I have read your publication periodically over the years, and after some discussion with fellow prisoners, it was suggested I seek your assistance with getting the message out there that I need help! The enclosed documents tell a lot of the story of what I’ve been up against for years. Most of my support system has died – mother, wife, daughter and sister. The Brother Keith Wattley took my case and fought it to a short lived victory.
Filmmaker Noel Schwerin is someone who is concerned about the way prisoners are classified and housed in racially segregated units in California and around the United States. Come check out “In an Ideal World” at the San Francisco Black Film Festival as well as meet the filmmaker Noel Schwerin and one of the former prisoners in the film to discuss this and many other issues dealing with the human rights of prisoners.
Departments of corrections and state legislatures are putting into place chilling bans on free speech and expression by prisoners, formerly incarcerated persons, family members, friends, journalists, advocates and activists. Pack the courtroom for the hearing on Abu-Jamal v. Kane, challenging Prisoner Gag Law SB 508, on Thursday, Feb. 26, 10 a.m., in U.S. Courthouse, 228 Walnut St., Courtroom 2, Harrisburg, Penn.
There is a chance coming up in the January-June session of the Delaware House of Representatives to restructure habitual offender sentencing. Senate Bill 188 would place application of habitual offender enhanced sentencing in the hands of judges. Currently, power hungry and politically motivated district attorneys have misused the enhancement to further their careers.
On Oct. 10, 2012, the Pelican Bay D-Short Corridor Collective, men from various cultural groups and walks of life, put into effect the historic “Agreement to End Hostilities,” perhaps the single most significant “door to genuine freedom” opened in American society in recent human history. What makes it so significant is not simply its motive force but, more importantly, its true potential for our collective liberation as a society.
They are called the Dallas 6 – and we ain’t talking about Texas. Dallas, in Pennsylvania, is one of nearly 30 prisons in the state, located in its rural outback. The six are young Black men who, in 2010, tried to stage a peaceful protest in the prison’s “hole,” its solitary confinement unit. The Dallas 6 are potentially facing more prison time for refusing to submit to torture, for men have died, in America, while strapped into the torture chair.
Pennsylvania legislators are trying to stop prisoners from speaking about their ideas and experiences. Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Vereb introduced a bill, HB2533, called the “Revictimization Relief Act,” which would allow victims, district attorneys and the attorney general to sue people who have been convicted of “personal injury” crimes for speaking out publicly if it causes the victim of the crime “mental anguish.” The bill was written in response to political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commencement speech at Goddard College and is a clear attempt to silence Mumia and other prisoners and formerly incarcerated people.
It is my sincere hope this letter will be received in the same spirit of appreciation and cooperation in which it is written. First and foremost, I wish to acknowledge the courage and independent thinking and actions you demonstrated in the unannounced visit to inspect the conditions of confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit and speak with the strike leaders.
Dr. Willie Ratcliff is publisher of the San Francisco Bay View, one of the leading Black newspapers in the U.S. and a treasured source of left news in the Bay Area. In an interview with Michael Chase and Ragina Johnson, Ratcliff, a longtime resident of the city, reflected on the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and its closure, environmental racism and the changes in the Fillmore neighborhood, a historically Black area known as “Harlem West.”
Today marks one month for prisoners on hunger strike throughout the California prison system. Earlier today, the mediation team working on behalf of the strikers was able to speak to the prisoners at Pelican Bay who initially called for the strike. Just moments ago members of the mediation team issued the following statement:
Martinez Detention Facility (MDF) AdSeg detainees support the core and supplemental demands of our partners in CDCR Pelican Bay Prison AdSeg/SHU programs and we join them in opposition of their and ALL unconstitutional conditions of confinement in all California State prisons and jails. We hereby also provide notice of our own “Five Core Demands.”
It has recently been suggested that those confined to these sensory deprivation torture units indefinitely, but who have a cellie, are not in “solitary confinement,” as though another human occupying a space not even large enough for one will somehow mitigate the deleterious effects of this isolation. It doesn’t. The only marked difference is the number of stressors you must contend with in a day.
The only defense that can protect the people is to assemble the power of the people. We are our only defense. We have suffered enough injustice at the hands of a very evil system – CDCr and PBSP – and it is time that we prisoners express that pain and suffering by all means at our disposal, because CDCr and PBSP are censoring SF Bay View in order to censor prisoners, because we are exposing cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners. We collectively commend and value the courage and commitment as well as the principled stand that the SF Bay View is taking to speak truth to power.
As one contemplates whether to volunteer or not, just remember all the psychological torture and personal loss that each of us in these solitary confinement torture cells have already experienced for the past 20-30 years. And, more importantly, think of all those youngsters, maybe young relatives, who will take our places after we’re gone – for another 20-30 years – if this system is not changed at this time.
The following assessment is far from being complete; it is a brief analysis compelled by a question an activist posed to me: How does sensory deprivation (S.D.) impact the psyche of those prisoners who have been subjected to long-term solitary confinement? Actually, this text is but a modified letter that I wrote in response to the above question.
The CDCr are masters at pulling the wool over the eyes of the California taxpayers, activist organizations, civil and human rights organizations, religious institutions, prisoners, men and women, and state and federal courts. Their blatant disregard for the truth is rooted in their drive to build the California sector of the prison industrial slave complex.
On Monday, Feb. 25, the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, chaired by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, held a hearing on the state’s Security Housing Units (SHUs). The hearing comes 18 months after the committee held a similar hearing prompted by a three-week long hunger strike in June 2011 that involved thousands of California prisoners across the state. Monday’s hearing focused on the implementation of new CDCR policies and considerations of their appropriateness.
By taking to heart the experiences shared by Heshima Denham we learn that one of the greatest gestures of support and reassurance of the safety of prisoners who are vocal about their circumstances is constant visibility. Solitary confinement is torture; it is a violation of some of the most basic of human rights; and the agents of the state responsible for carrying out this abuse need to be exposed.
The only way that we can stop the bleeding is by prisoners ending it first. By embracing the Agreement to End Hostilities, we can change our prison oppression into a more productive prison environment that serves the interests of us prisoners, as well as put an end to the policies that are inhumane.
For the past 40 years, prisoners have been removed off general population due to being validated as alleged prison gang members or associates. This is the sole reason for our placement: not behavior. CDCr started this indefinite lockup in the mid- to late 70s and soon realized that there was an economic incentive for labeling prisoners as a threat to the safety and security of the institution.