by Todd Ashker, one of four PBSP-SHU prisoner reps
To CDCR administrators Secretary Beard, Undersecretary Hoshino, Director Stainer, Associate Director Diaz, Pelican Bay State Prison Warden Ducart
This memorandum is directed to the above CDCR administrators for the express purpose of respectfully reminding you about unresolved and continuing problematic issues relevant to our 2011-2014 Five Core and 40 Supplemental Demands and CDCR’s Security Threat Group-Step Down Program (STG-SDP).
I am requesting your attention and responsive dialogue addressing these issues during the meeting with our outside mediation team and with Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, James Williamson and myself in the near future. The following is from me.
We are presently at the one year point post “suspension” of our third peaceful protest hunger strike action against long term indefinite solitary confinement – i.e. SHU and ad-seg confinement – and related conditions therein and damage therefrom to prisoners, our outside loved ones and society in general, as supported by the public record from the legislative Joint Public Safety Committee hearings held in October 2013 and February 2014.
I believe we have demonstrated our commitment to seeing the reforms sought in our demands implemented in principle and in the spirit of our peaceful collective actions, and I am reminding you of some relevant facts.
- In 2011, CDCR Undersecretary Kernan and others admitted that our five core demands were reasonable, and many should have been implemented and provided 20 years ago. Three years later, many remain unresolved.
- It was our two peaceful hunger strike actions, involving thousands of prisoners statewide, and related international and national public exposure and condemnation of our decades of subjection to a form of coercive, state sanctioned torture that brought out Undersecretary Kernan and others’ public admission that CDCR had been over-using the validation process, and he was going to revise such policies, responsive to our demands.
- Our primary goal has always been, and remains, ending long-term indefinite SHU and ad-seg confinement! Contrary to the claims of CDCR Secretary Beard et al, the STG-SDP is not responsive to our primary demand because it continues a policy of indefinite SHU placement and retention. And it’s structured in vague over-reaching terms that will ultimately result in many more prisoners being subject to indefinite SHU – in large part due to minor infractions – already being borne out by the fact that more prisoners are in SHU and ad-seg today than prior to the start of STG-SDP pilot program in October 2012.
- With our primary goal in mind – ending indefinite SHU policy – any policy and practice that enables such to continue is not acceptable; thus, while CDCR has been somewhat responsive to some of our demands re SHU and ad-seg program and privilege issues, most of us in SHU for decades already remain here indefinitely. The point is, no matter how you dress it up, spending 24/7 in a small cell for months, years, decades without normal human contact, especially the contact of physically touching one’s outside loved ones, equals a form of torturous social extermination, period!
- A major aspect of our collective movement to meaningfully reform this prison system in ways beneficial to prisoners, staff, outside loved ones and society in general is related to the system’s rank and file treating prisoners and our outside loved ones humanely – as fellow human beings, with dignity and respect.
I’m not sure how many of you current administrators were in the loop during our discussions about SHU policy changes in 2011-2012, but we pointed out that CDCR leadership knows how to create a reform policy – intended to be successful or one intended to fail. As summarized below, the current structure and implementation of the STG-SDP appears to be intended to fail. This will not bode well for CDCR.
Remember this: Our 2013 peaceful protest action was “suspended” – and many prisoners are not happy with much of the STG-SDP policy! They aren’t being treated humanely, with dignity or respect, under the present structure and implementation of said policy.
Like it or not, you need prisoners’ cooperation, support and participation with any policy affecting thousands, or your policy fails.
For example, if all prisoners refused to participate in your SDP, while you go about your STG provisions, your policy fails you because you end up having tens of thousands on Step 1, indefinite SHU status. Add peaceful actions, resulting in additional peaceful protesting prisoners’ deaths – and costs should you have to force feed a hundred to two hundred prisoners – and related global attention.
At some point, jobs would be lost and changes made – ending the failed policy. Will it come down to this? The bottom line is, long-term indefinite SHU is not effective and harms all concerned. It’s ending nationwide and this will be the case in California too – better to be sooner than later.
Our 2013 peaceful protest action was “suspended” – and many prisoners are not happy with much of the STG-SDP policy! They aren’t being treated humanely, with dignity or respect, under the present structure and implementation of said policy.
With the above in mind, the following are points supporting the referenced facts and unresolved issues you have the power to meaningfully resolve:
1) Our alternative proposal to the STG-SDP has been on the table since September 2012. It’s based on principle points of (a) SHU placement being reserved for those guilty of felonious-type violations, assessed determinate SHU terms, and (b) a modified type of general population transition program between SHU and GP. Our mediation team has details about this proposal, which have been provided to you as well. The SDP Steps 3 and 4 aren’t even close to this – e.g. they provide zero contact visits.
2) In addition to provisions enabling continued indefinite SHU placement and retention, the following examples support the position that the STG-SDP as structured and implemented is designed to fail.
(a) The issues re legitimate, meaningful incentives for each step have not been satisfactorily resolved – e.g. allowing more phone calls, photographs, packages and special purchases, contact visits etc.
(b) Steps 3 and 4 at CCI Tehachapi are seen as a bad step down re conditions, programming and privileges – to the extent that many prisoners see no point in participating.
Examples: Visits are limited to one hour, on either Saturday or Sunday; cells are dirty and cleaning materials are not being provided; nor is laundry, clothing or linen being provided and exchanged; the TV and radio stations are very limited and out of signal all the time; the food is bad; shower program is poorly run, as is yard program; property is processed very slowly, and typewriters are not being allowed etc., etc., etc. Staff attitudes are poor.
Plus, many prisoners held in PBSP SHU for decades have loved ones who reside in the Del Norte County area – with jobs etc., and a transfer to CCI is a hardship to their loved ones.
You have the ability to remedy the above, via use of former PSU (at PBSP) cell blocks for Steps 3 and 4. These steps should also allow contact visits. A Step 3 and 4 at PBSP should be an option for those with local family ties.
There’s no legitimate penological basis to deny these prisoners human physical contact with loved ones and friends. Up until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed contact visits. Thus, it’s a reasonable, meaningful incentive for those prisoners participation in Steps 3 and 4.
(c) The journals remain a problem for many – e.g. at Corcoran – and I will point out that George Giurbino et al admitted at one of our meetings last year that the journals were lacking in substantive rehab value, qualifying this with, “but that’s all that’s available.” Look, we all know the journals have zero relevance to rehabilitation of prisoners transitioning between SHU and GP, demonstrated by the fact that prisoners placed on Step 5 by DRB’s case-by-case reviews of long-term SHU prisoners don’t have to do a single journal. You should make the journals a voluntary self-help program available to all CDCR prisoners. The way you’re using them as a required part of SDP Steps 1-4 makes you all look bad for many reasons.
(d) The case by case reviews at PBSP are too slow. Hundreds still wait on theirs.
Miscellaneous issues remaining to be resolved include but are not limited to:
- Mattresses should be upgraded – as you know, PIA (CDCR Prison Industry Authority) mattresses are a big problem.
- Restriction on privileges should only be based on being guilty of abusing the specific privilege – e.g., photographs, art materials.
- Allowable art materials should be expanded, per principle of individual accountability – e.g., woodless colored pencils and all type of art paper.
- Photograph program for SHU and ad-seg visiting should be resumed, as done in Vacaville in the ‘80s, where the visitor and prisoner are in the photo, taken on the visitor’s side of glass.
Your attention and anticipated positive responsive resolutions to the above subjects are appreciated.
Send our brother some love and light: Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532. This letter was written Sept. 1 and relayed to CDCR through the outside mediation team.