[Pnews] California - The way forward to end solitary confinement torture - Where’s the Army?

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 26 12:16:39 EST 2015

    The way forward to end solitary confinement torture: Where’s the

January 25, 2015

*/by Todd Ashker/*

On the subject of SHU and Ad-Seg constituting torture, for those of us 
who may not be familiar with the specifics and in light of CDCr’s steady 
stream of propaganda – saying, “We don’t operate any solitary 
confinement units or cells in the California penal system, nor do we 
torture anyone” – here’s a summary of relevant facts supporting our 
position that these SHU and Ad-Seg units and the operations thereof are 
designed (modeled) after techniques designed to break political 
prisoners as a control mechanism. They are intended to break prisoners 
via coercive persuasion into becoming state informants.

I’ll begin by asking you a simple question?

Why is it that CDCr is able to get away with portraying PBSP SHU 
(Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit) prisoners as the “worst 
of the worst” sub-human monsters ever encountered in modern times as 
justification for their policies and practices of treating said 
prisoners as sub-human via decades of what is clearly a form of solitary 
confinement with sensory deprivation – and yet, as soon as these men 
agree to become state stooges via debriefing, they are no longer a 
threat and are released to the sensitive needs yard (protective custody) 
general population prison of their choice?

One of the main reasons they are able to continue to get away with their 
BS is the failure of the people to hold the lawmakers responsible.

I’ve been in the SHU for 28.4 years, to date, 24.7 years of which has 
been here in PBSP-SHU. [Editor’s note: This was written Dec. 30, 2014.] 
I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which 
is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 
hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang 
related rule violation. (During our hunger strike I was issued two rule 
violations classified as serious. They were for: a) having a photo of my 
longtime friend; and b) a letter that someone had sent me, a stranger 
who represented herself as a supporter of our cause and wanted to be a 
pen pal. Staff gave me the letter, and then came around later and 
confiscated it and wrote me up.)

The above is intended to put the following into some perspective: Based 
on my personal experience in PBSP SHU during the past 24.7 years, I’ve 
experienced many techniques designed to break me. One is isolation from 
my social group. This is a tactic used here by prisoncrats to physically 
remove those prisoners deemed “problematic” to areas sufficiently 
isolated to effectively break or weaken close emotional ties, along with 
segregation of all natural leaders.

      I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988,
      which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up
      until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally
      charged with a gang related rule violation.

What prisoncrats like to do is claim that this place can’t be considered 
a solitary confinement unit because you have eight cells to each pod and 
thus the prisoners in each pod are able to talk to each other. But here 
is how it actually operates. If you are deemed a “problematic” prisoner 
by any of the staff – for example, if you are a prisoner who is 
constantly challenging the prisoncrats’ policies and practices – their 
way of subjecting you to an informal form of punishment or to try to 
break you is to put you in a pod where there are no other people of your 
social group.

For example, if you’re an African, they’ll put you in a pod without any 
other Africans anywhere close to you so that you will not be able to 
speak to any other African prisoner for the duration of time you are on 
status with the staff. If you’re Southern Mexican (classified as Mexican 
Mafia), you’ll be put in a pod with no other Southerners – a pod 
composed of several Northerners, maybe a White and an African – the same 
if you’re a Northern Mexican or White.

Let me give you another example of this, so there is no 
misunderstanding: I received my CDCr number in December 1982, and in all 
my time in prison I’ve never had a problem with a cell-mate. In October 
1990, I was set up and shot by a guard here in PBSP SHU. This is 
supported by a published 9^th Circuit Court ruling, upholding the 
federal court jury verdict in 1995, finding the guard in question had 
subjected me to assault and battery. This injury caused permanent 
disability and, between 1990 to 2002, I had cellmates who would assist 
me with daily activities, such as washing the clothes we are not 
permitted to send to the laundry and with writing.

Between November 1995 and December 2002, the man I was celled with and I 
achieved three published rulings that were favorable for prisoners 
across the nation, in 2003. And in August 2002, the 9^th Circuit Court 
overturned the District Court’s dismissal of one of our lawsuits 
regarding pepper spray decontamination policy issues, finding that it 
could proceed as a respondeat superior claim as well, a rarity in 
prisoner cases. And in September 2002, the District Court issued two 
permanent injunctions on our lawsuits re books and the ability to 
receive materials downloaded from the internet in our mail.

In response, the prisoncrats issued a memo in October 2002 in which they 
sought to further restrict prisoners’ incoming mail. We had an attorney 
contact the warden and the deputy attorney general representing CDCr in 
our lawsuits, demanding they cease their retaliatory acts in response to 
the injunctions we’d just obtained. And by November they rescinded the 
memo re mail restrictions.

Then on Dec. 3, 2002, they moved my cellmate and me to a lexan cell, a 
cell covered with lexan plastic which restricts air flow and the ability 
to communicate with other people in the pod even more, as well as being 
either too hot or too cold; and the following day they separated us. The 
pretext used to justify these retaliatory acts was an incident in 
another pod, wherein a White prisoner attempted to spear an officer. We 
weren’t in the same pod and had nothing to do with this incident and 
were never written up for being involved. We were both isolated from all 
other Whites and kept in the single cell lexan cells.

In July 2003, the associate warden granted my formal request to be able 
to double cell with a good friend, so that he could assist me with my 
daily activities, as per ADA (American Disabilities Act). He was then 
brought over to the lexan cell that I’d been in since Dec. 2, 2002.

We immediately began to challenge various conditions of confinement via 
the 602 inmate appeals process, and on May 19, 2004, we filed our 
lawsuit challenging our indefinite SHU confinement and related no-parole 
policies. This suit was a precursor to what is now our class-action 
lawsuit, and on June 8, 2004, we were single celled. I objected to this 
clearly retaliatory act, and they knew they had a problem because we’d 
been allowed to double cell in response to my formal ADA accommodation 
request in 2003, so they put us in cells side by side, so that my friend 
and cellmate could still provide assistance in the form of writing. We 
were still in the lexan cells.

In the interim, we’d been pursuing our civil suit, which had been 
dismissed a few times for technical reasons; and beginning in late 2009, 
we began to add peaceful activism activities to our challenges against 
illegal policies and practices regarding conditions of confinement, 
leading up to our hunger strike moves in 2011, which brought some 
international attention to CDCr’s torture policies and practices toward 
those of us who’ve been confined in the SHU for decades. And we were 
increasing the pressure via the prisoner class collective efforts we 
began in 2010, seeking to force the end to long term SHU, and we issued 
our historic Agreement to End Race-Based Hostilities in August 2012.

On Sept. 6, 2012, IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) had me moved 
away from the collective as well as my assistant, into a cell covered in 
lexan, isolated from all other Whites. The IGI’s excuse or pretext for 
this clearly punitive move in response to my litigation and activism 
efforts – our attorneys had filed the paperwork seeking to amend our 
lawsuit as a first step towards seeking class-action status on behalf of 
all similarly situated PBSP SHU prisoners around May of 2012, and it was 
getting a lot of publicity in July-August 2012 – was that the move was 
done for my safety, which was 100 percent bullshit. But it’s another 
tactic used to try to break prisoners – reporting rumors with the intent 
of creating mistrust, convincing prisoners they can trust no one and are 
in danger and need the prisoncrats to protect them.

Add to these isolative, punitive, retaliatory moves – isolation from 
one’s social group; separation from people you are working with 
collectively in order to more effectively challenge long term illegal 
policies and practices; placement into more isolative cells wherein one 
is subjected to increased sensory deprivation and extreme heat and cold 
temperatures; spreading rumors that the isolated prisoner has safety 
issues – many additional acts of psychological torment being perpetrated 
against us on a daily basis: for example, the systematic withholding and 
delaying of mail; loud noises blasted into the pods via the speaker 
system, and loud noises by staff as they walk the tiers at night to 
count; denying adequate medical care; telling prisoners that if they 
want to be able to get the care and treatment they need, they need to 
get out of SHU; telling prisoners, “You hold the keys to get out of SHU 
anytime you want to, and thereby get to general population where you can 
get better care and treatment,” and them knowing that our sole avenue 
for release from PBSP SHU is via death, insanity or agreeing to become 
an informant for the state via debriefing.

The above are all facts supported by solid evidence, and they constitute 
direct proof of CDCr’s policies and practices regarding decades of 
subjecting thousands to a form of torture for the purpose of coercion, 
as further demonstrated by the following excerpt from the 2013 book by 
Nancy Kurshan, “Out of Control: A 15 Year Battle Against Control Unit 
Prisons <http://www.freedomarchives.org/Out_of_Control/>.”

On pages 12 and 13, she writes: “(R)esearch the prisoners had conducted 
… revealed a 1962 Bureau of Prisons (BOP) meeting in Washington, D.C., 
between prison officials and social scientists. Billed as a management 
development program for prison wardens, it coincidentally took place the 
same year the BOP opened Marion.

“Dr. Edgar Schein of MIT, a key player at that meeting, had written 
previously in a book entitled Coercive Persuasion about ‘brainwashing of 
Chinese Prisoners of War (POWs). …

“Schein put forward a set of ‘practical recommendations,’ throwing 
ethics and morals out the window.

“They included physical removal of prisoners to areas sufficiently 
isolated to effectively break or seriously weaken close emotional ties; 
segregation of all natural leaders; spying on prisoners, reporting back 
private material; exploitation of opportunists and informers; convincing 
prisoners they can trust no one; systematic withholding of mail; 
building a group conviction among prisoners that they have been 
abandoned by or are totally isolated from their social order; using 
techniques of character invalidation, i.e. humiliation, revilement and 
shouting to induce feelings of fear, guilt and suggestibility; coupled 
with sleeplessness, an exacting prison regimen and periodic 
interrogational interviews.”

These types of brainwashing strategies that involve physical as well as 
psychological abuse were being adopted from international arenas and 
applied inside U.S. prisons. Examples include the tactics used by the 
Brits to try and break the IRA prisoners and similar tactics refined by 
the West Germans to try and destroy the RAF (Red Army Faction), who were 
fighting the imperialism in their country, which is to a large extent 
due to the West German government policies per USA government dictates.

Now compare the above notes regarding the 1962 conference to Dr. 
Schein’s recommendations, with the examples of how they operate in the 
PBSP SHU, that I’ve also included above, and try to tell me such 
policies and practices aren’t intentionally imposed for the purpose of 
torturing prisoners into becoming state informants.

Remember, when the Legislature had hearings on said policies regarding 
long term SHU, they asked the CDCr prisoncrats for evidence to support 
their claims that said policies and practices were in fact making the 
prison system – and the public in general – safer and secure. And the 
prisoncrats couldn’t produce shit.

The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are 
without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break 
prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants 
for the state –  period – which is 100 percent illegal.

Additional evidence that is as seriously harmful and painful is 
contained in the book by Matthew Lieberman, “Social: Why Our Brains Are 
Wired to Connect,” wherein Dr. Lieberman conducted studies using MRIs 
that demonstrated that people experience social and psychological pain 
in the same way they experience physical pain. It’s probably even more 
painful in the psychological context.

Here’s an example: Think about the worst painful experience you’ve ever 
had. Most people will think about the loss of a loved one or the breakup 
of a relationship, rather than a broken bone or other physical pain 
experience. It’s important to also remember that in addition to the 
circumstances and conditions prisoners are subjected to in the SHU or 
AdSeg environment is the fact that you are deprived of all semblance of 
normal human contact.

You are basically on sub-human, animal status for the duration of 
confinement in such units. You are always in a cage and/or in 
restraints, under escort by at least two guards, being observed by 
guards in the control booths who are armed with high power assault rifles.

      The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and
      practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are
      intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree
      to become informants for the state –  period – which is 100
      percent illegal.

You are under constant surveillance via guards in the control booths and 
floor staff, who can and do listen to any and all conversations in the 
pods when men are talking over the tier and on the yards, via speakers 
on the yard walls. You have no physical contact with anyone other than 
while in restraints, via the guards escorting you with their hands on 
you, or at medical, where you are in restraints with guards hovering 
over you.

You have no physical contact with your loved ones. Those who are 
fortunate to get visits – a hardship for the majority of PBSP prisoners 
due to the remote location of the prison – visit behind glass, talking 
over a phone with a small video camera mounted on the wall. IGI staff 
are listening and observing you and your visitor the entire visit, and 
if either of you says or does anything the IGI observers don’t like, 
they can cancel your visit on the spot or, a few days or so later, 
they’ll issue you a write-up for alleged visiting violations and you end 
up on visit restriction for between 90 days to a year to permanently 
being banned from visiting with certain people.

Going back to Lieberman’s book, “Social,” it’s important to note that 
his studies included the subject of empathy, and he found that people 
really do “feel other people’s pain” when they observe people close to 
them being mistreated. The reason this is relevant is that not only are 
the prisoners being subjected to the above referenced coercive, 
torturous treatment FOR DECADES, but our loved ones and friends are 
subjected to the same psychological pain as we are. Supported by 
scientific studies conducted by Dr. Lieberman, and others, we find that 
the technique for conducting such studies has only become available over 
the past 10 years.

The point of the above summary is to educate the public and refute 
CDCr’s propagandistic claim, “We don’t operate solitary confinement 
units, nor do we torture any prisoners.” Facts prove otherwise.

      *What can people outside do about the above ongoing torture
      policies and practices by CDCr?*

First, let me clarify a few things about where our cause presently 
stands from my perspective:

We successfully educated the public and exposed CDCr’s decades-old 
on-going subjection of thousands of prisoners to the torture of long 
term, indefinite SHU, via our peaceful activism efforts – the writing 
campaign (our formal complaint and other statements) and our three 
peaceful protest actions in the form of mass hunger strikes and work 
stoppages. By “we” I’m referring to those on the inside of these prison 
walls and our outside loved ones and supporters.

In my previous writings about our on-going struggle for real reform, the 
No. 1 priority being the end of long term solitary confinement, I’ve 
expressed the opinion that the prisoners remain responsible for leading 
this cause to victory via our actions inside these walls. And I’ve put 
myself out there with my peers pushing for additional peaceful actions 
on our part in here.

The response has been mixed, and it’s very difficult to get a collective 
consensus, as many of our outside people know. The administration has 
done all it can to prohibit us, the Short Corridor Collective, from 
being able to communicate. This began with IGI moving me from D1 block 
to D4 block on Sept. 6, 2012, and has continued with the recent move to 
D4-207, further isolating me from the prisoners who have influence in 
their respective groups, and the Step Down Program, with related 
transfers of many of the collective members to other prisons across the 

Thus, I’ve had to reflect and re-evaluate our position. This is really 
not acceptable, and from my perspective is an excuse for non-action*. 
*Look, I’ve respectfully sent out several letters calling on the people 
to hold the lawmakers accountable.

It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are 
aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve 
failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.

      *The lawmakers must be held accountable*

I’ve had to re-evaluate my prior perspective regarding prisoners 
continuing to lead this struggle in light of the above referenced 
factors. Subsequently, I snapped to the FACT that once we successfully 
exposed this torture program to the world, making the people aware, at 
least some of the responsibility shifts to the PEOPLE TO HOLD THE 

And their failure to do so equates to THE PEOPLE enabling this to 
continue. The people have the power. The lawmakers hold their positions 
on behalf of their representative status – on behalf of the people.

      It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who
      are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet
      they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible

With this in mind, here’s something people can do now towards holding 
the lawmakers responsible:

 1. Select a few of the lawmakers who we all know are in CDCr’s and
    CCPOA’s pockets for exposure as supporters and enablers of CDCr’s
    torture program, using social media to blast them worldwide. And you
    can also have people show up at their committee hearings to blast
    them as torture supporters. You’ll need to include references to
    public records supporting this position, such as the transcripts of
    the legislative hearings held regarding SHU, the September 2012
    report by Amnesty International on PBSP SHU and the statements by
    Juan Mendez. The lawmakers you select for public exposure should be
    the five to 10 lawmakers who were the most vocal against Tom
    Ammiano’s bill
 2. Once these selected have come to be blasted in social media, you
    have a package together for presentation to the remaining lawmakers.
    The package needs to be a presentation supporting our position that
    this is a torture program, without cause or support for CDCr’s
    positions regarding making the system safer. Again, use the public
    records. And ask these lawmakers if they condone and support
    torture. Then, you present them with the things they can do to rein
    in CDCr’s abuse of power. This is a simple action. It’s something
    people can put in motion and have in motion while we plan our next

/Send our brother some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, D4-207, 
P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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