The reality right now is that Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano have basically said that there has to be change. Now the people have to get behind these two politicians and make sure that they are empowered to make that change possible: Relieve prisoners of their on-going suffering inside these solitary confinement units that serve no purpose whatsoever.
In recent times there has been an avalanche of misrepresentations, deceit, cover-ups and outright lies waged against the truth as it relates to prisoners and what is really going on out of the eyesight of the public. Now the SHU class is uniting to say enough with the deception and untruth, enough of the cruel and unjust treatment at the hands of corrupt administrators working to maintain this profitable system adverse to human life.
I come before you with the first of what may be a series of speed bumps and roadblocks in our path towards accomplishing the initial goals set forth: the five core demands. The other small demands being met are just a distraction to appease those of the prison masses long enough. Don’t be fooled! When the smoke clears, those small demands granted will be once again revoked.
Should the Commission grant this request for a hearing, we will provide the Commission with testimony from prisoners, as well as oral presentations by family members of prisoners, advocates and lawyers. We would ask that the Commission recommend to the United States government and the state of California that they immediately take all measures necessary to address grave violations of human rights in the prison system.
These particular officials who set out to provoke violence by attacking prisoners are not only committing criminal acts but grossly violate the authority entrusted to them by the public. For too long CDCR and PBSP have been abusing their authority, which each official took an oath to uphold – arbitrarily applying their prejudiced and racist views by attacking prisoners.
In an Aug. 6, 2013, op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Beard, the secretary of California’s inaptly named Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDC), cynically attempts to dehumanize a significant percentage of California’s population – i.e., the state’s incarcerated population – while making light of the grave human rights abuses perpetrated by the CDC.
Mediators working on behalf of California prisoners on hunger strike are calling for an independent investigation into the July 22 death of Billy “Guero” Sell, a prisoner held in solitary confinement at Corcoran State Prison and a participant in the three-week-long hunger strike that has shaken the California prison system. Sell’s death is being ruled a suicide by the CDCR. Medical professionals, religious leaders and prisoners’ families call upon Gov. Jerry Brown to enter into good faith negotiations with the hunger strikers.
Prisoners in California have entered their 10th day of a statewide hunger strike to fight back against what they call inhumane conditions. The prisoners’ demands include a call for adequate and nutritious food, an end to group punishment, and stopping long-term solitary confinement where more than 3,000 prisoners are held in the isolation with no human contact and no windows – some of them for more than a decade.
On Monday, July 8, California prisoners launched their third hunger strike in two years, protesting conditions in the Security Housing Units, where thousands of prisoners are held in segregation units designed to limit communication. While the largest one-day participation of the prior two strikes rose to over 11,000, Monday’s strike began with a historic 30,000 people inside California’s prisons refusing breakfast and lunch.
Hundreds of people held in California prisons are expected to launch their third large-scale hunger strike in two years today. The current strike, announced by leaders at Pelican Bay State Prison on Feb. 14, is seen as a resumption of the large-scale strikes in June and September 2011, when thousands of prisoners across the state stopped eating for days or weeks in order to press for the five demands laid out by the strike organizers.
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.
We, the United KAGE (Kings Against Genocidal Environments) Brothers, welcome you to our communion. We aim to unite and unionize the movement from within the belly of the beast to without. We wish to unite all people, regardless of color, race, creed, gender or sexuality. We all have much in common when dealing with prejudices and classism.
We all suffer from physical and psychological damage from being held indefinitely under these savage conditions, in solitary confinement. We have always said that our struggle is a protracted struggle and we intend to continue our Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement until justice is won and the long term solitary confinement torture is ended.
If the intention of the prison system is rehabilitation so when prisoners are released they do not return, then we surely must object to solitary confinement. If we believe in basic human rights and dignity for all human beings, then we surely must object to solitary confinement. If we object to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, we surely must object to solitary confinement in the U.S.
I have learned profound lessons from Zaharibu in the short three months I have known him. In hearing more about his story and the horrendous conditions he lives under, I have been driven to learn more about solitary confinement, why it must be abolished and the resistance against it. I have also been moved to become a part of that resistance in any way I can.
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.
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.
Let's raise the issue - Do the California legislators and Gov. Brown agree that denying prisoners the ability to make public their Five Core Demands and their peaceful protest remedy for ignoring or refusing them violates their constitutional right to free speech and those who publish the prisoners’ letters our right to freedom of the press?
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.
Amnesty International hopes that the Feb. 25 hearing will be a genuine chance for all stakeholders to positively influence the current reforms being proposed by CDCR. Without reform, conditions in California’s SHUs will continue to violate a raft of international standards and treaties governing the treatment of prisoners, including the prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.