[Pnews] To Prisoner Class Supporters from Todd Ashker (with proposed Open Letter to Gov. Brown)

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 1 10:24:14 EST 2018


  To Prisoner Class Supporters from Todd Ashker (w/proposed Open Letter
  to Gov. Brown)


To Whom It May Concern,
To Prisoner Class Supporters
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
California Families Against Solitary Confinement
and Public, etc.

 From Todd Ashker
C58191 KVSP – ASU- 2/194
Box 5106
Delano, CA 93216

December 5, 2017

This is a follow-up to our October 2017, Prisoner Class Human Rights 
Movement, “Statement of Prisoner Representatives on Second Anniversary 
of /Ashker v. Brown/ Settlement.”

In our collective October 2017 “Statement,” we stressed the importance 
that “…prisoners and our families will have to re-energize the human 
rights movement, to fight against the continuing violations of our 
rights.” … reminding all involved, “We must stand together, not only for 
ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t 
have to go through the years of torture that we had to.”

With this in mind, I am sharing a copy of my*proposed “Open Letter to 
Governor Brown, Legislators, and CDCR Secretary Kernan 
RE: Attention to Ongoing Human Rights Violations and Related Lack of 
Reparative Action Necessary To Begin Making Amends for_3+ Decades_ of 
Systematically Intentional, State-Sanctioned Torture”* …with the hope of 
helping to re-energize our movement, by gaining wide-spread support for 
the position/s presented in the “Open Letter.”

As many are aware, our current collective movement began in the bowels 
of Pelican Bay State Prison – SHU – Short Corridor, wherein prisoners of 
all races and various geographical areas, became openly conscious of 
what we had in common- rather than what was different (divisive); we 
recognized we’d all been subjected to the same adversary’s boots on our 
necks, all members of a prisoner class subjected to decades of solitary 
confinement torture.

We became aware of the fact that those of us serving “term-to-life” 
sentences, were all akin to the living dead, our existence being that of 
a mind numbing, spirit destroying, endless nightmare. I believe coming 
together in the “short corridor” wherein we witnessed the toll of our 
slow decay- together with the prisoncrats progressively punitive, 
oppressive provocations- was one cause of our awakening, leading to us 
coming together as the “PBSP – SHU, Short Corridor Collective.”

Our struggle was focused on ending long-term solitary confinement [and 
improvements to conditions therein]. We stood up together and 
collectively.  We educated our loved ones and general public about what 
had been in society’s shadow for far too long. We publicly “drew the 
line” and said, “No More!”

As a committed collective of fellow human beings (a large majority 
hailing from working class, poor communities) we lead our struggle — 
from behind the walls – putting our lives in the balance… at that point, 
our lives being all we had… We demanded an end to our torture, based on 
our inherent right – as human beings – to humane treatment, inclusive of 
dignity and respect for ourselves, our loved ones, and the unfortunate 
generations to follow.

Notably, our collective membership had been the subject of the states’ 
decades-long ‘war against the working-class poor, tough-on-crime’ 
(focused and applied mainly upon the poor), politicized, vilified, and 
branded as “The Worst of The Worst” in order to justify our subjection 
to endless torture (lasting more than 30 years)!

In this climate, we came together and utilized non-violent, peaceful 
protest action, mass hunger strikes and work stoppages, which, together 
with the support of our awakened loved ones, and countless other people 
of conscience outside the walls (while all along, suffering with us), 
exposed our plight to the world community.

In 2012, we introduced our collective “Agreement to End Race-Based 
Hostilities,” making clear our united intent to no longer be the source 
of our mutual adversary’s manipulation tactics – centered on keeping us 
divided and violent towards one another, (thereby used to justify our 
adversaries agenda – supermax, indefinite warehousing); and thereby 
demonstrating our humanity in the face of the provocations of our 
oppressive torturers. We pointed out the fact that, in the absence of 
race-based violence, our mutual adversary/s would be forced to end their 
policy of warehousing us in the small cells indefinitely, and open the 
prisons up for meaningful programming and privileges- beneficial to the 
prisoner class.

I mention the above points as important reminders of the fact that the 
main basis for the success we’ve achieved to date has been Our 
Collective Unity Inside and Outside the prison walls, making strategic 
use of combined litigation, and peaceful activism- action tools, which, 
together with our related collective belief in and commitment to Our 
Cause, is a great example of “The Power Of The People.”

It’s also true that with the progress comes responsibility; we must be 
vigilant with respect to maintaining, and crucially building on our 
achievements. The responsibility is ours for doing so. “The novelist 
Aldous Huxley once said: ‘Liberties are not given; they are taken.’ We 
are not given our liberties by the Bill of Rights, certainly not by the 
government which either violates or ignores those rights.  We take our 
rights, as thinking, acting citizens.” [quoting from Howard Zinn’s /The 
Zinn Reader – Writings On Disobedience & Democracy/ (1997) at p. 418]

Our adversaries are constantly resisting any change beneficial to the 
prisoner class! History demonstrates the importance of our need to stand 
together collectively, and refuse to allow those in power (at the will 
of the People) to halt our progressive movements’ demands for human 
rights and real justice, because, historically, every class action, 
civil-suit ‘victory’ for the prisoner class in California has been 
manipulated by prisoncrats to the ultimate detriment of those that such 
‘victory’ was intended to benefit. It’s a non-stop battle!

What I greatly appreciate, and respect, about our Prisoner Class Human 
Rights Movement, is what I hope is our part in society’s evolutionary 
leap in collective human consciousness. Standout examples of this for 
me, go back to the Arab Spring (2010, I believe), followed by the August 
2010 massive Georgia Prison, system-wide work strike, and the January 
2011 Hunger Strike at Ohio State Prison.

Reflecting on the above, as well as our historic, collective group mass 
hunger strike protests across the California system, of 2011-2013, 
brings to mind an often quoted phrase (as a sort of benchmark of what’s 
wrong with society) that of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, reflecting on his own 
incarceration, famously said, “The degree of civilization in a society 
can be judged by entering its prisons.” Our collective coming together 
in the context of having been demonized – tortured over 3 decades – 
composed of working class poor, facing extreme adversity for a powerful, 
well-funded adversary… toppled (to an extent- losing their supermax 
jewel, PBSP SHU) by our peaceful protests, and related Global 
Condemnation (and litigation), epitomizes a great side of our society! I 
hope it’s an example of a growing social revolutionary process.

Related to the above, and to our common struggle in general, I want to 
share a few excerpts from /The Zinn Reader,/ a bit of food-for-thought.

On the subject of “Law and Justice” (Zinn, 1990) “Obedience and 
Disobedience” from /Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining 
American Ideology,/ page 369:

” ‘Obey The Law.’ That is a powerful teaching, often powerful enough to 
overcome deep feelings of right and wrong, even to overcome the 
fundamental instinct for survival. We learn very early (it’s not in our 
genes) that we must obey ‘the Law of the Land.’

“The dominant ideology leaves no room for making intelligent and humane 
distinctions about the obligation to obey the law. It is the unbending 
rule of every government, whether Fascist, Communist or Liberal 
Capitalist. Gertrude Schultz-Klink, chief of the Women’s Bureau under 
Hitler, explained to an interviewer, after the war, the Jewish policy of 
the Nazis, ‘We always obeyed the Law. Isn’t that what you do in America? 
Even if you don’t’ agree with a Law, personally, you still obey it. 
Otherwise, life would be chaos.’

“‘Life would be chaos.’ If we allow disobedience to Law we will have 
anarchy. That idea is inculcated in the population of every country. The 
accepted phrase is ‘Law and Order.’ It is a phrase that sends police and 
military in to break up demonstrations everywhere, whether in Moscow or 
Chicago. It was behind the killing of our students at Kent State 
University in 1970 by National Guardsmen. It was the reason given by 
Chinese authorities in 1989 when they killed hundreds of demonstrating 
students in Beijing.

“It is a phrase that has appeal for most citizens, who, unless they 
themselves have a powerful grievance against authority, are afraid of 

/“Surely, peace, stability, and order are desirable. Chaos and violence 
are not./ But stability and order are not the desirable conditions for 
social life. There is also justice, meaning the fair treatment of all 
human beings, the equal right of all people to freedom and prosperity. 
Absolute obedience to law may bring order temporarily, but it may not 
bring justice. And when it does not, those treated unjustly may protest, 
may rebel, may cause disorder, as the American revolutionaries did in 
the eighteenth century, as anti-slavery people did in the nineteenth 
century, as Chinese students did in the twentieth century, and as 
working people going on strike have done in every country across the 

I appreciate Zinn’s view on “absolute obedience to the law – may achieve 
order – for a time, while lacking justice.“ My point in sharing it is: 
just because it’s a “Law” (or a rule, or regulation) does not make it 
right or just; and when it’s not, especially when those in power recite 
such to justify violations of human rights, it’s the responsibility of 
all to protest, to rebel, to cause disorder- as necessary to force change.

 From Zinn’s Reader “The Optimism of Uncertainty” (1993 book, /Failure 
to Quit/, page 642) “….the struggle for justice should never be 
abandoned because of the apparent over-whelming power of those who have 
the guns and money and who seem invincible in their determination to 
hold onto it. That apparent power, has, again and again, proven 
vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs, dollars, moral 
fervor, determination, unity organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, 
courage, patience – whether by Blacks in Alabama and South Africa, 
peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and 
intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. No cold 
calculation of balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that 
their cause is just.”

 From page 648, quoting Herbert Read: “What has been worthwhile in human 
history – the great achievements of physics and astronomy, of 
geographical discovery and of human healing, of philosophy and of art- 
has been the work of extremists- of those who believed in the absurd, 
dared the impossible.”

I greatly appreciate your time, attention, courage and dedicated, 
supportive commitment to our collective struggle. Our strength and power 
come from our unity! And I am certain we can and will continue to make 
positive impacts upon the system, forcing real changes — beneficial to all.

I hope we all continue to move forward, confident our fight is a worthy 
and just cause, working together in imaginative, strategic ways. It 
would be great if people will share, promote and build on the subject. 
Examples are in my “Open Letter…” possibly adding a Supporting Petition, 
signed by as many as possible, even if such is presented/after publicly 
presenting/ the “Open Letter” to the named parties.

There are more innovative, imaginative ideas that I’m working on, and 
will share for your consideration soon. /In the meantime/, stay strong 
and have a Happy Holiday Season and New Year.

In Solidarity and Respect,


OPEN LETTER TO: Governor Brown, Legislators, CDCR Secretary Kernan,
and to Prisoner Class Supporters, the Public, etc.

December 2017

 From Todd Ashker, C5819
KVSP – ASU – 2/194
Box 5106
Delano, CA 93216

*OPEN LETTER To: Governor Brown, State Legislators, and CDCR Secretary 

*RE: Attention to Ongoing Human Right Violations, and Related Lack of 
Reparative Action Necessary to Begin Making Amends for _3+ Decades_ of 
Systematic, Intentional, State-Sanctioned Torture.*

I respectfully present the above-named parties with this “open letter” 
requesting attention to ongoing human rights violations, and related 
lack of reparative action necessary to begin making amends for _3+ 
Decades_ of systematic, intentional, state-sanctioned torture (and 
related harm therefrom, to the prisoner class, as well as the general 
public, marked by the stain such policies cause subsequent to global 
condemnation – e.g., 2011-2013 mass peaceful prisoner hunger strike 
protests against decades of subjection to torturous solitary confinement.)

I present this ‘open letter’ as a proudly involved principle 
representative of the growing Prisoner Class Human Rights Movement, as a 
peaceful action-activist, prison conditions litigator (inclusive of lead 
named plaintiff in /Ashker v Brown/), and _30 year_ survivor of CDCR’s 
State-Sanctioned Torture.

Policies and Practices:

I bring to your attention five (5) examples of CDCR policies and 
practices equating to egregious, on-going human rights violations, 
resulting in numerous deaths and terrible, permanent harm to tens of 
thousands of prisoners, to our outside loved ones of the prisoner class, 
and the general public — with the hope for meaningful, tangible action 
to ensure such never occurs again, as well as timely, reparative action 
necessary to begin making amends for harm caused.

*I. Examples of CDCR policies and practices equating to egregious, 
on-going human rights violations, harming tens of thousands.*

A.) Status-based (CDCR classification as validated, gang affiliate), 
Indefinite Placement in Solitary Confinement (SHU) “until you parole, 
die or debrief.” Many prisoner class members were subjected to this 
endless, torturous nightmare for _3+ decades_. Secretary Kernan called 
this a “Failed Experiment” during an October 2017 TV interview on a /60 
Minutes/ segment.

B.) Building _23+ prisons_, equating to thousands of cells, basically 
designed as massive human warehouses, with little thought about work, 
education, vocation, rehabilitative opportunities — thus severe 
shortages of such, including few support structures (class rooms, shops, 
etc), resulting in the majority of prisoners languishing in small cells 
for years on end. This is in spite of the fact that providing prisoners 
with such opportunities of substantive meaningfulness is proven to 
reduce recidivism.

C.) Building several large prisons in the southern Central Valley desert 
areas of the State, known to be covered with deadly valley fever spores 
(going at least as far back as WWII, whereupon, the same areas were 
sites for German P.O.W.s and Japanese internment camps, where hundreds 
died of valley fever).

Notable is the fact that, in an approximate 4 to 6 year time period, 60 
to 70 CDCR prisoners died of valley fever, with countless others, 
including staff, becoming deathly ill- many permanently damaged. Around 
2014 – 2015, the Federal Court Medical Overseer (of Class Action /Plata/ 
case) ordered the immediate transfer of approximately 300 at-risk 
prisoners to prisons outside the known valley fever zone. This order was 
initially resisted. The media quoted Governor Brown stating, “It’s not 
been proven valley fever is the cause of deaths and illnesses. Thus, we 
will challenge the order, pending a study,” …until a /New Yorker/ 
magazine article published data regarding WWII deaths at the same sites.

D.) Decades of constitutionally deficient medical and mental health 
care, which the state fought tooth and nail to preserve – resulting in 
countless preventable deaths (medical and suicidal) –  and demonstrated 
a total lack of respect for the Federal Court Orders.

In the mental health class action /Coleman/ case, between 1990 and 2006, 
CDCR violated 70+ Court Orders issued by Judge Karlton. This resulted in 
the creation of the 3 Judge Panel (combining the /Coleman/ and /Plata/ 
cases) wherein, they determined that “overcrowding” in the CDCR system 
was the primary cause of decades of failure to provide the minimum of 
medical and mental health care mandated by the U.S. Constitution. The 
Panel of Judges ordered a reduction of prisoners, which the State 
appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and lost — based on the 
well-established, on-the-record, shocking abuse. (To this day, thousands 
are denied adequate treatment to cure their Hepatitis C.)

E.) CDCR policy and practice that subjects countless women prisoners 
seeking contraception, and other types of care, to permanent 
sterilization! Without their knowledge or consent!

F.) CDCR policy and practice, arguably resulting in at least 39 deaths 
and 100’s of severe, permanent injuries, and amounting to criminal 
homicide, and assault with great bodily injury over a 9 year period, 
from January 1987 to December 1995: the “No Warning Shot” and 
“Integrated SHU-Concrete Yard” policies.

Wherein, “policy” mandated staff respond to any/all physical 
altercations with deadly force (high power assault rifles, using 
specialized ammunition designed to cause maximum damage, e.g., 9mm, 
‘glazier’ rounds and mini-14, 223s); at the same time, CDCR “Integrated” 
the small concrete yards at New Folsom and Corcoran, placing segregated 
SHU prisoners – segregated based on historic rivalries – on yards together.

In a Federal Court Civil trial (Eastern District, Sac. 1994) a top CDCR 
administrator, Diggs, testified that they “knew the above policies would 
initially result in chaos, but viewed such as ‘collateral’ because they 
believed, over time, prisoners in SHU who wanted their only out-of-cell 
yard time, would learn to get along.” (another “Failed Experiment”)

To reiterate, the above are presented as ‘examples’ of on-going human 
rights violations in the CDCR system. They are each notable to have gone 
on- unchecked for long periods of time- known to be morally and 
ethically (in addition to legally) wrong beforehand.

Each of the above continued for long periods of time, until finally 
being publicly exposed, and condemned, thereby forcing some changes 
(often after protracted legal battles, as well).

Unfortunately, several areas referenced above continue to be unresolved, 
meaning decades of egregious, harmful violations continue to this day! I 
hope you will take such seriously, and thereby take reparative action. 
Some suggested courses of action follow:

*II. Suggested Reparative Action/s Necessary to Begin Making Amends for 
3+ Decades of Systematic, Intentional, State-Sanctioned Torture.*

Please Note: the following are suggested examples of reparative-type 
actions, to begin an amends process for the tens of thousands of 
warehoused prisoners, in general, as well as towards the damage done to 
those members of the prisoner class subjected to the “failed 
experiment,” having been subject to more than /_30 years_/ of solitary 
confinement torture- the damage of which persists to this day.  See, for 
example, the 2017 Stanford Report 

The following suggestions are briefly summarized, and more detailed 
support will be presented soon.

A.) Term-To-Life Sentences and Parole Suitability:

Many prisoners used as ‘guinea pigs’ in CDCR’s decades long solitary 
confinement (a “failed experiment” per Secretary Kernan) are serving 
term-to-life sentences: 7 years to life, 15 years to life, 25 years to 
life – incarcerated since early 1970s, 80s and 90s. They are above and 
beyond their base-term, and their minimum eligible parole dates, many 
having served double, triple, and more beyond said dates. I know several 
men who are still serving “7 years-to-life” sentences, given between 
1970 to 1978.

We spent 20 to 30+ years in solitary confinement, based on ‘status,’ 
rather than ‘behavior,’ were denied work, vocational training, 
education, and rehabilitation opportunities for most, if not all, of 
this time. When we go to our parole hearings, we are issued multi-year 
deferrals until our next hearings, again based on ‘status’ alone, for 
the most part, rather than individual evidence of current, serious 
danger to public if released. We hear rote recitations of gang 
validation, lack of programming, lengthy SHU, refusal to debrief, 
participation in hunger strikes, and relatively minor prison rule 
violations like ‘possessing a cell phone’ which nets a 5+ year deferral 
by itself.

Much of the above is related to our being included in the “failed 
experiment.” We are now in our 50s, 60s, 70s — begging the question: How 
do you repair the decades of damage done to our ability, under current 
standards, to receive a parole date?

Arguably, these points are applicable to a majority of Lifers, 
‘warehoused’ and denied opportunity/s to achieve parole, due to the 
extreme shortage of programming opportunities at most institutions. They 
too are at, and above, their ‘minimums.’

Notably, California has approximately 30,000+ Lifers above their 
‘minimums.’ Most are elderly, thus costing more annually than today’s 
average California prisoner does, at $72,000 + annual cost. It’s also a 
matter of proportionality, coupled with ‘current danger’ factors. 
Statistics nationwide, over the course of decades, demonstrate that 
prisoners sentenced to life, who have served 10+ years; who are paroled 
above age 40, have a less than 2% recidivism rate.

*I suggest the following changes regarding Lifer parole:*

(i) Re-introduce, and pass, a streamlined version of Senator Hancock’s, 
February 21, 2014, SB1363, seeking amendment to Cal. Penal Code §3041, 
which, in a nutshell, proposed: “absent substantial evidence, with 
respect to entire record demonstrating a current, serious danger to 
public safety, the Board shall set a parole release date for those who 
have served beyond their base term” – reasonable, considering that 
current law states “parole shall normally be granted at the minimum 
eligibility date.”

(ii) Dissolve the Board of Parole Hearing’s (BPH) Psych Unit, known as 
FAD (Forensic Assessment Division).  This unit is composed of 
psychologists the Board hires, trains, pays, and retains firing power 
over. Their purpose is to conduct “current danger” evaluations of lifers 
up for parole eligibility hearings.

The BPH’s FAD operates under an obvious conflict of interest and should 
be eliminated. (Studies show its predictions regarding future 
dangerousness are 95% wrong!)

It’s more sensible, accurate, and cost effective to simply use CDCR’s 
“California Static Risk Assessment” (CSRA) as the tool applicable to BPH 
Lifer Parole decisions. I believe such is the tool used in Washington 
for lifers’ paroles.

B.) Regarding CDCR Policies and Practices

(i) Enact legislation designed to prevent the on-going human rights 
violations, exemplified by references herein. For example, expand on the 
rights accorded the prisoner class in Cal. Penal Code §§2600, 2601, et. 
seq., to include, but not solely limit to: Rights to be free of solitary 
confinement (SHU, ASU, defined as spending 22 ½ hours per day in a cell, 
etc) for periods longer than permissible under International Treaty Law; 
Right to Contact Visits, 3 to 4 days a week; Right to Same Protections 
Against CDCR’s Use/Abuse of Confidential Source Information, as Accorded 
to Defendants in Criminal Prosecution (e.g., Cal Penal Code §§1111 and 
1111.5, et. seq.).

(ii) Provide the funding, with an immediate mandate for CDCR to 
construct the support facilities necessary (sufficient numbers of 
classrooms and vocation/rehabilitation work shop areas) at each facility 
to provide programming and rehabilitation for the majority, rather than 
current minority, of prisoners.

(iii) Open up the Level IV General Population Prisons, allowing much 
more out-of-cell time (e.g., yard, day room, etc.). Such Level IVs are 
presently operated like modified SHU units, with thousands warehoused in 
cells, spending more time in small cells, than SHU/ ASU units.

(iv) Expand Contact Visits, adding 1 to 2 days of visiting to the 
current weekends-only allowance. This can be accomplished without 
additional costs, simply by /closing down a few of the nearly empty ASU 
-Stand Alone Units/, and re-routing costs and staffing from such units 
to _visiting day expansions_.

(v) Remove ‘Close Custody’ Classification [applied per Revised 
Regulation – Feb. 20, 2017- CCR, Title 15, §3377.2 (b) (1) (A), to most 
members of /Ashker v. Brown/ Class Action, released from decades of 
failed ‘experimental’ solitary confinement Torture, to general 
populations, based on October 2015 Settlement]. ‘Close Custody’ 
prohibits 72 hour ‘Family Visits,’ as well as further restricting 
various programming and privilege opportunities.

If we had not been “experimented” on for 10, 20, 30+ years we would have 
been free from ‘Close Custody’ in the 1980s and 90s. (All of our CSRA 
scores are _LOW_.)

(iv) End Close Custody Privilege Group Classification, Program Failure 
determination- based on “a significant disciplinary history which may be 
evidenced by 2 Serious, or 2 Administrative and 1 Serious Rule 
Violations in a 180 day time period…” (per CCR, Title 15, §3000, Program 
Failure definition).

This places severe punishments on the prisoner, in addition to those 
imposed for each rule violation. It is imposed regardless of the 
prisoner’s positive programming in every other way- work, school, 
rehabilitation, yard, day room, etc., and actually strips away one’s 
job, etc.

‘Program Failure’ Close Custody status was created in 1985-1986, to 
punish those prisoners “refusing a job or education assignment.” That’s 
/_all_/ it should apply to.

As stated above, the suggestions are a few ‘examples’ of changes to the 
system t hat would be viewed as a positive amends making, a beginning. 
It would be very helpful for you to meet with us, the principle prisoner 
representatives and our outside mediation team, for additional dialogue 
– asap.

Thank You for your Time, Attention and Consideration.

Todd Ashker, a Prisoner Class Representative

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