by Jose Villarreal
“Just because we have won victory, we must never relax our vigilance against the frenzied plots for revenge by the imperialists and their running dogs. Whoever relaxes vigilance will disarm himself politically and land himself in a passive position.” – Mao Zedong in “Address to the Preparatory Committee of the New Political Consultative Conference,” delivered June 15, 1949, from “Selected Works, Volume 4”
Having been one of the many who have been let out of the control units (SHU), I can say that there is some victory in this development, but there is much work to be done outside the SHU and still a ways to go before victory is complete. This accomplishment of opening the gates of SHU for many simply means we face new forms of oppression; it changes in form but not in essence.
If we relax our vigilance on it all we will be awash in a repressive environment which leads us back to the SHU torture chambers. The state has taken this defeat very hard, and as a result it has coordinated an offensive which is subtle but very pro-active in its harassment, retaliation and repression that is being unleashed on the Security Threat Group (STG) kickouts, so an assessment on this repression is necessary at this time.
Prisons pre-STG kickout
Looking at prisons going back decades, as more and more of the older, wiser, educated or conscious people were being gaffled up and stuffed in the control units and put on a shelf, the state was simultaneously tightening their grip on prisons and restricting the environments within prisons so that the mainlines became super repressive.
When someone drove up who was a legal beagle or was able to organize forms of resistance to state repression, they would be snatched up and stuffed in the SHU. This creates a chilling effect on jailhouse lawyers and prison activism in general.
As a result, the state has been able to initiate all kinds of dehumanizing methods on the mainlines for years. Here in Pelican Bay’s mainline, for example, for years when prisoners would exit their cell blocks to go to yard, everyone was lined up en masse and strip-searched and even told to turn around squat, cough and spread their cheeks right there on the yard in broad daylight.
Because we have all endured these “visual inspections” at some point while imprisoned, it becomes “normal” to some. There is nothing normal about this and this foulness no longer occurs here.
Many of the methods of dehumanization or repression have been stopped as more and more people who know better are let out of SHU, but new repressive shoots are constantly sprouting up that need to be combatted. Some are not as detectable, but when looked at as a whole, we see them as part and parcel of a new state offensive. STG kickouts and their kind seem to be the targets of these repressive actions.
The state, after licking its wounds from the shellacking that produced our release from SHU, has regrouped and created new tactics to harass those kicked out of SHU. But they will not announce their offensive with bold signs, nor will they list it on a 115 as harassment for being kicked out of SHU.
But they don’t have to say what their actions communicate loud and clear. At the same time it’s our job to identify the many forms of repression and see how they tie into new methods of repression relabeled, repackaged and delivered outside the SHU.
These new methods are designed for our new environment because what was employed in the control unit theater won’t work on the mainline. New terrain requires new tactics, right?
The state, after licking its wounds from the shellacking that produced our release from SHU, has regrouped and created new tactics to harass those kicked out of SHU.
Elements of repression
So far in discussing this with others, we have identified four points of concern that reveal the different elements of the offensive being unleashed on STG kickouts. These points are as follows:
- Cell raids
- Repressive visiting
- Excessive petty 115s
- Mail stoppage
These four points need our undivided attention as they are components to the offensive against all STG kickouts. But this means all prisoners need to identify how the components are playing out in their facility, because we suspect what is occurring here on Pelican Bay mainline is occurring in all facilities statewide as part of the state’s larger offensive.
Cell raids – A “raid” is when guards run in, either to an entire pod or to individual cells, screaming “Get down!” while armed with cans of mace and night sticks.
You are cuffed and taken out to a cage while your cell is trashed as they dismantle your cell and rifle through everything. I have been out of SHU eight months and have seen four raids in my pod. In the first, a couple of cells were raided on my tier. The second was when my whole pod was raided, including my cell. And on May 3, 2016, my cell and two other cells were raided again.
In this latest cell raid at 6:00 a.m. on the dot, approximately 10 IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) came through the front door, running upstairs, yelling as my cell and two other cell doors opened and they ran screaming, “Get down!” as they wielded mace cans and night sticks. As always, their operation turned out to be fruitless. But my cell looked like El Nino visited.
So there has been an average JUST IN MY POD of one raid every two months. Taking into account that IGI and ISU (Investigative Services Unit) may have quotas for cell searches or that they may need to conduct live training for new squad, they may be simply employing “raid style” operations when a basic cell search is all that is required.
The problem with this is that it is not the proper procedure for a cell search. They could have simply walked up to my cell and told me to step out, but employing this paramilitary style tactical method creates an environment which has a potential for violence. The method in which they run up in our cells invites violence, as it’s highly provoking.
It is clearly meant to provoke someone into reacting in a way that justifies further oppression and violence. The fact that these paramilitary tactics are being used on STG kickouts is a clear sign that we are being harassed and retaliated against for simply being released from the SHU torture chamber. The state was compelled to release us, but they will not allow us to forget their distaste in doing so.
Under new STG procedures, if there was a 1030 (confidential information) on us, we should have received a 115; this further highlights the harassment. It is one more sign of proof that they are not living up to their “settlement.” We never really believed that the state would live up to its part of the bargain. Most simply waited for the proof to come out so that we can explore our next move.
It does not take a genius to realize that sooner or later someone will end up getting hurt from such cell raids. This highlights the need more than ever for a paper trail to be created which addresses these highly provocative, violence-prone actions.
Those experiencing them should appeal them just like one should appeal any other injustice. Some have erroneously become accustomed to these raids as if it’s “just the way it is.” But this is not normal and should not be tolerated. If there is confidential information that weapons are involved, they may be able to conduct a cell raid; but for simple cell searches or harassment, this is unacceptable.
The state was compelled to release us, but they will not allow us to forget their distaste in doing so.
Because I have experienced this foulness, I am 602ing this and I plan to also file legal action on it because it violates normal cell search procedures as well as my constitutional right to equal treatment under the law as guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I recommend others do the same.
Repressive visiting – This prison has also begun to hyper-police the visiting room, where visits here are being abruptly cancelled simply for prisoners being accused of touching a visitor’s hand or kneecap. As if this wasn’t bad enough, when a visit is cancelled, several guards enter the visiting room and march through in military tactical formation, surrounding the prisoner and his family – including small children – once more provoking and creating an environment that has a high potential for violence as they run up on one’s children like this.
There is no quicker way to ignite violence in a prisoner than to threaten our children in front of us, and the state knows this.
What’s more is almost all of those who are having this experience are STG kickouts. One’s family is simply told to go home after they have driven 10-20 hours. The tactics employed when we were in SHU of attempting to destroy the family unit or any support system one may have via one-hour visits behind glass has transformed to walking into the visiting room stating, “Visit’s over!” Who would want to keep coming up, driving 10 -20 hours, for that?
Most STG kickouts have been away from their friends and family for years and decades, so of course they want to hug on their loved ones. But many folks I have been able to speak to in investigating for this article state that these allegations are just not true and they never even touched their visitors in the way that is alleged. It’s for this reason that we identified REPRESSIVE VISITING as another element in the states offensive.
It’s important that the issue of repressive visiting also be combatted via appeal and legal action. It will not get any better if it is not challenged.
Excessive petty 115s – Another tactic of harassment being unleashed on STG kickouts is issuing excessive petty 115s. This facility has begun to write people up for things like “out of bounds” or walking in areas that earn you a 115.
What these petty 115s do is not only prevent one from dropping points and security level, but they also prevent people from transferring and they get people placed on “C-status,” where they are confined to quarters and not allowed on the yard. STG kickouts are also being written up for these petty 115s, and we are told that the administration has gave the word to “write everything up.”
This is another element of the repression that STG kickouts are experiencing. I myself was written up for “disobeying an order” because a guard alleged that upon release for education class, I was seen “stopping and talking to another prisoner.” This was totally fabricated and, as I pointed out the many inaccuracies to the write-up, it was soon dropped.
These petty 115s are also part of the harassment that we are facing. And although many people who are written up do not challenge them via appeal, this needs to change. Every element of the repression needs to be combatted; otherwise, we will quickly be encircled in harassment and stifled in this offensive.
Mail stoppage – When we were in the SHU, our mail experienced many attacks. We often got our mail a month late if at all. Censorship is very much a part of our lives, as mail is one of the few ways the state gets to push our buttons.
Most have experienced mail thrown away, returned to sender or held hostage for a period of time. Many also understand that messing with people’s mail is a form of psyco-warfare, a way to irritate and harass a prisoner. It is then no surprise that STG kickouts are experiencing this harassment.
Many STG kickouts are experiencing mail stoppage here in this facility. I am currently receiving my mail about a month late. When it comes, it has a highlighter mark going over either the stamp or my name. This by no means is meant to deliver a great blow to those experiencing it, but when we look at the cumulative effect and take into account all of the elements of repression, we quickly see that mail stoppage coupled with everything else works to put the squeeze on those experiencing all of this.
For many, mail is the only lifeline to the outside world. The state understands this and responds by targeting mail for this sole purpose. They are basically attacking all areas that allow us to have a bearable existence. Just as they worked hard to attempt to make our lives miserable inside the SHU, they now attempt to make our lives miserable outside the SHU.
They are basically attacking all areas that allow us to have a bearable existence. Just as they worked hard to attempt to make our lives miserable inside the SHU, they now attempt to make our lives miserable outside the SHU.
If it turns out the state is employing a coordinated attack of harassment on STG kickouts, then it will take a coordinated defense to counter this. But like any defense, we need to fully understand what is occurring so we need to do our homework.
The first step is for prisoners to focus on these four points and see if they exist in their facilities. We do not know if this is a statewide offensive on STG kickouts, but if it is, prisoners would be wise to use the appeal process in order to begin a paper trail so that our legal team can not only raise these issues during their quarterly meetings but they can have concrete evidence to look for as they investigate this further. Our legal team should look closely at these four points because when proven, they will also further reveal how the prisons are violating the so-called settlement agreement.
Some of the questions that our legal team should ask are:
- What nationalities are being targeted for cell raids?
- What specific sub-groups are being targeted the most?
- In the last year how many cell raids have occurred and how many discovered material which moved the occupants of said cell to the hole?
- Are cell raids conducted in place of regular cell searches?
- How many cell raids were conducted without staff receiving confidential information? And how many were STG kickouts?
- How many visits have been cancelled mid-visit? Was there video evidence of any wrongdoing?
- Can visitors whose visits are cancelled be notified that they can file a citizen’s complaint against the officer who cancelled their visit?
- Have staff been told to write 115s for issues that should be warnings? How many STG kickouts have been written up?
- What nationalities are being written up and at what rate?
- What sub-groups are being written up the most?
- Why is ISU holding mail longer than the prescribed limit for processing mail?
Discovering the answers to these questions will allow us to properly combat this offensive and to scale back the repression that we are facing. Appealing some of this in different facilities would also reveal that IT IS a statewide offensive and that the prisons ARE violating the settlement agreement – and, as a result, perhaps we will all get a better deal in the aftermath of it.
It is also very likely that there are even more elements of repression right under our noses that we haven’t yet discovered. This is the importance of prisoners studying their environment and writers expressing it for others to learn from.
I am personally 602ing three of these four points. But it will take prisoners en masse to combat these forms of repression and to communicate them to our legal team, whose address I’ve shown at the end of this writing. Allowing these elements of repression to exist means allowing a super-policed environment to concentrate.
It may also be the case that what is occurring here in Pelican Bay is simply a test run for what will be employed in other prisons, as CDCR likes to use this place as a test kitchen and model for what they employ in other prisons. In any event, now that we have a legal team who have the ear of the judge, it would be wise to raise any of the elements of repression which may show a disregard of the settlement.
Being out on the mainline is a huge step away from control unit conditions, but this is still a highly repressive environment. Being in such an environment does not mean we must accept such conditions.
If we understand power, we’ll know that power means having the ability to transform our environment. STG kickouts should understand power, because most are powerful people who endured, withstood and overcame the control unit which is the state’s weapon of choice to destroy us. So we should ride out this powerful momentum that now is transforming our new environments.
Our legal team for the settlement: Attorney at Law Anne Cappella, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, 201 Redwood Shores Parkway, fourth floor, Redwood City, CA 94065
Send our brother some love and light: Jose H. Villarreal, H-84098, PBSP B4-210, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.