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Leaving out of Pelican Bay solitary confinement torture prison facilities/units/cages for the first time on Jan. 23, 2015 – after arriving there Nov. 29, 1990 – I remember witnessing my first sunrise. It would be the first of many first time experiences of using my natural senses again after being buried alive in that concrete box deprived of the natural use of those senses for the last 25 years – a quarter century.
Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) began March 23, 2015. Actions were held in California from San Diego to Arcata (Arcata-Eureka, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Cruz) and Philadelphia, Penn. Activists in more locations will be joining in on April 23 and the 23rd of each month. Below is a report from just one locality, Santa Cruz, which took a creative approach.
Some nine months after allowing certification of two classes in Ashker v. Brown, Judge Claudia Wilken issued her written order granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Leave to File a Supplementary Complaint on March 9, 2015. Pursuant to the order, a supplemental class of plaintiffs – those who’ve spent 10 years or more in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU but have recently been transferred to other California SHUs – may proceed with their Eighth Amendment claims as class representatives.
Less than two weeks ago the United Nations Committee against Torture issued a report strongly criticizing the U.S. record on a number of issues, among them the extensive use of solitary confinement. While the U.S. uses long-term solitary more than any other country in the world, California uses it more than any other state. This practice is designed to break the human spirit and is condemned as a form of torture under international law.
In late September, the Bay View reported on draconian new regulations that the CDCr was then poised to implement, under the guise of an emergency. These regulations authorize the use of dogs and electronic drug detectors to indiscriminately search all persons entering institutional grounds for contraband. Both dogs and electronic detectors are notoriously unreliable, as both Mohamed Shehk and Peter Shey explained in the Bay View.
The proposed censorship regulations that we collectively and vehemently opposed a few months ago have been revised, as of Oct. 20. The deadline for public comments is Nov. 10 – short notice. To the extent that the revisions incorporate language from the newly approved STG regulations that went into effect on Oct. 17, 2014, they need to be robustly resisted. Please submit your comments regarding the revisions as soon as possible! A sample letter is included.
Claiming the need for emergency passage of new visiting policies, the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) is proposing the use of canines and ION scanners that would subject visitors to prisons to humiliating and traumatizing strip searches. The move has brought swift condemnation from prisoner advocacy organizations and groups that work with prisoners, including the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS).
Our struggle to abolish SHU torture units is inextricably linked to the broader struggle to seize cultural hegemony in the U.S. from the ruling class and its tool, the state. Our collective efforts have repeatedly exposed the state’s contradictions and sparked the people’s appetite for freedom and new social relationships. These activities undermine the reactionary character structure upon which authoritarian society is based. These actions are thus revolutionary.
Despite attempts by the CDCR to insure the public that they are acting with prudence to change people’s gang validations and correct injustices and general inhumane conditions in prison SHUs, testimony from experts and the public continued to unmask the basic torture and impunity of the CDCR’s policies in maintaining prolonged isolation and prisons that fundamentally violate human rights. Hundreds packed two hearing rooms demanding real change.
On Aug. 14 we signed an engagement letter with Bryan Cave, one of the largest law firms in the world, to represent the Bay View in our fight against censorship at Pelican Bay. This miracle was set in motion by an amazing little law office, Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal, that some young, idealistic lawyers opened in a storefront in our hood to help the many of us here who can’t afford legal help.
“The attempted repression of our protest has not broken our spirits. In fact it has only helped to strengthen each of us – individually and collectively. Despite CDCR’s retaliations and propaganda, we remain steadfast in our commitment. We will see our peaceful hunger strike through to victory, even if this requires us to endure the torture of force-feeding. We believe at this point in our struggle we are prepared to do what is necessary in order for Gov. Brown and the CDCR to realize how serious we are and how far and long we are willing to go to have our reasonable demands implemented.”
Paraphrasing Bro Mumia’s words: Jailhouse lawyers must look beyond the state’s imprisoning bars, bricks and cement to build relationships with others in the so-called “free” world to further and support social movements that spread liberating and progressive space within society. We behind the concrete walls start this new progressive movement. But we need the outside support of our communities to stand with us.
So now it is necessary for us to move forward and utilize our NARN science in order to resolve these contradictions – the problem – so as to enhance the power of the people! Hence, the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement is hereby proposing to the people – the Prisoner Hunger Strike Support Coalition – that we initiate an online petition campaign with the goal of obtaining 1 million signatures.
Beginning with a rally held on the capitol steps, it was an emotional day for many, especially for family members of those suffering in the SHUs and prison survivors. The voices of those in the SHU were powerfully present, both in stories told by family members as well as statements they had sent for the occasion. The hearing provided an opportunity for legislators to hear representatives of CDCR present their new policies and weigh the truth of their claims. At the end there was a scant 20 minutes for public input.
Prisoners in Pelican Bay’s SHU have announced a push to end all hostilities between racial groups within California’s prisons and jails. The handwritten announcement, sent to prison advocacy organizations, is signed by the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective. The statement calls for the cessation of all hostilities between groups to commence Oct. 10, 2012, in all California prisons and county jails. It also calls on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes.