ban the Box 
bill that would take the “Have you ever committed a felony” checkbox off 
initial job applications, and AB 149, mandating when people are released 
from incarceration they be informed of their voting rights and given a 
voter registration card. Senate bills supported included SB 61, limiting 
the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, and SB 283, restoring 
CalWORKS and CalFresh to those released after serving time for 
drug-related felonies.

One of the highlights of the day was the attendance of a group of young 
women from the Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco, an 
organization working “to empower young women who have been involved with 
the juvenile justice system and/or underground street economy to create 
positive change in their lives and communities.” They got their first 
experience that day of talking to legislators.

At the end of the day many of the teams reported lots of talk around the 
capital about the hearing the previous day and that many of the 
legislative aides they had spoken to said they honestly had not known 
what kind of abuses were happening with solitary confinement in California.


      Where do we go from here?

Ammiano has promised there will be more hearings, and Mitchell added she 
would like to see the next one delve more deeply into conditions inside 
the SHU. Attorney Carol Strickman from Legal Services for Prisoners with 
Children informed those at the rally that the class action lawsuit on 
behalf of those in solitary confinement for longer than 10 years at 
Pelican Bay – over 500 people – will have a hearing on March 14, 2 p.m., 
at the Federal Building in Oakland, 1301 Clay St. A rally will begin at 
12, and the hearing is at 1:30.


      “We need to let the world know that California is torturing their
      prisoners.”

CDCR will be arguing for a dismissal, and trial dates will be set. She 
encouraged people to attend if possible, to let them know the interest 
level of the public

Many are calling for an independent review of the gang validation 
process, used as a rationale to place people in solitary confinement as 
well as to hold them there indefinitely. La Fontaine said: “This review 
needs to be placed in more objective hands. Dr. James Austin, for 
example, is a renowned corrections expert with a more impartial analysis 
– he would be a better consultant on this.”

To underscore the impossibility of an independent review internal to the 
CDCR, he said: “The prisons and the military have a lot of shared best 
practices. There are lots of CDCR goon squads, including the 
Institutional Gang Investigation guys, who are truly scary people. 
They’ve been hired into the system because they have military experience 
working against international so-called terrorists.”

Regarding further organizing, Marilyn Austin-Smith of All of Us or None 
said: “I do wish more people were there. It would be great to fill the 
whole lawn and take over the capitol for one day, so we can make them 
understand how many people care about this. We need to do community 
outreach to those most affected and encourage people to come out and 
support their loved ones. And we need to let the world know that 
California is torturing their prisoners.”

“What was most inspiring to me was the unity, the way everyone, all 
ethnicities, came together,” said Canales. “If the men in there have 
agreed to end hostilities, how can we not do our best to come together 
out here? As long as we can stay together, we can have victory. It’s 
especially important for Black and Brown communities to work together 
more closely around this and realize we do play a part in our own 
oppression.”

And if the prisoners’ five core demands remain unmet, people still 
suffering and continuing their resistance inside the SHUs will begin 
another hunger strike this coming July.

As the NCTT Corcoran SHU writers say in their statement for the event: 
“Will you allow them to erect this new bureaucracy and extort an ever 
greater portion of your tax dollars to enrich themselves and expand 
their influence in your daily lives? If freedom, justice, equality and 
human rights are truly values you hold dear, let it be reflected in the 
actions of your legislators. Each of your voices, when raised together, 
can tumble walls of stone. Remember Jericho. Thank you for your time, 
and our prayers and solidarity are with you all.”


      “What was most inspiring to me was the unity, the way everyone,
      all ethnicities, came together,” said Canales. “If the men in
      there have agreed to end hostilities, how can we not do our best
      to come together out here? As long as we can stay together, we can
      have victory. It’s especially important for Black and Brown
      communities to work together more closely around this and realize
      we do play a part in our own oppression.”

/Denise Mewbourne is a proud member of All of Us or None and Occupy 4 
Prisoners (O4P) and is currently launching a Human Rights Pen Pal group 
for O4P, based on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Committee’s 
model. She feels blessed to be part of a passionately dedicated Bay Area 
community working for racial justice and an end to mass incarceration 
with all its myriad evils. Denise can be reached at /
-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20130306/51d327eb/attachment.html>


More information about the PPnews mailing list