On the 23rd of every month, Californians demand, ‘End solitary confinement!’ – May report

Compiled by Willow Katz and Verbena Lea from reports of actions statewide

Phyllis Greenleaf holds a story board, created by Michael Smith of the California Peace and Freedom Party, which thanks Peter Collins, an artist incarcerated in Canada, who drew the iconic pelican – symbolizing the prisoners held at Pelican Bay State Prison – with its beak in chains for the first 2011 mass hunger strike. Peter is dying of bladder cancer. Learn how you can help at kersplebedeb.com/posts/compassionate-release-peter-collins/ and https://www.facebook.com/PeterCollins SupportCommittee. – Photo: Alex Darocy
Phyllis Greenleaf holds a story board, created by Michael Smith of the California Peace and Freedom Party, which thanks Peter Collins, an artist incarcerated in Canada, who drew the iconic pelican – symbolizing the prisoners held at Pelican Bay State Prison – with its beak in chains for the first 2011 mass hunger strike. Peter is dying of bladder cancer. Learn how you can help at kersplebedeb.com/posts/compassionate-release-peter-collins/ and https://www.facebook.com/PeterCollinsSupportCommittee. – Photo: Alex Darocy

On May 23, 2015, families and loved ones of people in solitary, community organizations and prisoner-class human rights advocates once again mobilized Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) throughout California and in Pennsylvania. Since the actions began on March 23, 2015, over 30 organizations – statewide, nationwide and worldwide – became co-sponsors, 45 endorsed, and the movement keeps growing.

SCATESC began on March 23, 2015, and will continue on the 23rd of each month to expose and end the torture of solitary confinement. This widespread effort responds to November 2013 Proposals for Action from the Pelican Bay State Prison Short Corridor Collective (now the Prisoner-class Human Rights Collective) involved in the 2011 and 2013 California Prisoner Hunger Strikes. The collective proposed a campaign:

  1. promoting the historic 2012 Agreement to End Hostilities – the call for an end to racial, ethnic and geographic hostilities in all lock-ups and communities that helped over 30,000 California prisoners and hundreds more nationwide unite in the 2013 hunger strike and has decreased California women and men prisoners’ hostilities and violence;
  2. exposing through the media the retaliation by CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) against prisoners for hunger striking and practicing the Agreement to End Hostilities; and
  3. organizing statewide coordinated actions one day a month “to expose CDCR’s actions and rally support efforts to secure our rights.” The collective predicted, “We can see this action growing from month to month as more people inside and out become aware of it and join our struggle.”

We can see this action growing from month to month as more people inside and out become aware of it and join our struggle.

This story board quotes Marie Levin, who advocates powerfully for her brother, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, the Black prisoner representative among the four “main reps” leading the struggle against solitary confinement, in which he has been held for 31 years – 34 years in prison altogether. – Photo: Alex Darocy
This story board quotes Marie Levin, who advocates powerfully for her brother, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, the Black prisoner representative among the four “main reps” leading the struggle against solitary confinement, in which he has been held for 31 years – 34 years in prison altogether. – Photo: Alex Darocy

Todd Ashker, one of four principle representatives of the Prisoner-class Human Rights Collective, wrote on March 30, 2015: “Our outside supporters have all of our gratitude; their tireless efforts supportive of our cause make a giant positive difference! They have recently begun monthly supportive actions – across the state – publicly rallying on the 23rd of each month for the purpose of keeping the subject of our endless torture in public view and thereby exposed to the world! The 23rd of each month is symbolic of our 23-plus hours per day in these tombs-of-the-living-dead – and it is hoped such rallies will spread across the nation.”

Todd has been in Pelican Bay SHU over two decades, helped draft the Agreement To End Hostilities and the five human rights demands central to the 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes and is lead plaintiff in Ashker v. Brown, a class action lawsuit against California for its arbitrary and cruel and unusual practice of locking people in prolonged solitary confinement, violating their constitutional Eighth and 14th Amendment rights. Read his latest article, “Moving forward with our fight to end solitary confinement.”

Help grow the Northern California CFASC! Contact Tim Thomas with California Families Against Solitary Confinement, Bay Area, at CFASCNorCal@gmail.com or 510-290-7092.

California statewide actions, May 23, 2015

Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement took place in Manila, near Arcata and Eureka, 70 miles from Pelican Bay, and in Los Angeles, Oakland, Point Reyes, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. Six organizations did a rolling fast in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here are reports from some of the May 23 actions:

Los Angeles: About 40 people attended the May 23 event at Chuco’s Justice Center, base for the Youth Justice Coalition and others. It followed a “Welcome Home LA” event, a chance for people recently released from jail or prison to connect with community groups and service providers.

The Los Angeles action for May 23 was a very well-received play, “If the SHU Fits: Voices from Solitary Confinement,” compiled by Andy Griggs and Melvin Ishmael Johnson, directed by Andy Griggs and performed at Chuco’s Justice Center. It will be performed again during Torture Awareness Month at the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena 91103, on Tuesday, June 23, at 7 p.m.
The Los Angeles action for May 23 was a very well-received play, “If the SHU Fits: Voices from Solitary Confinement,” compiled by Andy Griggs and Melvin Ishmael Johnson, directed by Andy Griggs and performed at Chuco’s Justice Center. It will be performed again during Torture Awareness Month at the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena 91103, on Tuesday, June 23, at 7 p.m.

“If the SHU Fits: Voices from Solitary Confinement: A Reader’s Theatre Performance,” compiled by Andy Griggs and Melvin Ishmael Johnson and directed by Andy Griggs, was produced by Dramastage Qumran, LA Laborfest and Public Works Improvisational Theatre. It was powerful and very well received. Andy announced it will be presented again during Torture Awareness Month at the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena 91103, on Tuesday, June 23, at 7 p.m. See the article and announcement in June Change-Links, http://change-links.org/.

The LA event focused on ending juvenile solitary. Two young people presented their experiences and several people in the audience who had been in SHUs also spoke out. Attendees wrote to legislators in support of Senate Bill 124, sponsored by Sen. Leno, which would define and restrict the use of isolation with juveniles, and wrote pen notes to prisoners.

People distributed literature about SCATESC and invited participants to get involved every month. Teachers in the audience requested performances for their high school classes.

Manila (Arcata): Some use creativity for the glory. People locked down 23 or more hours a day use their creative talents to retain their humanity. On May 23, activists set up a large informational demonstration about ending solitary confinement at the Kinetic Sculpture Race.

Many of the crowd watching the Kinetic Sculpture Race as it passed through Manila, only 70 miles south of Pelican Bay State Prison, were also curious about activists’ information on solitary confinement and the Agreement to End Hostilities. Some who stopped to talk are families of prisoners who moved to the area to be close to their loved one. – Photo: James Decker
Many of the crowd watching the Kinetic Sculpture Race as it passed through Manila, only 70 miles south of Pelican Bay State Prison, were also curious about activists’ information on solitary confinement and the Agreement to End Hostilities. Some who stopped to talk are families of prisoners who moved to the area to be close to their loved one. – Photo: James Decker

The three-day, 42-mile bicycle race, the “Triathlon of the Art World,” is along California’s northern coast from Arcata to Ferndale. Racers compete “for glory” in all variety of people-powered kinetic contraptions, pedaling along roads, the beach and through the Humboldt Bay.

Manila, one of the stops where many people waited for the racers to traverse the dunes and water, is 70 miles south of the torture chamber, Pelican Bay State Prison. Many people, including local family members of imprisoned people, interacted and thanked us for being there with information on solitary confinement and the Agreement to End Hostilities, and for being in solidarity with the struggle of the prisoner class, prisoners and their families.

Oakland: Oakland’s action was small, but mighty. There were about 10 of us there to share information and talk with people. We situated ourselves by the barbeque pits at Mosswood Park, thinking there would be lots of folks. The weather did NOT cooperate. Cold and cloudy!

A couple of us sat at the table, while the rest of the people took leaflets out to the park. Two folks took leaflets out into the neighborhood adjacent to the park, talking to people at their homes, and received positive response.

Point Reyes: Under the shade of a tree in the town center, activists talked with people from California and elsewhere, including a couple from Germany, where solitary confinement only rarely is used as a form of “discipline” or torture. It seems Germany has progressed while California clearly has regressed.

San Diego: STOP THE TORTURE! As part of the Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement, we had a May 23rd informational demonstration including photos of men in SHU, along with some who used to be in SHU but are now in general population. At Rosa Park in City Heights, we talked with people and shared information to STOP THE TORTURE of solitary confinement.

In San Francisco at Pier 33, where tourists catch the ferry to Alcatraz, activists distributed fliers telling the history of solitary confinement in California, beginning with Alcatraz. Marie Levin (center), the exemplary activist sister of Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, an exemplary prisoner activist, was there with other dedicated advocates. – Photo: Mike Bishop
In San Francisco at Pier 33, where tourists catch the ferry to Alcatraz, activists distributed fliers telling the history of solitary confinement in California, beginning with Alcatraz. Marie Levin (center), the exemplary activist sister of Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, an exemplary prisoner activist, was there with other dedicated advocates. – Photo: Mike Bishop

San Francisco: At Pier 33 on Fisherman’s Wharf, seven people distributed 300 packets of information to people going to Alcatraz. They handed out a flyer about the history of solitary confinement, “From Alcatraz to Pelican Bay,” the Agreement to End Hostilities and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity contact information brochure, with descriptions of present day solitary conditions.

Two attorneys for people in solitary confinement greatly assisted in talking with people. Conversations with tourists were easy to start and one man from Scotland made a welcome donation. Prisoner family members, victims’ families – including one family sympathetic to the statement that solitary confinement is an arbitrary program by guards – and many people from other countries were eager to join in discussion.

A couple pointed out that in Australia, medical staff within the prisons are employed by the public health department, not by the department running the prisons, and how that makes a lot more sense than what is done here. An English visitor referred to Scandinavian prisons that put rehabilitation for prisoners first and that prisoners who are not safe to release are at least treated as humans and not tortured by being ignored.

The activists gave out all informational materials by 2 p.m. and will take a bigger supply next time.

In San Jose at the Anime Conference, Darlene Wallach and Demus wore their conversation-starting anti-solitary confinement messages on their shirts. – Photo: Donna Wallach
In San Jose at the Anime Conference, Darlene Wallach and Demus wore their conversation-starting anti-solitary confinement messages on their shirts. – Photo: Donna Wallach

San Jose: At the Anime Conference, we put our banner up again, with signs about ending solitary confinement and ending the occupation of Palestine. We wore protest signs on our shirts, saying: “End solitary confinement! It is torture! It is illegal!”

We distributed all the leaflets we had printed quite quickly. Passers-by heard “End solitary confinement! It is torture!” A number of young people nodded their heads yes. A few people asked questions. I saw two young people take a photo of our banner with their cell phone.

Santa Barbara: Libro Libre Books to Prisoners hosted this month’s book packing party – packing up books to send to prisoners in California prisons – on May 23 in solidarity with Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement. They wrote letters in support of SB 124, the bill to define and limit solitary confinement for minors, and talked about how to use the group’s resources to support this bill and otherwise end solitary confinement.

Santa Cruz: About 20 people rallied at the entrance to the wharf in Santa Cruz, where locals and tourists saw large banners, story boards and signs and received handouts exposing the torture of solitary confinement. Cynthia Fuentes, California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), spoke about her brother, Robert “Robio” C. Fuentes Sr., a hunger striker, poet and jailhouse lawyer, who was locked up in the Pelican Bay SHU for 20 years yet never debriefed, and died due to medical neglect and mistreatment by CDCr.

As Courtney Hanson holds the bullhorn, Cynthia Fuentes of California Families Against Solitary Confinement keeps alive the memory of her brother, Robert “Robio” C. Fuentes Sr., who recently died of medical neglect after 20 years in the Pelican Bay SHU.
As Lori Aviña-Korhonen holds the bullhorn, Cynthia Fuentes of California Families Against Solitary Confinement keeps alive the memory of her brother, Robert “Robio” C. Fuentes Sr., who recently died of medical neglect after 20 years in the Pelican Bay SHU. – Photo: Courtney Hanson

“It was never just my brother who was incarcerated; it was the whole family,” Cynthia declared. “CDCR separates prisoners from their loved ones. I watched my parents age much more than they should have. It was heartbreaking.

“During visits there was never any contact; you talked on crappy phones through heavy glass. My brother was Mexican but his skin was white because he never got sunlight. He became a prolific writer. He was published in ‘Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul’ and ‘Chicken Soup for the Sisters’ Soul. He wrote ‘Precious in My Eyes,’ a story about me.

“He touched humanity and people’s hearts. His memory is being kept alive by people in Pelican Bay SHU and through his writings.” Cynthia read two poems by Robert, “Who Knows” and “Cesar Chavez Modern Day Revolucionario.”

Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs, talked about the U.S. use of solitary and mass incarceration targeting people of color, far surpassing Europe and other countries. He spoke of his 94 arrests for serving free food to hungry people. Three times Keith was locked for three or four days in solitary in the dark in a stress position cage at police headquarters in San Francisco.

People read lyrics to “Ballad of Jesse Castillo” by Mark Levy and excerpts from hunger strike representative Todd Ashker’s recent treatise, “Moving Forward With Our Fight to End Solitary Confinement,” a statement by Dolores Canales of CFASC about her son, John, in Pelican Bay SHU 14 years, and solitary confinement survivor Sarah Shourd’s “How Solitary Confinement Destroys Women.”

Speakers exposed solitary confinement of youth in Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall as child abuse and torture, solitary confinement of adults in Santa Cruz County Jail as torture, and said it all needs to end. A community member spoke out about the torture in PBSP SHU of her childhood friend, who perfected his writing, but at times was denied paper and pencils. She said: “They are killing our Raza, our people of color. Basta Ya, El Prison Industrial Complex!”

National actions May 23, 2015

This is the flier that started many interesting conversations when activists handed it out to tourists at the Alcatraz ferry terminal in San Francisco on Pier 33.
This is the flier that started many interesting conversations when activists handed it out to tourists at the Alcatraz ferry terminal in San Francisco on Pier 33.

Prisoner advocates in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, co-sponsors of SCATESC, have organized rolling fasts on the 23rd of each month since March 23 in solidarity with the California Prisoner-class Human Rights Movement to End Solitary Confinement and other prison abuses. These groups, active in exposing numerous abuses of solitary confinement in Pennsylvania prisons, are Fight for Lifers West Pittsburgh, Global Women’s Strike, Human Rights Coalition, Payday Men’s Network, Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, and Justice for the Dallas 6 Support Campaign.

The Dallas 6, six young Black men prisoners, were charged with “rioting” for peacefully protesting torture in solitary confinement at SCI (State Correctional Institution) Dallas, Pennsylvania. A motion to drop the charges against them was denied. On Friday, April 17, 2015, Anthony Locke was acquitted. The trial of the remaining three of the Dallas 6 will resume on Aug. 24. 2015. To learn more, go to scidallas6.blogspot.com.

Get involved

Get involved in Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) the 23rd of each month. Statewide, nationally and internationally, we invite all organizations and prominent individuals to:

Get involved in Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) the 23rd of each month.

Please follow the unifying principles of the prisoners’ three core guidelines when organizing solidarity actions: https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/take-action-2/3-core-guidelines/.

June is Torture Awareness Month

June is Torture Awareness Month, recognized around the world and the perfect time to attend or organize a local action to end solitary confinement, on Tuesday, June 23. On June 26, 1987, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) was adopted. The U.N. declared June 26 “International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.”

Find local actions on Facebook at Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement in June – and every month on the 23rd!

End the torture of solitary confinement in California, the U.S. and worldwide!

Meet the demands of the Prisoner-Class Human Rights Movement!

End the torture of solitary confinement in California, the U.S. and worldwide!

Willow Katz and Verbena Lea work on the outreach committee for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement. They can be reached at phssreachingout@gmail.com.