Carpe Diem: The time is now to seize the day by doing what’s right and just for all

The-Agreement-to-End-Hostilities-art-by-Michael-D.-Russell, Carpe Diem: The time is now to seize the day by doing what’s right and just for all, Abolition Now!
Our fight in solidarity out here to demand the release, not transfers of our elders and other unjustly imprisoned loved ones, cannot be realized without our collaboration with those on the inside. We must seize this moment of our shared humanity with the prisoner class and recognize the formidable work already done by prisoners who came together across racial and geographical lines to create the Agreement to End Hostilities and end indefinite solitary confinement torture, and use it as our own guiding principal. This is an excerpt from the AEH: “In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on to focus our time, attention and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners] and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit! Because the reality is that collectively we are an empowered, mighty force, that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that benefits prisoners and, thereby, the public as a whole.” – Art: Michael D. Russell, C90473, HDSP C2-122, P.O. Box 3030, Susanville CA 96127

Part I

by Todd Ashker 

The “prisoner class” is nearing a historical time – that 10-year anniversary which stands out as an example of the power of the people.

I am referring to it being 10 years since similarly-situated prisoners, subjected to decades of the state-sanctioned torture of solitary confinement, set aside our differenc­es and united in our collective stand against our common adversary.

We referred to ourselves as the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective as we helped to educate the world via our focused writing campaign about our plight, exposing decades of California’s torture of thousands in the CDCr system.

We let our adversaries know that we were drawing a line. We were not going to accept being treated as less than human and demanded the end to our torture: the decades of torture of the entire similarly-situated prisoner class, including our outside loved ones who experienced our pain – often more so. 

I believe that three of the key elements which together proved an unstoppable combination and, beyond our wildest hopes, made possible what many of our adversaries believed impossible:

  • We said “Enough!” and meant it.
  • We weren’t going to take no for an answer, no matter how long it took or what sacrifices that entailed.
  • We brought together the similarly-situated prisoner class of all races and groups, gaining the support of thousands behind the walls and globally, all standing together in committed solidarity for the common goal of human rights and dignity for all, the end to the torture and better conditions systemwide.

We have achieved positive reforms and successfully ended state-sanctioned torture and related conditions at issue, requiring three massive, non-violent hunger-strike actions totaling 98 days without food.  

The prisoner class is not powerless. We have proven this! 

The Ashker, et al., Class Action Settlement Agreement – including the critically important Compliance Monitoring provisions – exposed the global support and condemnation of the state’s policies, and thousands were released from solitary confinement to general population prisons, where we’ve discovered that CDCr’s level IV prisons are GP (general population) in name only, operating as modified SHUs. Thus, our struggle continues!

The point of the above summary is intended to illustrate the fact that the prisoner class is not powerless. We have proven this! 

A key to amplifying such power is the prisoner class uniting for a common cause – taking collective peaceful action behind the walls, thereby igniting the fires of critically necessary, outside support.

With respect to the people, including of the prisoner class, we hold the power through standing our ground while speaking truth to power. 

We have the power to force changes necessary to exercise our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – this includes the right to self-defense against assaultive attacks jeopardizing our welfare and wellbeing.

It is the people’s obligation as free citizens in a democratic society to hold those in positions of power accountable. This needs to happen now with respect to the CDCr system, where tens of thousands of our fellow human beings’ lives and wellbeing are in clear and present danger.

The people know that a majority of those in the CDCr system are confined unjustly. Thousands of prisoners have served decades of time based on the politically-motivated manipulations of California’s sentencing laws, like the false propaganda spewed by politicians promoting the wars against the people through the “War on Crime” and “War on Drugs” etc.

The people have the power to effectively demand and achieve the long overdue reforms to our justice system, including changes to sentencing laws and related release of those serving grossly disproportionate prison terms in comparison to the circumstances and culpability of the offender. There have already been too many unnecessary prisoner deaths in this broken CDCr system. The people need to put a stop to this now.

With respect to the governor, lawmakers and CDCr’s secretary:

This Covid-19 pandemic crisis is a prime opportunity for you all to come together and do what’s critically necessary to prevent the unnecessary suffering and deaths of thousands of prisoners. This is your chance to regain some of your legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

Decades of abuse of power have resulted in unnecessary deaths and severe, permanently disabling injuries to tens of thousands of prisoners, largely due to a mindset and culture of seeing prisoners as less than human – as enemies – and showing deliberate indifference to prisoners’ welfare and wellbeing. California and CDCr lacks legitimacy!

Authorize all CDCr prisoners to have JPay 5 tablets, which have worked well as a pilot program since May 2017. And, in this time of COVID-19 crisis, it will provide all prisoners the ability to maintain daily contact with their outside loved ones via email. 

Without legitimacy, CDCr will never be able to successfully carry out its legislative mandate of public safety, safe and secure prisons and rehabilitation of prison­ers. The longer you go without legitimacy, the greater the exposure of failure.

The rehabilitation of prisoners must be the priority. The fact is that CDCr’s ability to enhance public safety and operate safe and secure prisons is directly reliant upon CDCr’s ability to provide meaningful rehabilitation opportunities for the majority of prisoners – which, as summarized in the above parts of this article, is impossible to do.

The evidence proves that CDCr’s policies and practices are a failure. All one has to do to confirm this fact is look at the past four decades of annual recidivism rates.

You all have the power to radically change the system through signifi­cant population reduction and related use of freed up resources, funds for meaningful rehabilitation and solid support services for those released on parole.

You can and should immediately authorize all CDCr prisoners to have JPay 5 tablets, which you know have worked well as a pilot program since May 2017. And, in this time of COVID-19 crisis, it will provide all prisoners the ability to maintain daily contact with their outside loved ones via email. 

Visits have been cancelled in CDCr since March 2020 and access to the phones is sporadic at best. The prisoner class needs to be able to have the opportunity to keep in regular contact with their outside loved ones on a daily basis.

Providing all prisoners with the JPay 5 tablets immediately is the right thing to do. These tablets are given to prisoners free of charge by JPay, which makes its money charging for emails, music, books, games etc. There is even access to LexisNexis law library, which includes all the up-to-date CDCr regulations and more. 

In CDCr’s July 23, 2020, Notice of Change to Regulations [NCR # 20-14] Re: Inmate Allowable Property Matrix1, there are sections covering the tablets. CDCr states it is “continuing the pilot program at CIW; CCW; Corcoran-SATF; High Desert, C Facility; and KVSP C Facility SNY.” 

CDCr is unable to allow the tablets in SHU and Administrative Segregation Units (ASU) because “inmates in Privilege Group ‘D’ are in segregated housing for disciplinary and security or safety concerns and are not permitted kiosk access,” and “ASU inmate populations may include up to 200 inmates. Due to safety and security it is not feasible for this number of inmates to populate a small space where kiosks may be located due to safety and security.”

Both of the above justifications for denying tablets to SHU and ASU prisoners are not legitimate. They are pretexts for a petty, punitive mindset, supported by the fact that SHU and ASU prisoners are allowed appliances in their cells, like TVs, radios, typewriters etc. There have not been any major problems providing ASU prisoners weekly 15-minute phone calls since March, and there are plenty of spaces available for secure kiosk access in the ASUs.

We have done our best to consistently promote the Agreement to End Hostilities, success­fully reducing violence across the entire system – without CDCr support. 

You can and should immediately include the “Four Principle Prison­er Class Representatives,” along with members of our legal team, Ashker, et al., Class Action Cable, in further in-depth, objective dialogue regarding the reform processes. [CDCr resists the most logical way to settle issues raised during the hunger strikes and since, which is to talk to the recognized prisoner class representatives, the “four main reps.” The public must demand the resumption of regular meetings and implementation and enforcement of resolved issues.] 

We have proven that our word is good over the course of the past 10 years and we have each been co-authors of the historic August 2012 Agreement to End Hostilities. We have done our best to consistently promote the agreement ever since, success­fully reducing violence across the entire system – without CDCr support. 

This says a lot, espec­ially considering CDCr’s policies and practices have done the opposite – actually increasing violence and mayhem, often intentionally, for the purpose of supporting CDCr’s and CCPOA’s own agenda, such as manufacturing the violence relied upon by prisoncrats and lawmakers to justify the billions given for the “prison building boom” between 1983 and 2005.

The people and history will be the judge!

Class action suit update

On a separate but related note, I now provide the following update on Ashker, et al., v. Gov. Newsom, et al., Prisoner Class Action.

Back in 2019, the court agreed with our position that CDCr was in violation of our Settlement Agreement’s requirement for long term SHU prisoners’ release to general population by releasing us instead to Level IVs that are operated more like modified SHU.

The state appealed. While their appeal was pending, we continued the Settlement Agreement Compliance Monitoring and a related push for GP program and privilege reforms. This included our meeting, via conf­erence call with CDCr defendants, with Gov. Newsom’s representative for two hours on April 20, 2020.

We made a solid 1.25-hour presentation for the representative, which appeared to be well-received and ended on a positive note as follows: 

The representative summarized the governor’s January 2020 meeting with CDCr, including an additional $500 mill­ion to CDCr’s annual budget for fiscal year 2020-2021, with part of the money being earmarked for the purpose of “adding two additional visiting days per week” and commending and encouraging our continued promotion of the 2012 Agreement to End Hostilities. 

Naturally we were all aware of COVID-19’s impact on the state’s economy, meaning all money-based measures were being put on hold indefinitely.

Thus, we pushed for CDCr defendants to allow all prisoners, includ­ing those housed in SHU, ASU and RCGP, to have the JPay 5 tablets with email capabilities right now! 

Seeing that this would cost CDCr zero dollars plus assist the prisoner class’ ability to keep in regular contact with outside loved ones, in typical fashion, CDCr said they would “look into this because it was a question of whether JPay company had the capacity or capability” … ? They requested that we put our presentation points on paper to them, which we did on July 2, 2020.

On Aug. 3, 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of CDCr defendants, stating the Settlement Agreement does not apply to GP “out-of-cell-time.” The ruling is crazy.

Basically, the judges stated that we “should have known that CDCr would not follow their own regulations re: what prisoners have coming to them on GP and, there­fore, included specific provisions spelling out what GP would include in the Settlement Agreement.”

On Sept. 25, 2020, our esteemed legal team filed our Motion-to-Extend the Settlement Agreement Monitoring Period for another 12 months, based on solid evidence proving defendants continue to abuse confidential information policies and practices in systemic ways.

To date, we have received no reply from CDCr defendants about our July 2, 2020, summary of our April 20 presentation points – not a surprise, considering the above referenced Aug. 3 ruling.

With all of the above in mind, I strongly suggest the following to help move forward with our cause: For all prisoner class members to collectively push for CDCr and lawmakers to provide all prisoners with everything we are supposed to have coming per CCR Title 15, D.O.M. etc. We have never asked for more! 

All prisoners, our outside loved ones and support groups, organizat­ions and others really need to push hard on CDCr Secretary Allison, state lawmakers and Gov. Newsom on the COVID-19 crisis, related lack of visits and very limited phone access and many other injustices.

And the fact is most prisoners want to receive what CDCr’s own regulations state we are supposed to have coming to us on GP. 

So, it’s a fairly simple process of going through the regulations and presenting group 602 appeals, requesting everything we are supposed to have coming, one key being to collectively document formal requests via 602 appeals statewide.

Additionally, each cellblock can have designated prisoners who keep daily logs documenting everything that’s being received, not being received, being cancelled, reasons given for cancelation – including, but not limited to jobs, education, rehabilitation opportunities, yard access, dayroom access, visiting – amounts of time allowed to visit, early cancelations, food quantity, quality, variety, served hot or cold, in the cells or the chow hall.

It is also critically important to collectively push for the JPay 5 tablets to be allowed for all prisoners statewide, including SHU and ASU and Restricted Custody General Population (RCGP) immediately.

All prisoners, our outside loved ones and support groups, organizat­ions and others really need to push hard on CDCr Secretary Allison, state lawmakers and Gov. Newsom on the COVID-19 crisis, related lack of visits and very limited phone access and many other injustices.

Tablets will help maintain timely, regular contact with our outside loved ones and communities as well as enable prisoners’ participation in positive programming and independent studies and entertainment.

The importance of the above suggested actions on the part of the prisoner class cannot be overstated because if we aren’t willing to do our part from inside, we can’t expect anyone to do so on the outside. 

I am hopeful all are on board now – I’m pretty sure people know what’s up once the Settlement Agreement Compliance Monitoring ends. Thank you for the time and attention. I wish you all the best. 

With solidarity and respect, Todd Ashker.

Send our brother some love and light: Todd Ashker, C58191, KVSP ASU-2/194, Box #5106, Delano, CA, 93216.