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To our brothers inside the walls: a report back from the hearing on solitary confinement

March 9, 2013

by Nancy Arvold

This is just a brief personal comment on the California Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing on solitary confinement last Monday that I attended in Sacramento.

Assembly hearing on SHUs 'Human rights for Pelican Bay prisoners now!' banner at rally 022513 by Denise Mewbourne
Banners blared the message to passersby and to the prisoners’ supporters at the rally that led up to the historic hearing on solitary confinement at the Capitol in Sacramento Feb. 25 – evidence that the struggle continues. – Photo: Denise Mewbourne
It was a beautiful day in Sacramento as we gathered on the steps of the Capitol, and most of us were wearing the new “Stop the Torture” t-shirts that the coalition was selling, so we looked great and our commitment was obvious to the public.

It was heartening to have so many friends and family members and formerly incarcerated people meet on the steps of the Capitol and to hear them speak about their loved ones inside the walls. They spoke of the terrible conditions and of your bravery, and it was clear that all of us are in this for the duration – until solitary confinement is abolished and “gang validation” is seen as the set of oppressive lies it represents.

The hearing itself was both powerful and infuriating. A big problem was that they had booked a small room and had to be out of the room by 4 p.m., so only half of the supporters were actually in the hearing room, with the rest of us watching TV in the cafeteria. (It might have been just as well, since we booed and hooted the CDC and cheered Charles Carbone and Laura Magnani as well as Committee Chair Tom Ammiano and Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell’s comments, so we would probably have been kicked out of the room).

The other problem was that during public comments half of us were lined up outside the room and couldn’t hear what had already been said, and when we got in we were told that we only had one minute to talk. That made it difficult to condense the statements we had prepared to do in two minutes, but we did our best. I was privileged to read a letter I had received from an incarcerated friend and, since I had distributed copies, they got his entire message.

Your voices are not silent, your cause is not forgotten, and we will not stop until there is justice.

Some of us later wrote to Ammiano and strongly recommended he get a large enough room and have enough time to do justice to the friends and family who traveled long distances and needed to be heard. We and you need to be respected in this process.

The CDC, of course, simply regurgitated their false information about the “new step down program” and how fair it was. But Ammiano and most of the committee, especially Holly Mitchell and a new member from South L.A., Reginald Jones-Sawyer, were well informed and outspoken about the issues and up to date on the pilot program and the critique from both the representatives and the supporters.

It is pretty clear that Ammiano has been deeply impacted by his visit to Pelican Bay. It was obvious that other than Bill Quirk, who seems to be pretty clueless, the Public Safety Committee members who attended knew that there was a big discrepancy between what CDC said and what the truth was. Ammiano and Mitchell both agreed that the “cosmetic changes” like beanies don’t constitute real change, that the program would likely increase the number of people in the SHU and that the validation measures are even more arbitrary than those currently in place.

The testimony of attorney Charles Carbone and Laura Magnani of the American Friends Service Committee was very strong, clear and seriously heard by the committee. Both of them challenged what CDC had said, and it was clear to me that Ammiano and the committee members who attended could distinguish the truth from the lies CDC told.

All of us are in this for the duration – until solitary confinement is abolished and “gang validation” is seen as the set of oppressive lies it represents.

Ammiano said that there would be more hearings and that the issues are far from resolved. It is up to us outside and you inside to continue the struggle and challenge the public to learn the truth and our officials to recognize that, yes, solitary confinement is torture and must end.

There were people at the hearing and rally who are new to the movement and others who have been involved in the struggle for prison justice for decades. I met one young man whose brother is in the SHU who attended a rally for the first time, and he knew how important his presence and speaking up for his brother are. There is increasing agreement about that from the United Nations, Amnesty International, and more and more organizations.

Your voices are not silent, your cause is not forgotten, and we will not stop until there is justice.

In solidarity,

Nancy Arvold

Nancy Arvold, a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, can be reached at narvold@sunset.net.

We are trapped in solitary for becoming knowledgeable

This letter from a friend regarding his experience in solitary confinement was written at my request for the Feb. 25 Sacramento hearing. – Nancy Arvold

To the people attending the Sacramento hearing:

All right, here are a few words for the Sacramento hearing you told me about. I’d like to say that the CDCR has decided to play by their own rules with the way they handle New Afrikans, Latinos, Mexicans and poor whites they feel are a threat or who have influence on others by teaching history and culture, prison reform and assisting each other with legal cases.

They call us, who are all over 40, gang members and think certain pieces of literature we read and study promote violence. How so? We as a collective change our idealism from criminally minded to revolutionary, and being educated is the only way we’ll get liberated. We rehabilitate ourselves; the system doesn’t.

We are trapped behind enemy lines in Security Housing Units (SHUs) and Administrative Segregation (AdSegs) for learning and becoming knowledgeable men. We study economics, politics, psychology, sociology, history and the ways of the (in)justice system that tries to keep us buried alive in these concrete tombs, some for 20, 30 and 40 years. We chose to sacrifice ourselves by way of a peaceful hunger strike twice in 2011 to bring attention to our oppressors that we have certain demands we’d like met.

And mind you they are things we’ve already had coming that they took away. We have our mail censored that our loved ones send us and cells searched and our belongings taken away, like books, magazines, newspapers and other periodicals that our oppressors feel are gang material.

I’ve personally, for the last seven years of my incarceration, been dealing with these harassments. I haven’t been placed in AdSeg for any violent acts but for merely having the same mindedness as other fellow comrades who struggle in these slave tombs.

I won’t keep you any longer, and I thank you for taking the time to listen to these words. May you all have a blessed day.

In true struggle,

A servant of the people

 

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