[Pnews] The four California prisoner representatives call for solidarity and change

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 11 10:19:34 EST 2020


  The four California prisoner class representatives call for solidarity
  and change

February 11, 2020
These men, known as the “four main reps,” Todd Ashker, Arturo 
Castellanos, George Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, conceived, planned 
and led the historic 2011-2013 California mass hunger strikes that drew 
30,000 participants at their peak, according to CDCr’s own records.

*/Introduction by Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee/*

What follows below is an update from the leadership of the 2011 and 2013 
California Prison Hunger Strikes against indefinite solitary confinement 
and other mistreatment across the California Department of Corrections 
and Rehabilitation (CDCr), the world’s largest prison system. These 
“reps” had been in solitary for decades and sought to draw attention to 
their plight through a series of non-violent hunger strikes, two in 
2011, the first drawing 6,600 participants statewide, the second 12,000, 
and a third in 2013 that drew 30,000 participants, the largest prison 
hunger strike in history.

In 2012 the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with several other 
prominent California prison rights attorneys and organizations, formed a 
team, partnered with a representative group of 10 Pelican Bay SHU 
prisoner plaintiffs and filed a lawsuit on May 31, 2012. The lawsuit, 
Ashker v. Brown, charged that California’s practice of indefinitely 
isolating prisoners in solitary confinement violated U.S. Constitution 
protections against “cruel and unusual punishment” and guaranteeing “due 
process.” In the same year, the four reps and several other SHU prisoner 
reps issued the Agreement to End Hostilities.

A third hunger strike began July 8, 2013, and ended 60 days later making 
solitary confinement a major issue across the United States. All major 
U.S. newspapers’ editorial pages had at least one condemnation of the 
practice in the weeks that followed. The third strike ended when the 
California State Senate and State Assembly committees overseeing prisons 
held unprecedented joint hearings that outlined promises of major change.

On Sept. 1, 2015, a landmark settlement was achieved in Ashker v. Brown 
ending indeterminate solitary confinement in California prisons and 
allowing the legal team to monitor the California prison system to 
ensure compliance. This month, February 2020, the four reps have issued 
this update on their situation.

*/by the ‘four main reps’: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George 
Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (names listed in alphabetical order)/*

A shout out of solidarity and respect to all class members and prisoners 
across the state. As the four reps, we felt a public report on the 
current state of California prisons from prisoners was overdue.

As leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes that 
captured the attention of the nation and the world on the role of 
solitary confinement in United States prison systems, particularly 
California, we four prisoner reps became recognized as speaking both for 
the Ashker class, former Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, but also more 
broadly in many respects for the entire California prisoner class.

California’s prison system, the largest in the world at that time, was 
the also the greatest abuser of long term solitary confinement. We were 
housed in the Short Corridor of the notorious Pelican Bay Super Max SHU 
(Security Housing Unit) and, as all Short Corridor prisoners understood, 
the only way out of that isolating tortuous hell was to “parole, snitch 
or die.”

We decided standing up together, asserting our humanity even at the cost 
of our own lives, was better than rotting and dying alone in our 
concrete tombs. Nonviolent united action was the only path that made 
sense; our only avenue to act was a hunger strike. It took widespread 
unity, preparation and work among us prisoners, but also work on the 
outside by our families, friends and a growing list of supporters across 
the state and the country.

Without prisoners speaking about our conditions of confinement, the 
public narrative about imprisonment and mass incarceration is missing a 
critical voice – our voice, the incarcerated. We are the first-hand 
experts on the daily experience of being caged in prison generally and 
the trauma of extreme isolation.

All other experts collect data, do studies, view our experience without 
living it. Many, not all, are our oppressors. Their expertise is not 
about what incarceration is like, but why we and so many millions of 
people in the U.S. should be imprisoned. No voice has more expertise 
about the experience and impact of incarceration than the voice of 

*/No voice has more expertise about the experience and impact of 
incarceration than the voice of prisoners. /*

Here we make five points:

*First*. Prison in the United States is based on punishment, not 
rehabilitation. The United States has the largest prison population in 
the world and the highest percentage of a state’s population housed in 
cages. We are held in punishing ways that cause fear, emptiness, rage, 
depression and violence. Many of us are more damaged when we leave 
prison than when we entered.

According to the National Reentry Resource Center, a high percentage of 
state and federal prisoners will be released back into society. National 
statistics indicate that there is a high rate of released prisoners 
returning to prison. All of those who leave are older, some smarter, but 
all of us are less able to be productive in the society at large or good 
for our communities or our families. It is very hard for former 
prisoners to get jobs.

Prison presents an opportunity for society to rehabilitate or help 
people. Many of us could use support services. That opportunity is lost 
and buried by a vindictive ideology of punishment.

Rather than us being hypervigilant, concentrating on violence, dangers, 
our fears and rage, prison could be a place to engage our minds in 
useful jobs and job training, with classrooms for general learning, 
training in self-awareness and understanding, anti-addiction approaches. 
Instead, we are mostly just warehoused, sometimes in dangerous yards 
with angry, frightened, vicious guards.

California’s Gov. Newsom has the opportunity to help institute a massive 
prison reform movement.

*Second*. California likes to think of itself as a progressive national 
leader, yet in sentencing California is among the harshest in the 
nation. In California, a life term is given for second degree murder. 
Second degree murder is a non-premeditated killing. Only 17 states are 
that punishing. Two thirds of the states and the U.S. federal system 
give a flat 15 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that evolving standards of society’s 
decency should create a national  consensus on sentencing standards. Our 
prison journeys begin in those courts. We four reps of the California 
prison class call for reform in sentencing. Massive money could be spent 
for education, training and jobs here and in our communities rather than 
on caging human beings to harm rather than help us or society.

*Third*. The trauma we experience in these overcrowded institutions with 
a culture of aggressive oppression, as if we are violent animals, is 
harmful and breeds violence. We prisoners should not join in our own 
oppression. It is not in the interest of the prison class to buy into 
promised rewards for lying on other prisoners.

The use of lying confidential informants is widespread and legendary in 
California prisons and jails. We see even among ourselves, who have 
great active lawyers ready to pay attention to our situations, just how 
regularly vicious retaliation, evil lying  and disregard of our medical 
needs occurs. Broadly among the California prisoner class, there is 
mistreatment, horrid isolation, medical disregard, terrible food, cells 
that are too cold, too hot or too damp.

The history of positive social change demonstrates that when those who 
are oppressed stand together – as a group, a class – against that 
oppression, change can happen. Our own experience with eliminating 
endless solitary confinement in California proves that.

We need to stand with each other, behaving respectfully, demanding 
respect and not turning on our fellow prisoners for promises of crumbs. 
We four reps stand for major prison reform that helps us, not harms us, 
that betters society, not makes it worse.

*/California’s Gov. Newsom has the opportunity to help institute a 
massive prison reform movement./*

*Fourth*. We four reps are for the principles we outlined in the 
Agreement to End Hostilities, the cessation of all hostilities between 
groups. We called on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their 
differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes.

If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they 
can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not 
allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues. 
We encourage all prisoners to study the Agreement to End Hostilities and 
to try to live by those principles to seek your support to strive 
together for a safer prison environment.

We are not there yet. Dangerous cross-group hostility remains. What we 
experience in California prisons is not just developed in prison but is 
also widespread and supported in free society. Racial antagonisms, 
ghettoized housing, separation, institutionalized racism and promotion 
of beliefs of each other as less than human, as stupid, as criminal 
barbarians can cause us to fear and hate each other.

It does not serve us or society well. There are no easy ways to 
challenge these deep American divisions; forcing us together in joint 
yards, visiting rooms or classrooms will lead to violence and deepen the 

We four reps especially call out and stand against 50/50 yards. We 
oppose forced mixing of hostile groups where mortal enemies are forced 
together; 50/50 yards are dangerous and will make things much worse by 
causing fresh horrific encounters. No matter the policy’s intention, the 
state is responsible for our safety and wellbeing while we’re living 
under its jurisdiction.

We are entitled to respect and safety. We seek what we are entitled to. 
The 50/50 yards as a CDCr policy provokes violence. At this time, we 
endorse separate yards, separate programming and separate visiting.

We also call on California leadership, Gov. Newsom and the State 
Assembly and Senate to implement policies that encourage and grow 
support for the Agreement to End Hostilities that do not include 50/50 
yards or forced interaction, but rather engage our minds and energy with 
productive jobs, education, training – major prison reform to a genuine 
rehabilitative system.

*Fifth*. The guard culture, especially in the yards, is vicious and 
provocative. Here where we live, the guards do not care about our 
safety. The guards get extra pay when there is violence; it is in their 
financial interest to promote it. Not surprisingly, guards regularly 
provoke disputes. Many enjoy the resulting violence.

California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the powerful 
guards’ union, is led by men who for the most part consider prisoners 
less than human. The CCPOA by their network and behavior supports the 
use of set ups, targeting, lying and isolation for random punishment. 
This intentionally causes widespread fear.

*/California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the 
powerful guards’ union, is led by men who for the most part consider 
prisoners less than human. /*

The CCPOA as one of the most politically influential organizations in 
California and holds many righteous political leaders hostage. The CCPOA 
members benefit with large overtime pay bonuses from violence and 

Only if prison reform becomes a widespread demand of California voters 
can the influence of CCPOA be challenged. We need our families, friends 
and communities to build and extend our allies and develop strong 
support to vote for politicians who recognize our worth and are for 
widespread serious prison reform and an end to brutal warehousing that 
endangers society every day.

CDCR and California itself are legally responsible and accountable for 
prison conditions. Neglect does not free them of state institution 
responsibility for those in their “care.” The guards’ union should not 
be permitted to purchase power for abuse.

California citizens need to vote for prison rehabilitation as a 
priority: money for teachers, instructors, prisoner jobs instead of 
lockdown overtime and more guards.

Finally, we close with an update on our legal challenge. Our class 
action constitutional challenge to long-term solitary confinement was 
filed in May of 2012. We won a landmark settlement on Sept. 1, 2015, 
that resulted in thousands of people being released from SHUs across the 

The settlement also gave us and our legal team the right and 
responsibility to monitor whether CDCr is following the requirements of 
the settlement for two years. That monitoring period was set to end in 
2017, but in January 2019, U.S. Magistrate Judge Illman granted our 
motion to extend monitoring of the settlement agreement based on ongoing 
systemic constitutional violations in CDCR’s use of confidential 
information and in its reliance on past gang validations to deny parole.

Magistrate Judge Illman’s order extended our monitoring for 12 months. 
CDCr appealed and asked the court to suspend monitoring pending the 
appeal outcome. U.S. District Court Judge Wilken intervened and allowed 
us to continue monitoring pending any appeal outcomes.

*/When those who are oppressed stand together – as a group, a class – 
against that oppression, change can happen. Our own experience with 
eliminating endless solitary confinement in California proves that. /*

Our legal team has two pending appeals that CDCr has filed seeking to 
overturn the lower court orders in our favor. One appeal covers the 
extension of the monitoring as discussed above; the other covers 
enforcement of the settlement agreement regarding conditions of 
confinement in Level IV prisons and the RCGP (Restricted Custody General 
Population) unit.

As our legal team continues to monitor implementation of our settlement 
agreement, they are looking closely at how CDCR uses confidential 
information to place and keep validated and nonvalidated prisoners in Ad 
Seg (Administrative Segregation) and RCGP for long periods of time and 
sentence people to SHU for bogus RVRs (Rules Violation Reports). They 
are also trying to keep track of how validations continue to impact us, 
especially when we go before the parole board.

If you have any information about any of these issues, although they 
cannot respond to every letter, please write our team at: Anne Cappella, 
Attorney at Law, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, 201 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Fourth 
Floor, Redwood City, CA 94065.

In closing, we remind all of us prisoners and supporters that we are 
human beings who have a difficult shared experience. We have a right to 
our dignity, even inside these punishing walls. We present an 
opportunity to make society better rather than meaner.

We ask all prisoners to stand together, read and act within the 
principles of the Agreement to End Hostilities, whether you are in Ad 
Seg or RCGP or General Population, see yourselves as part of an 
international Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

We four prisoner reps send regards and recognition to each of you as 
fellow human beings who are entitled to fairness, dignity and respect. 
We send our respect to all our brothers and sisters incarcerated 
anywhere with hopes for genuine rehabilitative programming, jobs, 
education and training in this coming year.

We send our greetings to all the friends, family and communities from 
which we come, to all our allies in the general society, and we send our 
hopes for an understanding of the opportunity California has to again be 
a leader in reform to make the world a better place with so many of us 
who need help gathered together in state institutions.

We send extra love, support and attention to our Brother Sitawa Nantambu 
Jamaa, who is experiencing challenging health issues. Our Brother Sitawa 
sends his extra love to all those prisoners, prisoners’ families and 
general supporters of the International Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

/The authors requested the Agreement to End Hostilities be appended to 
their statement./

This logo, created by the premiere prison artist, known as Rashid, was 
eagerly adopted by the California hunger strikers as the symbol of their 
sacrifice and strength in solidarity. – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 
264847, Pendleton Correctional Facility, G-20-2C, 4490 W. Reformatory 
Road, Pendleton, IN 46064

    *Agreement to End Hostilities*

Dated Aug. 12, 2012

To whom it may concern and all California Prisoners:

Greetings from the entire PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Hunger Strike 
Representatives. We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on 
behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP-SHU Corridor. Wherein, we 
have arrived at a mutual agreement concerning the following points:

1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to 
the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals who have 
never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to 
become a state informant via debriefing, that now is the time for us to 
collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than 20-30 
years of hostilities between our racial groups.

2. Therefore, beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our 
racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will 
officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group 
hostilities need to be at an end. And if personal issues arise between 
individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic 
means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues 
to escalate into racial group issues!

3. We also want to warn those in the general population that IGI 
[Institutional Gang Investigators] will continue to plant undercover 
Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer “inmates” amongst the solid GP 
prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats and 
obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our 
collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our 
mutual causes (i.e., forcing CDCR to open up all GP main lines and 
return to a rehabilitative-type system of meaningful programs and 
privileges, including lifer conjugal visits etc. via peaceful protest 
activity and noncooperation, e.g., hunger strike, no labor etc.). People 
need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics and refuse to allow such 
IGI inmate snitches to create chaos and reignite hostilities amongst our 
racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU (Investigative 
Service Unit), OCS (Office of Correctional Safety) and SSU’s (Service 
Security Unit’s) old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this 
point on and focus our time, attention and energy on mutual causes 
beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners] and our best interests. We can 
no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!

*/We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their 

Because the reality is that, collectively, we are an empowered, mighty 
force that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a 
system that actually benefits prisoners and thereby the public as a 
whole, and we simply cannot allow CDCR and CCPOA, the prison guards’ 
union, IGI, ISU, OCS and SSU to continue to get away with their constant 
form of progressive oppression and warehousing of tens of thousands of 
prisoners, including the 14,000-plus prisoners held in solitary 
confinement torture chambers – SHU and ad-seg units – for decades!

We send our love and respect to all those of like mind and heart. Onward 
in struggle and solidarity!

/Send our brothers some love and light:/

  * /Todd Ashker, C58191, KVSP, P.O. Box 5101, Delano CA 93216/
  * /Arturo Castellanos, C17275, PBSP, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA
  * /George Franco, D46556. DVO. 2300, 2300 Kasson Rd, Tracy CA 95304/
  * /Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Ronnie Dewberry), Freedom Outreach, c/o
    Marie Levin for Sitawa, Fruitvale Station, P.O. Box 7359, Oakland CA
    94601 (Use this address until Sitawa fully recovers)/

/Laura Magnani, assistant regional director for the American Friends 
Service Committee’s West Region, has been working on criminal justice 
issues since the 1970s and with AFSC since 1989. Laura is author of 
“America’s First Penitentiary: A Two Hundred Year Old Failure” (1990) 
and co-author, along with Harmon Ray, of “Beyond Prisons: A New 
Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System” (2006). She also 
authored the 2008 report. “Buried Alive: Long-term Isolation in 
California’s Youth and Adult Prisons 
She can be reached at LMagnani at afsc.org <mailto:LMagnani at afsc.org>. Bay 
View staff contributed to the introduction./

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