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Wrongfully returned to SHU: Six-month update

February 25, 2018

by Minister Shavougue Mason

Pelican Bay State Prison was opened in 1989 as the first new prison in the country designed and built as a “supermax,” holding prisoners in extreme isolation endlessly, over 500 for more than a decade. D Facility was the toughest part of the prison, where the leaders of the hunger strikes used to be housed and where Minister Shavougue Mason is housed now. – Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP

I begin this six-month update on the activities of CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] and the CCPOA [California Correctional Peace Officers Association] with my utmost thankfulness and respect for the San Francisco Bay View. I thank your staff and readers for continuing to shine a bright light on the injustices that occur daily behind enemy lines, as it pertains to human beings who are marginalized as prisoners, defined as slaves by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but yet full citizens of this country!

I have now been housed in Pelican Bay Level II SHU for six months, and the situation has not progressed but has rapidly deteriorated in lieu of the promises made by the administration and staff and the lack of support from the ombudsman’s office. Take note that there are still too few programs up and running to accommodate the four hundred and something-odd prisoners housed here.

The administration has resorted to the “Red Ball” theory of distraction to try to keep the prisoners from focusing on the fact that we are housed in the SHU with staff who have not been retained and are continuing to operate as if we are SHU or Level IV prisoners, under the banner of “This is Pelican Bay!” From requiring us to walk single file down the corridor to using space that’s needed to run self-help programs, to putting a ping-pong table in this space, is not conducive to rehabilitation.

There are still too few programs up and running to accommodate the four hundred and something-odd prisoners housed here.

Due to the extremely limited space here, and nothing but NA [Narcotics Anonymous], ABE II [Adult Basic Education II], SUDS [Substance Use Disorders Skills] and Choices [Choices Counseling and Skills Center] running, it is a far cry from the self-help groups, vocation classes, college courses, job coding class, exercise yard, chapel, education space and freedom of movement that the administration promised to all of us who arrived here on July 11, 2017.

In addition to these issues I just cited, the lack of educational and self-help programs, the administration as well as D-Facility staff refuse to consider suggestions offered by MAC [Men’s Advisory Council] as well as those offered by general population inmates who were abruptly taken from programming institutions with adequate space to hold programs and forced into a housing environment with a lack of space, which further exacerbates the overall deterioration of Pelican Bay Level II SHU.

It is a major concern of the general population here that due to the lack of adequate programming, we are falling far short of meeting the requirements the Board of Parole Hearing (BPH) has placed on us. For instance, the sponsor, Kathy, who runs the NA group is also the only sponsor for the few self-help groups here. She hasn’t shown up for three weeks now, which causes us to not receive RAC [Rehabilitative Achievement Credits] credits, yet on paper Sacramento believes these groups are running as they should, which is a lie the administration is perpetuating.

It is a major concern of the general population here that due to the lack of adequate programming, we are falling far short of meeting the requirements the Board of Parole Hearing (BPH) has placed on us.

Further, anything the administration has given us we had coming, but we had to fight for it via a 602 [Inmate/Parolee Appeal Form]. Things like watches, pens, razors, beard trimmers and hand-held mirrors.

Now that it’s winter, the general population are being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment due to the half roof of the “old SHU” yard in each building, which is six per building in total. With C and D pods of each building being connected to the yard patios, they are being left open from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Only after a 602 was this changed to coincide with the opening and closing of the yard patio, yet certain officers who are SHU and Level IV holdovers, like Benafield, Riley, Davis and Hurley, are still refusing to follow the memorandum circulated by Capt. D. Melton. Now, that 602 is on the warden’s desk to have the roof capped and the door retrofitted to keep the elderly inmates, whom it affects the most, in a reasonably healthy environment.

We are being required to eat breakfast in 40-degree weather inside the pod, fully dressed in thermals, blues, coats and beanies because of the open air SHU yards in the pods. There are no bathroom facilities on the yard (patio) and no water fountain.

There are three tables in the middle of the patio with a basketball goal at one end and a handball court on the other with two dip bars and pull-up bars on the side. There isn’t any room to run and the design is hazardous for the 96 prisoners who use it because it is between the backs of two buildings.

Yet the administration has repeatedly stated, “We have no funds to start work on the main yard.” This couldn’t be further from the truth! The sole purpose of reopening the SHU was about multi-millions of dollars and job security!

We are being required to eat breakfast in 40-degree weather inside the pod, fully dressed in thermals, blues, coats and beanies because of the open air SHU yards in the pods. There are no bathroom facilities on the yard (patio) and no water fountain.

Pelican Bay was given $130 million-plus as if they had a fully functioning Level II general population yard – and they don’t! Clearly if the administration had built an exercise yard, they would have had space for a chapel and educational building or trailers which would have provided the space needed to hold classes and groups. Yet, when areas such as the law library, which is only open to D-Facility one day a week, is not being utilized as space for groups, it shows the unwillingness of the top administrators here to have a successful programming general population facility.

Any attempt to find out about the funds in the Inmate Welfare Fund is discouraged, but is a provision of SB 542. At the current time, Pelican Bay is paying for basic cable out of the Inmate Welfare Fund, which is an authorized expenditure according to DOM [Department Operations Manual] Section 23010.6.1.

But the TV specialist, T. Rico, has the channel manager in use to block channels that are included in the basic cable package from Chapter/Spectrum, which is a misappropriation of IWF when we are denied access and/or the ability to view the channels we are paying for, such as AMC, TMC, TNT, TBS, USA, FX, Fox Sports 1, ESPN 1 and 2, Discovery Channel, A&E, National Geographic, SYFY, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Fox News Channel, Freeform, CNN, Lifetime, Bravo, E!, Hallmark Channel, TBN, Oxygen, truTV, WeTV, Velocity and the History Channel.

Yet, we are being told that these stations are not a part of the basic cable package that Business Services purchased. This is another lie the administration is perpetuating. The lowest package that can be purchased at Charter Communications is “Basic Cable.”

Any attempt to find out about the funds in the Inmate Welfare Fund is discouraged, but is a provision of SB 542. At the current time, Pelican Bay is paying for basic cable out of the Inmate Welfare Fund, which is an authorized expenditure according to DOM [Department Operations Manual] Section 23010.6.1.

We are all aware that during the successful hunger strike, the administration began to use the channel manager to try to agitate the SHU prisoners and systematically removed the available basic cable stations that they knew the majority of the SHU and Level IV general population viewed.

As I’m not a MAC Building Representative, I’ve been questioning the captain about access to the paperwork concerning the acquisition of funds from the IWF for groups, sports, equipment, visiting and cable to no avail. The administration never counted on there being a prisoner placed in their experimental pilot program who had knowledge of the workings of the industrial prison complex business of America.

In questioning the administration about the IWF report, the general population really wants to know, since D Facility is fully funded as if it had a true fully operational exercise yard, where is the money for the recreational equipment, boxing wraps, basketballs, soccer balls, more pull-up and dip bars, baseballs, bats, volleyballs and nets and tables for board games? As these items are nonexistent, the funds should be available for usage by the general population, but they are not.

CDCR and the CCPOA are known for their misappropriation of Inmate Welfare Funds at the prisoners’ expense. This was the purpose of the legislature passing SB 542, and there needs to be someone not connected to CDCR to monitor its usage.

The money was the reason for reopening Pelican Bay SHU, with the exact same constitutional violations that shut it down. And there are plans in the works to open C Facility SHU also, but it will be under the same false pretenses.

CDCR and the CCPOA are known for their misappropriation of Inmate Welfare Funds at the prisoners’ expense. This was the purpose of the legislature passing SB 542, and there needs to be someone not connected to CDCR to monitor its usage.

Truth be told, if this 1 million square feet of property can’t maintain a successful program, this whole institution will close! Pelican Bay is the largest industry in Del Norte County and Crescent City. Without it, the area would languish into utter poverty.

Further, commencing on Jan. 16, 2018, through to the 19th, we were harassed by the administration with five cell searches, where prisoners’ personal property was taken but no cell search receipt was left. These are the tactics and “code of silence” behaviors they are resorting to due to we prisoners filing 602s (appeals) for harassment and for being made to stand on a concrete “patio yard” in tennis shoes, boxers and T-shirts in 40-45-degree weather for two and a half hours without restroom breaks.

When a few of us brought this up to the officer (Hurley), she replied, “Be glad it’s not raining!” These types of comments are the norm from a lot of the officers here because of the lack of oversight. This same officer, Hurley, was one of the officers during the hunger strike who would taunt prisoners, saying, “Ha-ha, I’ve got your food!” Yet, she continues to work here and to be an agitator to the Level II prisoners here.

As of Feb. 14, 2018, I’ve posted a memo in every unit explaining to the general population that due to their being housed in D Facility SHU, they are “similarly situated” and are class members to Ashker v. The Governor of California. Further, I’ve given them the information on how to contact the law firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP, Center for Constitutional Rights, California Prison Focus, California Families Against Solitary Confinement and the Office of the Inspector General, advocates against the cruel and unusual punishment that still persists in this institution.

The reason for these actions lies in the fact that in the seven months I’ve been here, the warden has changed from Ducart, who advocated for Level II programming and attitudes, to J. Robertson, who is currently attempting to roll back Warden Ducart’s policies and use the same blanket policies as if this Level II SHU is under the same mission statement, operating procedures and policies as the Level IV or former SHU Facility that D Facility was, or should I say still is!

I ask the public and family members of those housed here to exercise their rights by contacting the governor, inspector general and the advocates who brought the Ashker lawsuit to keep their eyes and pressure on Pelican Bay, its acting warden, J. Robertson, and CDCR, that their unconstitutional activities be monitored and rectified and that they be held accountable for any inhumane actions in the treatment of U.S. citizens, who are wards of the state of California in the performance of their duties as public servants.

All power to the people! Together we stand! Divided we fall!

In solidarity,

Minister Shavougue Mason

Send our brother some love and light: Savougue Mason, V-80244, PBSP D6-109L, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

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