[Pnews] Returned to the SHU in California

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 26 12:31:31 EST 2018


  Voices from Solitary: Returned to the SHU in California

February 26, 2018

/In 2013, tens of thousands of people incarcerated throughout California 
launched a hunger strike to protest the polices of the California 
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) around indefinite 
isolation in solitary confinement (also known as indeterminate 
sentences). The strike lasted nearly 60 days and ended only after state 
lawmakers promised to hold hearings around the issue. /

/CDCR revised its policies after much pressure from people both inside 
and outside of its prisons, as well as the class-action lawsuit /Ashker 
v. Brown 
<https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/our-cases/ashker-v-brown> The 
suit resulted in a settlement agreement on September 1, 2015. Under 
theterms of the settlement agreement 
people who have spent ten or more years in solitary in a Security 
Housing Unit (SHU) were to be placed in general population or a new 
general population unit specifically for people deemed to need intense 
supervision. However, even in this new unit, they would be able to be 
around other people, participate in group activities and have contact 
visits with their loved ones. The settlement also prohibited future SHU 
placements based on gang affiliation, and indeterminate SHU sentences. /

/Since then, thousands have been released from the SHU. Some have 
reported positive experiences as they adjusted to general population 
and, for the first time in years, were able to see the sky, move around 
outside, and access prison programs and support services. However, 
others have been sent to units and prisons where programs and services 
are not as accessible. In fact, their attorneys at the Center for 
Constitutional Rights recently returned to court 
to challenge conditions in the most restrictive units. Still other 
individuals have had the bitter experience of being released from the 
SHU only to land back there after short periods of time./

    /Mwalimu S. Shakur spent nearly three more years in the Security
    Housing Unit after the strike ended. In March 2016, he was released
    into general population, but his relative freedom was short-lived. A
    few months later, he was returned to the Security Housing Unit at
    Corcoran after someone told officers that he felt unsafe with Shakur
    on the yard. Shakur notes that he has spent the past year and a half
    in the SHU pending investigation and has not (yet) been charged. He
    describes his brief stay in general population and the changes (and
    lack of changes) in SHU conditions upon his return. /

    /He welcomes letters from readers at: //Mwalimu S. Shakur, //s/n
    Terrance E. White, #AG8738, //CSP-Corcoran, 4A-4L-24, PO Box 3476,
    Corcoran, CA 93212./

    /— Victoria Law/

/.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . /

You would think after all the hard work of activism and organizing 
around the need to end long-term isolation, we would be given some form 
of compensation after our release back into general population. But no! 
There’s no productive programs, be they educational, vocational and/or 
self-help. This means all you have is exercise equipment, a track to 
walk on, a basketball court and a handball wall as well as different 
areas assigned to the different racial groups to congregate in.

We’re not afforded the rehabilitation opportunities needed to heal from 
the state-sanctioned mental torture we would need in order to be able to 
live productive lives in prison and once paroled back into society. For 
some of us, it’s like learning to ride a bike all over again. The jobs 
afforded are kitchen workers, yard crew, and dorm porters. Because a lot 
of us are on maximum-custody yards, we can’t enroll in vocational 
courses such as computer programming or substance abuse classes that 
also teach critical thinking.

We aren’t even given a restoration of credits from our RVRs (rules 
violation reports, or 115s) for participating in so-called gang 
activity. Restoration would mean time off our prison sentences for good 

On March 18, 2016, I was released from the SHU (Security Housing Unit) 
and placed in general population. I watched countless young Black men 
get into unnecessary arguments over sports teams they liked and over 
whose time it was on the phone or who owed whom for losing a bet. I 
enjoyed being around people and giving out history lessons of what 
prison used to be like when we all had jobs working in the prison 
industry making baked goods or in laundry/dry cleaning, painting, auto 
mechanics, and the underwater welding vocational trades they used to 
have. Now it’s like watching a bunch of kids at the playground all day. 
We don’t walk to the chow hall anymore, but are fed in our cells.

But to see the sun and hear birds sing allows one to feel human again. I 
also like the smell of fresh-cut grass. It makes you realize what things 
were actually taken away because, in reality, none of these sensations 
is afforded to you in solitary confinement.

After a few months of enjoying these everyday pleasures of freedom, my 
world closed down and I was placed back into the abyss of solitary 
confinement due to someone (not known to me) telling the COs that he 
felt threatened by my presence. I can’t lie and say that I did not feel 
hurt and betrayed by someone who most likely was coerced into say he 
felt threatened by COs in order for them to have a reason to place me 
back into solitary.

Attempting to challenge this neglectful process that CDCR has failed to 
fix has resulted in them bringing a lot of us back inside the slave 
torture chamber where continued psychological torture practices happens 
all over again. For organizing a boycott of the canteen and package 
vendor, one individual was brought back, and for holding an educational 
class on the yard (think tank) to build social practices and teach about 
the economy and how politics works, another was brought in, and then for 
writing up an officer (per 602 grievance form) for not giving us yard 
programs when allowed, another inmate was brought back. All of us share 
our stories of these things when we see each other on the yard or at 

My neighbor, a northern Mexican who was in my old SHU building, arrived 
a few months ago. He informed me that CDCR has made mention of having 
inmate provocateurs on the yard to inform them of which inmates are 
being so-called disruptive after being released from the SHU. We both 
know this to be true because it’s always been CDCR’s tactic to sabotage 
organizing efforts, jailhouse lawyers, and activist work (challenging 
the prison conditions and lack of programs) because we are disturbing 
the social order of how prisons control their subjects.

The changes in solitary are minimal. You can only have four packages, 
increased from only one a year. Now, every three months, you can order a 
package. You can still have personal clothes (sweatsuit shorts, thermal 
underwear, socks, t-shirts), hygiene items (soap, toothpaste, deodorant, 
lotion, shampoo) and food. We can now have phone calls.

Before our hunger strike, I couldn’t call home or receive any of those 
items in my package. Now I can call home once a week or once a month, 
depending on my status. If you have a job in general population or are 
enrolled in school, you can have one weekly phone call. If not, then you 
can call monthly. You’re still escorted in shackles everywhere, but in 
the phone cage, the COs remove your shackles. You get only 15 minutes, 
but calling home feels really good and I squeeze in about five minutes 
to talk to everybody. They give us privacy and go into the office, but 
the COs can see you so they know when you’re done.

If you don’t get through to your loved one, you are afforded the 
opportunity to try again the next week. I haven’t been given a 
determinate SHU sentence because there’s actually no charge. I’m just 
being held pending investigation.

I’ve read in newsletters and periodicals that other prisoners are going 
through similar incidents and being returned to the SHU. /California 
Prison Focus/ and /Turning the Tide/ newsletters have spoken to this 
action, but the struggle continues and we won’t stop our efforts to 
transform the prison system. These are the same old practices CDCR has 
done before, but we will challenge our conditions and hold CDCR to their 
work and wake up the minds of the next generation who the fascists would 
like to see take our place.

Until all oppressed are free,
Mwalimu S. Shakur

Dare to struggle,
Dare to win…

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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