On May 16, inmates at Old Folsom State Prison made contact with the outside world to announce that they will begin a hunger strike on May 25 in response to ongoing mistreatment, dehumanization and unbearable living conditions at Old Folsom. When incarcerated people take action to fight for their dignity, their rights and their lives, those of us on the outside must answer with solidarity. Our support is crucial in getting their demands met and minimizing retaliation against them. We must let these brave individuals know that we have their backs, and that they will not be forgotten.
The California Board of Parole Hearings has established the Forensic Assessment Division, a staff of psychologists who conduct psychological evaluations of prisoners for Board hearings. This paper is provided to help California prisoners applying for parole understand the psychological evaluations conducted for the Board of Parole Hearings and to provide advice to them and their supporters on how to counter the psychological evaluation with letters and other materials submitted to the Board.
As always, allow us to begin by paying our respects to the families who lost their loved ones during the historic California hunger strikes. Prior to the solidarity hunger strikes, the four principal negotiators, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Todd Ashker, found ourselves locked inside Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor. There we would discuss the vision of effecting genuine change in CDCr’s long term solitary confinement combined policies, practices and conditions.
On Feb. 1, scores of men in Delaware’s largest prison, the Vaughn Correctional Center, took over one of the buildings in their facility. The prison, built in 1971 and known for its serious overuse of solitary confinement, is one of the state’s most severely overcrowded and punitive facilities. Hoping to push the state to improve living conditions at Vaughn, the prisoners didn’t just take control of Building C – they also took guards hostage. And to make the public aware of why they were protesting, they called the media.
It is very important that you all clearly understand the depth of human torture to which I was subjected for 30-plus years by CDCr and CCPOA.* The torture was directed at me and similarly situated women and men prisoners held in California’s solitary confinement locations throughout CDCr, with the approval and sanctioning of California governors, CDCr secretaries and directors, attorneys general, along with the California Legislature for the past 40 years.
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.
My journey began in the mid-1980s, when folks in my community began to hear about a “supermax” prison that would be built in nearby Crescent City, California. At that time, my colleague Tom Cairns and Mike Da Bronx, my husband, and me were busy at KHSU producing a weekly radio show called Alternative Review. In 1990, I would get one of the first letters from that place, Pelican Bay State Prison. It came from a young man named Troy Williams. He liked my radio show.
I wake up every morning and stretch, then say a prayer thanking the Lord for allowing me to make it through another day and night. My mattress is in real poor condition, as it’s old and the cotton is coming out, so I’ve had to re-sew it in order not to further damage my back. I spend at least 20 minutes every morning stretching, then brush my teeth and wash my face. This starts at 5 a.m.
The recent victory won by the prisoner hunger strikers, the “solitary settlement” in Ashker v. Brown, is indicative of the solidarity among prisoners today, and it is for this reason I am sharing my story and history of Dahariki Kambon. We must carry on the spirit of what he stood for; his fight was against the racist oppressors and their cruel laws and policies of injustice and inequality.
Erika Rocha was 35 years old and one day away from her Youth Parole Hearing on April 15, 2016, when she committed suicide at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. Since her death, the suicide crisis at CIW has only worsened. On June 1, yet another young woman of color died at CIW. Her name is Shaylene Graves and she was 27 years old and six weeks away from returning home to her loving son, family and friends.
In the December 2015 issue of the San Francisco Bay View, I wrote an article entitled “Do Black Lives Matter Behind the Walls” and introduced to the Bay View audience the newly formed New African Liberation Collective (NALC). While this particular issue was allowed into prisons throughout the state, it was seized at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, where I was being housed, based upon the orders of the Internal Affairs Department as a security risk.
If we look to any uprising in world history we will see that such rebellions, although they may have included various nationalities, are usually attributed to the dominant force in that rebellion. Rebellions take on the oppression, and those who arise lend their voice in the struggle. The dominant force in an event shapes the event and shapes the character of the struggle. The same can be said of prison struggles.
The SHU, the wars, the times and obviously the love and hate he experienced made Yog who he was. When I met him in 2001, I of course had read about him and heard the stories, but I was definitely not prepared to meet anyone like that. One of the letters in the Bay View said Yog taught him how to “time travel”; that sounds about right. Yog was a hot mess in that regard; his mind was not always grounded but that also was one of his strengths. He had his own world in there.
CDCr has systemic and dysfunctional problems that run rampant statewide within California’s prisons for both women and men which demand this California government to take immediate action and institute measures to effect genuine tangible changes throughout CDCr on all levels. The Prisoner Human Rights Movement Blue Print is essentially designed to deal with identifying and resolving primary contradictions by focusing on the various problems of CDCr’s dysfunction.
Having been one of the many who have been let out of the control units (SHU), I can say that there is some victory in this development, but there is much work to be done outside the SHU and still a ways to go before victory is complete. This accomplishment of opening the gates of SHU for many simply means we face new forms of oppression; it changes in form but not in essence.
In the early days of the 2013 Prisoner Hunger Strike, Jorge Gomez refused up to 12 consecutive meals. The California Department of Corrections struck back by issuing him a Rules Violation Report. The same fate befell untold numbers of other prisoners who’d starved themselves to peacefully call attention to their torture. In an opinion filed on March 25, 2016, the California Court of Appeals ruled that Gomez was guilty of no rules violation for refusing meals during the strike.
On Aug. 12, 2015, within the walls of New Folsom Prison, freedom fighter and political prisoner Hugo “Yogi” Pinell of the San Quentin 6 was assassinated on the prison yard by members of the Aryan Brotherhood, with the assistance of the guards. Seven months later, the community who loves him is coming together to remember his life and contribution to the Black struggle for self-determination and human rights. We will be celebrating his life on Saturday, April 23, 1-5 p.m., at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St. in San Francisco. Any and everybody from the community is invited.
It just gets my blood boiling what the Klansmen did to brother Hugo. I don’t expect anything different from them. When they see they can’t break you, they kill you. From George Jackson to Stanley Tookie Williams and now Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell, whenever you’re not asleep, whenever you’re awake and aware to who these people are and what they are out to do and doing, then you’ve got to go.
It truly is a beautiful thing seeing you all from outside of the real belly of the beast, enjoying the natural rays of the sun, long walks around a sizable track, embracing the many new faces that have been waiting decades for this opportunity. I can see you all as we speak and I smile because I can feel what you feel. With that I truly look forward to the next phase in our struggle, because there’s still a lot of work to do.
Here is a brief update on the continued disrespect that CDCR is showing to brothers involved in the Aug. 12, 2015, attack on Yogi (Hugo Pinell). The same ICC (Inmate Classification Committee) that ignored the threat on Yogi’s life is now harassing the inmates that came to Yogi’s aid – the ICC that prisoners call “The Committee.” There are six inmates in Z Unit Ad Seg. Five of us have been released back to general population, but ICC refuses to send us back to a mainline.