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On April 22, 2018, over 200 people attended the UCSC opening of the Reel Work May Day Labor Film Festival (RWLFF)’s 17th season, with the event theme “Together to End Solitary.” RWLFF’s motto, “We are stronger together,” is particularly poignant when coming together to end the extreme isolation of the state-sanctioned torture of solitary confinement. The film, “Cruel and Unusual, the Story of the Angola 3,” details the Angola 3's decades-long struggle for justice and to build an international movement to end solitary confinement.
On April 21, I finally got to see Charlie Hinton’s “Solitary Man” play at the Black Repertory Theater in Berkeley. It was so much more than a cultural experience. The play was gripping, emotional and real, with jazz trumpet sprinkled in. The panel powerfully reflected the layers of pain, survival and resistance in the prison movement. And the event, a benefit for the San Francisco Bay View, was a moving tribute to Mary and Willie Ratcliff’s devotion to their invaluable newspaper.
In October 2017, the two-year period expired for the court to monitor the Ashker v. Governor settlement to limit solitary confinement in California. Since then, the four drafters of the Agreement to End Hostilities and lead hunger strike negotiators – Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Todd Ashker – have all been removed from general population and put in solitary in administrative segregation units, based on fabricated information created by staff and/or collaborating “inmate informants.”
For years now, I have endured threats, both overt and covert, from the mouths and hands of CDCr’s (California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation’s) OCS (Office of Correctional Safety), ISU (Investigations Services Unit) and IGI (Institutional Gang Investigations), all of them paramilitary services that boast they are a gang and call themselves the Green Wall. (See my article “Sitawa: Exiting solitary confinement – and the games CDCr plays.”)
California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) had been locking classes of prisoners up in solitary confinement since the ‘60s as part of CDCr’s para-military low-intensity warfare, to break the minds and spirits of its subjects, California’s prisoner class. CDCr’s solitary confinement has two operating components: 1) punishing you and 2) physically and mentally destroying you.
Let’s touch upon the phrase, I AM WE. It is an ancient African saying. To me it means: What affects you affects me. It means: We are together; we are one. I AM WE means that with unity, solidarity and agape love for one another, we can overcome any obstacle and achieve any goal! By applying I AM WE, together we can crush imperialism, eradicate white supremacy, destroy patriarchy, change misogynistic attitudes and save our planet!
We are within our fifth year of the August 2012 historical document, the “Agreement to End Hostilities.” Its release was followed by the Prisoner Human Rights Movement’s third and largest hunger strike in the state of California and larger than any prison hunger strike in history in either the federal or state prison systems in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. At its peak, 30,000 prisoners here in California participated – prisoners in solitary confinement and the general population.
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.
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.
Basic logic dictates it is the community who should be vested with the power to parole, pardon or grant clemency to those who, in their determination, would have a positive impact on their communities and society as a whole if released. This is a concept developed by George Jackson University known as strategic release. To this end, we are announcing our campaign to develop – and establish nationally – New Afrikan Community Parole, Pardon and Clemency Review Board.
The Black August Rebellion is a month that the California state prisoners fast. They fast in the month of August to pay homage to the fallen comrades. Do make sure that this year you honor our comrade and hero lost last Aug. 12, Hugo “Yogi” Pinell. However you mark Black August, do it. You won’t be alone. The next chapter of Black August history is yours to write.
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.
This is the story that Missouri prisoner Shyheim Deen El-Mu’min wrote on paper bags when guards confiscated the writing paper from him and all the prisoners in his solitary confinement unit. The entire story is one of the longest we’ve ever received, over 10,000 words that filled 14 single-spaced pages when transcribed, so we’ll be presenting it in parts. This is the introduction, addressed to Bay View publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff.
Major George Tillery is a Pennsylvania lifer, 65, who confronted SCI Mahanoy Superintendent John Kerestes over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s deteriorating health. Prison authorities retaliated against Major Tillery – repeatedly ransacked his cell and denied him medical treatment for seeking medical assistance for Mumia and other prisoners. Tillery was transferred to SCI Frackville and then falsely charged with drug possession, disciplined and given six months in “the hole.”
I have taken the position to shut down this fake SDP (Step Down Program) crap. So all of Step 4, who have the most to lose – we all agree that these latest types of 115s, or RVRs (CDCR Form 115, Rules Violation Reports), are just another way to keep us held in SHU or a means of bringing us back once we make it out to the General Population mainline, and we’d rather take our stance now!
On May 23, 2015, families and loved ones of people in solitary, community organizations and prisoner-class human rights advocates once again mobilized Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) throughout California and in Pennsylvania. Since the actions began on March 23, 2015, over 30 organizations – statewide, nationwide and worldwide – became co-sponsors, 45 endorsed, and the movement keeps growing.
We are sharing our express concerns as the CCI Prisoner Human Rights Movement Local Council – Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), Danny Troxell, Antonio Villagrana and George Ruiz – concerning the non-functional operation of Steps 1 through 4 and how we as SHU Step Down Program prisoners are being denied our federal and state constitutional rights to equal protection and substantive and procedural due process.
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.
I encourage all men and women prisoners to continue to press onward with our Agreement to End Hostilities through all corridors of state and county facilities. We are fighting for human justice. We call on all citizens to get involved with social change now. We shall not allow even Gov. Brown to destroy our faith in humanity. The Prisoner Human Rights Movement shall stand as ONE clenched fist in solidarity against CDCr oppression.
This is a summarized version of a letter I sent to Mike Stainer, director of Adult Institutions, July 28, 2014, in order to address the long standing U.S. constitutional violations at CCI-Tehachapi and bring this prison under the current SHU standards forthwith. My purpose is to establish monthly meetings between CCI-Tehachapi officials and the four prisoner negotiators who shall speak on behalf of the Tehachapi SHU prisoner class.