CDCR approves TVs to Calipatria ASU in response to last year’s hunger strike

by Kendra Castaneda

Hundreds of men at Calipatria State Prison in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) participated last year in the Pelican Bay State Prison hunger strike that spread statewide in July and again in September. They starved themselves in unity with the five core demands from the Pelican Bay SHU, but the men at Calipatria added their own demand, which was to have an appliance – either a TV or radio – to stimulate their minds so long as they had to be forced to stay in segregation.

With help from articles that were published to expose the illegally extended years these men are serving in this “temporary” segregation unit, from loved ones pushing CDCR to have these men’s demand met, from the men themselves at Calipatria ASU who’ve had the courage to publicly describe the extremely inhumane conditions they are facing and after Warden Leland McEwen was removed from Calipatria State Prison, CDCR-Sacramento approved TVs for all the men.

On April 19, 2012, TVs were distributed around to every cell in the Administrative Segregation Unit. Finally the men have more to watch than a concrete wall. Considering how cruel CDCR is and that CDCR has yet to meet the five humane demands from Pelican Bay SHU, this is a huge breakthrough and a direct result of last year’s statewide hunger strike.

Update on the case against Calipatria IGI E. Duarte

Something very disturbing has been brought to my attention with the Velarde vs. Duarte case from Calipatria State Prison. The attorney general of Imperial County, who is representing IGI (Institutional Gang Investigator) E. Duarte, was recently allowed into Calipatria’s Administrative Segregation Unit. The AG’s staff was allowed by CDCR to “interrogate” the inmates specifically about me without any of these inmates’ attorneys present.

The county attorney general’s staff asked them who I am, which men do I write to in the prison, whether I have a personal relationship with Harold Velarde and so on. If the AG wanted to know about me as a human rights activist, then I am not hard to find and contact. He could have emailed me personally, for I know he reads these articles, and my email address is published at the end of each article I write.

He could have just talked to me directly without taking the risk of violating ethics codes that members of the California State Bar must follow, but instead his staff is interrogating men who will be testifying in court at the end of this year in their civil case against IGI Duarte. They say Duarte has used excessive force on prisoners, falsified documentation and planted evidence to “validate” them as “gang members.”

Once validated, they are labeled “the worst of the worst” and must endure the torture of solitary confinement indefinitely, until they “parole, snitch or die,” as the guards often remind them. Gang validation and indefinite solitary confinement terms – penalties that threaten every prisoner in the state – are at the heart of what motivated 12,000 California prisoners to starve themselves simultaneously at the peak of the hunger strikes last year.

It seems to me that CDCR, in allowing the AG’s staff to interrogate the men in Calipatria ASU, is not watching itself carefully, as its dirty tactics are getting extremely sloppy. And isn’t interrogating a plaintiff and witnesses in a current court case illegal?

The IGIs are known to retaliate against inmates who speak up exposing their inhumane conditions and abuses, and now the Imperial County AG’s staff member thought he wasn’t going to get caught interrogating the plaintiff, witnesses and other men who will be testifying in court in the case against IGI E. Duarte. If CDCR retaliates in any way against the men at Calipatria State Prison ASU who are involved in the Velarde vs. Duarte case or the families of these men, it will be released to the public and exposed at this court trial.

Kendra Castaneda is a prisoner human rights activist whose husband is currently incarcerated in the notorious Calipatria State Prison ASU (Administrative Segregation Unit). She can be reached at kendracastaneda55@gmail.com.

Kendra made these videos on July 24, 2011, as the first round of last year’s hunger strike was ending.