Support SF BayView
Donate or Subscribe to SF Bay View
Follow Us Twitter Facebook

We are relying on the legislature to rein in CDCR’s gross abuse of power, this year

April 22, 2014

by Todd Ashker

As a principal representative of the PBSP SHU (Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit) Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement, I begin this personal perspective update with a shout out of solidarity and respect to all those inside and outside these prison walls who have put aside divisive race and culture differences in order to unite as a prisoner class and demand long overdue, meaningful reforms to the fascist prison industrial complex – beginning with the end of long term solitary confinement and inclusive of humane treatment, dignity, respect and rehabilitative programs and privileges of real substance – beneficial to all prisoners, our outside loved ones and public safety in general.

Joint hearing on solitary group photo of most supporters & Capitol 021114 by Lucas Guilkey

Of all the legislative hearings since the first hunger strike in 2011, the Feb. 11 hearing drew by far the largest number of prisoner supporters. Public testimony from former prisoners and families and friends of prisoners was extremely moving. As Todd Ashker writes, “Our people outside did a great job of educating the legislators.” This is not all of the supporters who attended; the group photo was taken after many had left. – Photo: Lucas Guilkey

Additionally, I sincerely thank the California Assembly and Senate Public Safety Committee members for holding the joint public hearings Oct. 9, 2013, and Feb. 11, 2014, in order to further examine the CDCR’s use and abuse of long term punitive solitary confinement as a general purpose “status”-based gang management policy resulting in the torture of thousands of people over the course of more than three decades.

These hearings were in response to our third peaceful hunger strike protest in two years, wherein more than 40 prisoners fasted for 60 days, and, at its peak, more than 30,000 prisoners joined in solidarity to protest decades of personal subjection to policies amounting to state sanctioned torture! Prisoner Billy Sell’s death was directly related to our collective protest issues, and others have yet to fully recover.

There can be no doubt that the legislators’ courageous act of publically acknowledging our protest issues in late August 2013 saved many lives, and it gave many people real hope that substantive changes will be forthcoming. And now that there has been additional public exposure – via the two public hearings – demonstrating CDCR’s refusal to institute real, meaningful changes, on its own, people are relying on the legislature to do all in their power to pass legislation reining in CDCR’s gross abuse of power, this year.

This is of critical importance in light of CDCR’s push to have their “Security Threat Group-Step Down Program” formally adopted into the rules and regulations – in spite of repeated, point specific objections to such by those affected by it, the prisoner class, including outside loved ones and people of conscience. There are many red flags within the STG-SDP policy, as well as related actions demonstrative of our point that this policy is simply a repackaged new twist on the policies in place for the past 30 years, as briefly illustrated below:

The new disciplinary matrix changes nothing; it merely codifies all the innocent, associational type acts used to keep us in SHU indefinitely for the past 30 years into the regulations, as formal rule violations requiring a rules violation report. Being found guilty of such is a slam dunk resulting in placement or retention in SHU for an indefinite term of four years to life.

Additionally, it instructs staff to issue rule violations based on confidential prisoner informant debriefing reports meeting reliability criteria per CCR Title 15, Section 3321. Those inside know how IGI (Institutional Gang Investigations) et al manipulate this. Thus people can expect lots of write-ups based solely on confidential prisoner informant claims, which will result in being found guilty. And once the determinate SHU term assessed for such is completed, it’s all about beginning the four years to life SDP!

There can be no doubt that the legislators’ courageous act of publically acknowledging our protest issues in late August 2013 saved many lives, and it gave many people real hope that substantive changes will be forthcoming.

Since we suspended our hunger strike on Sept. 5, 2013, the CDCR has conducted 12 case by case reviews of PBSP Short Corridor prisoners classified as members – that’s 12 over the past six months. Additionally, the statistics show that while CDCR claims to have released more than 400 prisoners from solitary confinement to general prison population per STG-SDP case by case reviews, the number of prisoners in solitary confinement cells has increased! This is what we stated would happen way back in March 2012 in our public opposition to the STG-SDP proposal.

The CDCR has kept their word about providing us with a bit more SHU privileges responsive to our fifth core demand and related supplemental demands. These are all things former CDCR Undersecretary Kernan admitted we should have had 20 years ago when we met with him in 2011. And most were only recently authorized a few weeks before the Feb. 11, 2014, legislative hearing.

Of course, they are a plus, but they don’t go far enough – e.g., we should be able to have contact visits and weekly phone calls etc. – and a real concern is that providing additional privileges is the prisoncrats’ way of improving SHU and Ad Seg conditions with the intent such will make it acceptable to keep us here forever.

Our remaining demands 1-4 remain unresolved.

The statistics show that while CDCR claims to have released more than 400 prisoners from solitary confinement to general prison population per STG-SDP case by case reviews, the number of prisoners in solitary confinement cells has increased!

Many people recognize that there is an element within CDCR’s rank and file – administrators, Office of Correctional Safety (OCS), California Peace Officers Association (CCPOA, the guards’ union) etc. – whose underlying agenda is to maintain and promote the expansion of the prison industrial complex, related to the growing fascist police state agenda in this nation.

One of the prisoncrats’ tactics under CDCR Secretary Beard’s leadership is the increase in propagandist demonization of SHU prisoners as the “worst of the worst” in order to try and justify and expand on the policies and practices condemned by the world as violating longstanding human rights treaty law banning torture. A recent example is Secretary Beard’s LA Times op ed of Aug. 6, 2013, wherein he claimed the hunger strike, a massive, peaceful protestation, was a gang power play, intended to regain control of the prison system.

Secretary Beard’s support for this obvious lie? Reliance on 25- to 40-year-old events taken out of context and stories by two prisoners who broke down after years of enduring torturous SHU conditions, “debriefed” and were quickly recruited as state propagandist collaborators. In order to “successfully debrief,” one must support the CDCR-OCS agenda.

Notably, prior to these torture victims’ agreement to become state agent collaborators, they were in the PBSP SHU Short Corridor, labeled the worst of the worst. Each of them is serving a life term for murder convictions outside prison and had been issued many serious rule violation charges while in prison – landing them in SHU. One was accused of strangling his SHU cell mate.

Yet, as soon as they agreed to become state collaborators against our cause, their past misdeeds are forgotten, and their words become “good as gold” while CDCR parades them before the public. This is a strategy used by CDCR to try and distract the world’s focus away from our exposure of state sanctioned torture. This is how fascists operate.

For their part, these two collaborators now enjoy special general prison population perks, at the “sensitive needs” prison of their choice.

Also notable is the fact that the prisoncrats refused to allow Sen. Hancock to personally meet with us in late September 2013. As well, they refused to allow a couple of us to personally participate in the Feb. 11 hearing. CDCR’s intent is to try and prevent us from being seen and heard as human beings while simultaneously propagating the alleged greatness of their Security Threat Group-Step Down Program.

From my perspective, the above points are ongoing examples demonstrating CDCR’s lack of respect for our human rights and dignity – as well as their intent to continue to abuse their power with impunity, if allowed to do so. It’s especially concerning the way they tried to marginalize us out of the legislative hearing process, and I believe it could be a major mistake for us to allow them to do so without even a token response – a reminder of our resistance and refusal to accept having our voices silenced, so they can maintain the status quo of indefinite solitary confinement, thereby condemning us to the long, slow death such entails, while they profit. Thousands passing on a day or two of food is a strong reminder and showing of solidarity.

I mistakenly thought there was a consensus and put out a statement in early January. The prisoncrats have hindered the dialogue, creating confusion. Thus, as soon as I found out the consensus wasn’t there, I immediately moved to change the statement to reflect my personal views – this too was stymied.

Notable is the fact that the prisoncrats refused to allow Sen. Hancock to personally meet with us in late September 2013. As well, they refused to allow a couple of us to personally participate in the Feb. 11 hearing. CDCR’s intent is to try and prevent us from being seen and heard as human beings while simultaneously propagating the alleged greatness of their Security Threat Group-Step Down Program.

The important thing is that CDCR’s moves to marginalize us from Feb. 11 have failed. Our people outside did a great job of educating the legislators about the sham aspects of CDCR’s STG-SDP, including Dolores Canales’ requests for prisoners here to send letters to Sen. Hancock. And, based on my commitment, a few of us went on a three-day hunger strike from Feb. 3 to 5. It all helped ensure that our humanity was not forgotten on Feb. 11.

I still believe a crucial part of our struggle for real reform requires us to do our part in here. Failing that, we can’t ask for, nor expect, people outside to support us.

The important thing is that CDCR’s moves to marginalize us from Feb. 11 have failed. Our people outside did a great job of educating the legislators about the sham aspects of CDCR’s STG-SDP, including Dolores Canales’ requests for prisoners here to send letters to Sen. Hancock.

While I’m at it, I’ll also address and clarify a few recurrent points raised, related to our collective cause. This comes from my perspective, as an individual and principal representative, as follows:

The subject of criticism and obstructionism

Historically, no social movement has proceeded without criticism. Constructive criticism is a good thing and everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Naturally, there’s obvious reasons why we’re not able or willing to discuss the basis for our collective decisions. Suffice it to say most people understood from the gate that this effort would be a protracted struggle, and we agreed to do all we could to be smarter than our adversary, recognizing this is a constantly evolving process, similar to a chess game of moves and counter moves, responsive to circumstances. And we’ve done an excellent job of this.

Most participants have done so on the basis of faith and solidarity, recognizing something has to be done to put CDCR’s abuse of power in check. Not everyone gets the point of a concept at the same time – some take a while to get it, and some never do. That’s human nature.

Generally, our goal is the same. And for those who do get it – onward in struggle and solidarity.

As for obstructionism – differences of opinion are always going to happen, and such are not obstructionist in my view. I see an obstructionism as active attempts to hinder an action of resistance. I’m sure everyone recognizes it when they see it.

I still believe a crucial part of our struggle for real reform requires us to do our part in here. Failing that, we can’t ask for, nor expect, people outside to support us.

The bottom line is our combined, unified efforts, inside and out, have been very effective to date. We’ve gained a lot of ground in a relatively short time against a powerful entity.

We need to remain on top of things and continue to do our part, and we will prevail. We can’t become complacent based on CDCR’s psychological tactics – like false hope.

On agreement to end racial group hostilities

People need to be mindful that this 2012 agreement was made and based on the consensus we came to here in the Short Corridor, and we encouraged prisoners statewide to follow suit – for their own benefits – as summarized in the agreement! This is an adult system, and we need to be mindful of what we all have in common behind these walls and who our common adversary is. And we need to be smart about achieving positive gains beneficial to all prisoners.

As expected, CDCR has refused to allow us to promote our agreement, and there are always going to be those who seek to derail it. All actions are accountable at some point, and people need to do their best to be wise and reasonably diplomatic. Airing perceived breaches in public is not appropriate and looks real bad on those who do so; it perpetuates divisiveness.

On proposed legislation

There’s a small opening for getting legislation passed this year; therefore, it has to be a collective effort, focused on the one or two key points which have the best chance of success – beneficial to the largest number of prisoners. It’s a mistake to put forward a bunch of proposals which have no chance of passing this year, because such takes away the focus from the one or two with the best chance of passing. An illustrative example is a criminal appeal. When you throw 30 issues at the court, it can hurt your chance of prevailing on the one or two strongest issues – and result in losing the entire appeal.

I’ve thought a lot about this and have come up with the two issues I believe have the best chance of passing. The main issue of contention between us and CDCR is the definition of “behavior” resulting in SHU placement and retention.

The CDCR’s Security Threat Group-Step Down Program merely seeks to require “formal rule violations” to place or retain us in SHU – based on the same things they’ve used for 30 years – without writing us up. Via the creation of the STG-SDP “Disciplinary Matrix,” CDCR codifies minor association-type activity into the regulations as formal, serious and/or administrative rule violations, as well as instruction on formal charges based solely on confidential prisoner informant allegations, when the reliability criteria per Title 15, Section 2231, is met.

Thus, we need to obtain legislation that limits such abuse of power.

In August 2011, Gov. Brown signed into law California Penal Code Section 1111.5, providing guidelines for “the use of in-custody informants in criminal cases.” Thus, legislators are aware of problems with abuse involving informants, and I believe a unified push can successfully expand the scope of this penal code section to include the use of confidential informant debriefing reports in the CDCR rule violation process – a big plus for prisoners.

Push to end the use of minor prison rule violations that are not even misdemeanors per the Penal Code – see those listed in the STG-SDP Disciplinary Matrix for categories 6 and 8 – for SHU placement and retention. The way to push it is to focus on the fact that such aren’t even misdemeanors, yet CDCR uses them to place and retain people in SHU cells for a minimum of four years to life – at a cost of at least $20,000 more per year than a general population cell.

And this will potentially result in approximately 85,000 prisoners who currently meet STG criteria being subject to these costly SHU cells – for four years to life (of torture).

On Step Down Program participation

Our position has not changed: We are 100 percent opposed to this! However, if people refuse to participate, then how do we obtain the proof necessary to support our position that it’s a sham program? The journals are a problem – we’ve been told they don’t leave our possession, that the facilitators just thumb through it in front of you to be sure you’ve written something. Naturally, participation is an individual decision, and any abuse need to be documented.

On class action certification

We’re still waiting on the judge’s written ruling formally certifying the case as a class action! However, at the oral arguments, all present agreed, the judge indicated such certification would be allowed. The issue is just more complicated since the CDCR came out with their alleged “new” gang management policy per STG-SDP; and this is why we believe it’s taking a while to issue the order on paper.

Based on our own experiences here, we know CDCR, OCS and IGI are already abusing the STG Disciplinary Matrix and issuing a lot of “serious” rule violations for minor things, using CCR, Title 15, Section 3023 “Promotion of Gang Activity” without any evidence of “promotion” etc. Any documentation relating to this or any other abuse regarding STG-SDP issues needs to be sent to the class action attorneys asap.

With solidarity and respect,

Todd Ashker

This letter was written Feb. 24, 2014, but did not reach the Bay View until late April. Send our brother some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

 

Tags

Filed Under: Prison Stories
Tags:

2 thoughts on “We are relying on the legislature to rein in CDCR’s gross abuse of power, this year

  1. B. Cayenne Bird

    Great article, but he doesn't get it that we didn't elect this legislature. CCPOA, corporations that profit on human bondage put up the dollars and votes to elect these legislators. Therefore, we will have no reform unless we can elect Cindy Sheehan and Jack Lindblad. If we don't do that, then forget reform. We have zero representation mainly because we put up no one to run, nor did we work for them or make donations to their campaign.

    Reply
  2. B. Cayenne Bird

    Three million people attached to a state prisoner, about 50,000 in CCPOA labor unions and lawmakers that they put into power. The bureaucrats are not at all worried that we have the ability to Get Out The Vote for Cindy Sheehan as Governor. They joke about how we won't effectively organize, but the numbers are on our side should we actually want to get feet on the street and elect Jack Lindblad and Cindy Sheehan. Until we put different people up there, the votes will not be in our favor. Modern Slavery business is too good, too profitable and fold up over a little noise. In America, oppression is a choice and we haven't done wide organizing yet as the solution.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

BayView Classifieds - ads, opportunities, announcements
San Francisco Comcast