In the state of California, Pelican Bay State Prison has the utmost distinction in being the place of confinement for the "worst of the worst." This is to say to the public that the most violent criminals the state has, are kept in Pelican Bay State Prison. It should be noted that when the prinsoncrats invoke the overused, hyperbolic cliché "worst of the worst," this distinction isn't attributable to the whole prison population confined in Pelican Bay. When it's heard, the cliché - worst of the worst - it's generally being used in reference to a select group of the prison population, i.e. those prisoners caged in the security housing unit (S.H.U.).
The state prison is located in the utmost northern region of the state of California, fifteen miles from the Oregon border, which places the prison roughly 600 miles from San Francisco-Oakland-Bay Area. That, outside the southern region of the state, has the largest umber of prisoners in the overall prison population. It's the southern region, Los Angeles-San Diego area with the far greater number of prisoners. The drive to Pelican Bay from San Francisco-Oakland-Bay Area for family members wanting to visit their loved-one imprisoned here, is said to be, on average, an eight or nine hour drive one-way. And from the Los Angeles-San Diego area the drive is said to be, at a minimum, eighteen hours straight though, one-way. So one can easily imagine just how infrequently a prisoner here ca reasonably expect to see his wife, children, and other close family members given the great distances. In this ever-shrinking economy, due to global market forces, families insistent on visiting, endure a further drain on limited resources.
The prisoncrats are often quick to report that they want people in prisons to maintain healthy family ties because family can play a vital role in the prisoner's rehabilitation process. Of course, if this were meant to be a factual position, then the prisoncrats would certainly have reasonable measures in place that would ensure the maintenance of strong family ties, via greater and easier access to visiting. But we know, from the experience of various families and friends trying to visit, many problems often encountered from visiting-room prison staff.
For family members and friends wanting to visit a S.H.U. prison, they have to make a phone call to the institution visiting room to make an appointment. The process can be complicated due to the apparent difficulty of not being able to make an appointment on the first attempt. Forcing people to dig even deeper into already scarce family resources to maintain some kind of meaningful family ties.
All visits for people languish in S.H.U. are behind the glass. The visiting room, if one chooses to refer to where visiting takes place, is a row of small, one-man cages. The cages are about as large as probably two phone booths combined, a steel stool to sit on, and a phone to talk with the visitor. The visitor sits on the opposite side of the three-foot plexiglass window separating them from the prisoner. And all visits are limited to a maximum of just two-hours in length. For the last few years, there has been a constant attempt by the prisoncrats to reduce visiting for S.H.U. prisoners down to a maximum of just one-hour. The lack of human contact, meaningful social interaction is one aspect of the overall sensory deprivation S.H.U. prisoners are subjected to. A mother hugging her son, family members in general embrace, or a father having the opportunity to hold his children, this is denied to the S.H.U. prisoner. And this level of basic social interaction has been denied to the majority of S.H.U. prisoners for over two decades.
The majorities have been victimized by the prisoncrats infamous indeterminate S.H.U. policy. These are the prisoners who've been the fodder for the prisoncrats to use in their misinformation campaign to the public concerning the necessity for security housing units. This is done in the manner of convincing the public and officials in Sacramento, that the incidents of violence behind prison walls is perpetuated by a tiny select group of prisoners. The prisoners of this so-called tiny select group are conveniently given the derogatory status of prison gang members. This kind of broad, loosely defined gang designation of prisoners held in S.H.U. allows for the prisoncrats to scapegoat responsibility to other causes for the violence. And not be seriously questioned as to the real underlying causes of the high levels of violence that exist throughout the California state correctional system. An objective investigation as to the nature of the violence behind prison walls would reveal the issue of racism.
It's the very absence of a full investigation that allows the prisoncrats the ability to continue to exploit racism, causing violent upheavals within the prison system. The systemic manipulation of prisoner's attitudes isn't a difficult undertaking for the prisoncrats. Because of the pervasive degree of racism existing in the larger society of Amerika, it's quite easy for the prisoncrats. After all, by the time the average person arrives at the prison gate, that person has been well conditioned to the social dictates of racism, Amerikan style. It's the manipulation of racist thinking that ignites the violent upheavals providing the prisoncrats with a cover to cast the prevalence of racial violence as purely gang related activity. They opt to claim that the cause of violent upheavals as purely gang related. That is to say, that the violence is directly a result of gangs preying on one another for control of the prison yards, gambling, or drugs etc.
The violent conflicts between the various ethnic groups provides the prisoncrats with a convenient defense on two fronts; 1) As long as the various ethnic groups are hostilely pitted against each other, their focus is seriously misdirected at the wrong cause of the prisoners real problem and enemy. If prisoners caught up in the oft-times bitter racial conflicts were to alter their focus and energy to the initial cause of the problem- the prisoncrats. 2) The prisoncrats take the issue of violent conflicts behind prison walls, to the state legislature to ask for additional policy measures and increase of budget to build more security housing units, to assist them in allegedly maintaining control and safety in operations or prisons.
The last couple of decades of this kind of practice have allowed the prisoncrats to swell the state's prison system into a behemoth bureaucratic power, wielding its influence throughout state government to insulate and protect its bastion of criminal corruption. It isn't a major secret or something that prisoners need to be hit over the head with cause it should be obvious to the prisoners that they don't benefit from violent racial conflicts. If prisoners could redirect their focus and energy at the prisoncrats it would not only give the prisoncrats something to worry about, but also force the administration of day-to-day operation of prisons to be conducted in a human manner.
In a truly democratic society, would prisons exist on such an enormous level like they in Amerika today? Why, in this so-called democratic society are the nations prison populations at two million people? The large number of people that now find they languishing in prisons in Amerika speaks directly to the inequities inherent within capitalism itself. The proponents of capitalism know the inequities inherent in the economical system they wish to perpetuate upon the world, so they had to create laws to protect their interest. Thus, the prisons are an intrinsic aspect of the capitalist need to protect their interest, serving as instruments or repression. The function of prison is to act as a viable deterrent in preventing, quelling major decent laws that literally alienate people from their own basic humanity. Thus people are forced to become rebellious towards laws designed to prevent them from a life of full dignity and a quality means of sustenance.
In the 60's and early 70's, Amerika was experiencing serous political and social unrest that cut across ethnic and class distinctions unifying grassroots for economic and social justice with anti-war groups, college students, and intellectuals. As the momentum of political protest intensified, threatening established order, the ruling power were forced to unleash its agents of repression to re-establish their control of Amerikan society, so that business could be conducted as usual. Many political activists and revolutionaries became key targets, bearing the full brunt of the capitalist repressive machinery. The most prominent, vocal political activists and revolutionaries were suddenly jailed on a whole host of fraudulent charges facing draconian prison sentences. With the influx of those stalwart soldiers into the prison system all across the country. Their high profile, coupled with the ability to influence people in positive ways and organizational skills made it impossible for the prisoncrats to allow people with such talent to freely mingle with the ordinary prison population. So there political minded people had to be separated for fear of a conscious organized prison protest movement. It's within this context that control units prisons and/or security housing units find the seed of building proliferation in Amerika.
Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit is for the prisoncrats, their ultimate weapon of intimidation for all the state prisoners not sentenced to die in California's death chamber. The security housing unit has been systematically projected as a most harsh and dreaded form of punishment for prisoners not willing to conform to rules and prison policy. The manner in which the prisoncrats have sought to make the psychological penetration into the minds of prisoners in terms of generating fear of being locked a way in the security housing unit at Pelican Bay. One can make a reasonable comparison to the religious doctrine of Christianity - fear of purgatory. In a sense, the distance to Pelican Bay, so far from the urban centers prisoners come to prisons from, makes Pelican Bay a dreaded place. Even if the prisoner's family can afford to make frequent visits, still the traveling on the highways can be dangerous, particularly during winter months when the weather is bad.
There's no program for prisoners in the security housing unit, so prisoners sped twenty-two and a half hours in lock-down. The hour and a half prisoners are allowed out of their cages, they are permitted to go to what is called a yard. This is a enclosed area measuring roughly twenty feet long by twenty feet wide, covered by a large iron gate over-head, There are holes in the gate that allow the prisoners to look up at the sky. Or if the sun is out, some sunrays can shine down into the enclosure. In the S.H.U. there are no regular windows for prisoners to look out at the landscape and natural surroundings. Outside or inside a prisoner can only peer up into the sky, the subtle impression that the prisoner has entombed. It's the isolation aspect of being confined inside S.H.U. that has the most profound impact on the average prisoner. This could be the result of eerie silence that consumes the section a prisoner is caged in for several hours throughout the day.
For prisoners of a more social character, they can choose to have a cellie. Having someone in the cage with you can help to minimize the degree of isolation Prisoners are allowed to have a few personal items, for example, a TV. Or a radio, ten books and magazines, fifteen photographs, envelopes and writing paper, one pair of thermals and personal tennis-shoes. Prisoners are also allowed to purchase perishable snacks from canteen, cookies, chips, candy, crackers, popcorn, drinks- like coffee or Kool-Aid- chocolate, plus a few hygiene products- soap, deodorant, shampoo, skin lotion, and toothpaste. All these items have to be removed from their factory packaging before given to S.H.U. prisoners for so-called security reasons. There are two hot-meals, not actually hot, prepared meals served on trays; breakfast and dinner, lunch is a snack, with a sandwich peanut butter or lunch meat, fruit, cookie or small sack of chips- no real variety, the same thing, just the days change from the last time it was served. All the movement outside of section for medical needs or classification is only conducted after a prisoner is stripped-searched then have waist chains placed on him. A write-up disciplinary infraction for some rule violation can get a prisoner escorted to the shower by two guards for ten days and yard depending on the severity of the rule violation.
The Security Housing Unit is constructed to entomb roughly around nine hundred or a little over a thousand prisoners. The S.H.U. is divided into separate sides, a C-side and D-side, both sided are operated the same. Each side has its own medical clinic, a dental department and a classification unit. Both sides share the same legal library and visiting room. The C-side is the biggest side with twelve buildings, the D-side has ten buildings. A building is made up of six separate sections or pods. A pod has four large two-man cages on the bottom tier, with the same exact number of cages on the top tier, two tiers to each pod. The maximum number of prisoners that can occupy a pod is sixteen, two to each cage. All cages are the same, a stainless steel combination sink and toilet. A cement slab three-feet high, three feet long, one and a half feet is low-bunk light from the floor, which can be used as a seat- the main part of this slab usually doubles as a table, set a TV on or desk. Two eight-foot long cement slabs on the back wall- top and bottom bunks. Underneath the bottom bunk is a shelf space, runs the length of the bottoms bunk cut in half so two prisoners will have equal space. The front of the cage is cast it on steel honey-cone door, cast iron honey-cone steel covers the entire front of the cage, making prisoners clearly visible to guards when counting. Each cage has its own light- bright or dim, the prisoner has control of via a button on the wall.
For a prisoner fighting his original case, the issue that brought him to prison, or the incident that has landed him in S.H.U. there's a minimal amount of access to the legal library. A prisoner can only get regular access to the law library about every thirty or forty days. If the prisoner has a legal deadline, a pending legal issue in court, a thirty-day period is granted to him, giving him access to the law library everyday for thirty days straight. But that prisoner is really on his own; because there is no legal assistance he can count on coming from prison-staff working in the law library. A jail-house lawyer, another prisoner knowledgeable in criminal law, if he chooses to provide some assistance to another prisoner in need, runs the risk of being labeled a gang-member or associate, which will net him an indeterminate S.H.U. term. The prisoncrats don't want prisoners knowledgeable in law, teaching other prisoners how to effectively fight their cases or disciplinary infractions in a courtroom. Most prisoners who do get into court usually can demonstrate that their right to due process has been violated. Or some other illegal act on the part of law enforcement has resulted in their conviction. The exposure of egregious practices in a public forum puts law enforcement, of all kinds, including prison-guards, in a defensive position, forcing them to try to explain the unexplainable. Thus, the vigorous campaign to roll back or undermine all forms of judicial redress for people who've been unfairly victimized by corrupt so-called public servants.
A prisoner whose transferred to the Security Housing Unit, as punishment for a rule violation. That prisoner could have a S.H.U. term running as little as nine months up to five years, depending on the perceived severity of the rule said to have been violated. If the prisoner doesn't violate any rules while serving his S.H.U. term, then he'll be allowed to return to the general population, at the completion of the given term. Where he can participate in various programs or work assignment earning good time credits. If a prisoner is considered to be violent ad have a record of physical confrontations with fellow prisoners or prison-guards. This prisoner could receive a S.H.U. term of five years or be given an indeterminate term. Classification committee can lift this kind of indeterminate S.H.U., once the prisoner has shown a change in attitude and been disciplinary free for a long period of time.
For the prisoners whom it's said that Security Housing at Pelican Bay is built to be lock-up in, are prisoners deemed to be prison-gag-members and/or associations. The designation of gang-member and/or associate being used to lock prisoners up on old practice of the prisoncrats dating back to the late 60s. This was done to a group of prisoners that prisoncrats felt posed a threat to the safety of prisoners, staff and the security of institution. This was exactly the time of what later became known as the prison movement. A good many of those prisoners weren't in any real sense a gang-member and/or associate thereof. But had become conscious of being, understanding the inhumane treatment prisoners were/are receiving at the hand of corrupt prison-guards. Those prisoners began to work to educate and organize the prison population across racial lines. And as prisoners became more conscious of their plight, they began to strike out against brutal prison-guards on two fronts simultaneously, direct physical confrontations and legal means via the courts. In an effort to bring about an improvement in the inhumane conditions existing within the prison system at that time. Those prisoners' political demands led to many of the present rules and regulations governing the day-to-day operations in existence now, which in many respects is an improvement from what was.
This course of events forced the prisoncrats to alter some of their previous malfeasance bong enough to allow outside focus to dwindle, alleviating pressure on them to treat prisoners more humanely. The prisoncrats, no longer concerned much about public scrutiny, began their campaign to isolate leading protagonists of the prison movement. In the process some of the critical leaders became victims of prisoncrats reprisal, some by direct assassination, others set-up for death at the hands of other prisoners for basic progressive changes within the prison system. The movement was unable to maintain its continuity in terms of a consistent political vision in the midst of on-going disruption. It was also during this period, around 1974, the prisoncrats began in earnest to ring-in those remaining prisoners that demonstrated a mind-set not in harmony with acceptance of brutal treatment and inhumane prison conditions. To disguise their efforts in isolation prisoners, strictly for political views. The prisoncrats built several lock-up units, where they placed inside those units difference ethnic groups, with past animosities long unsettled. It wasn't long before issues between certain fractions escalated, old bitter enmity surfaces into full blown violent racial conflicts. This was the result of prisoncrats manipulation that was necessary to provide them with cover to propagandized racial conflicts as gang warfare.
Many prisoners locked-up at that time have been in one lock-up after another, not so much for what they had done, but for what they choose to believe. For not relinquishing their beliefs, these prisoners have been marked by the prisoncrats as gang-members and/or associates. Since the late 70's this has been the practice of the prisoncrats to keep certain prisoners permanently confined in various lock-up units, even though many of these prisoners don't have a legitimate rule violation to justify a security housing unit placement.
As prisoners began to fight their unjust permanent and torturous isolations in lock-up. Legal victories, although small, have forced several changes in how the prisoncrats implement policies governing S.H.U. placement and indeterminate status. This is primarily due to the Supreme Court issued ruling allowing prisoncrats a degree of discretionary latitude. Which has given prisoncrats room to maneuver around the major issue of indeterminate S.H.U. placement.
Pelican Bay security housing unit opened in 1989 with the expressed objective of the complete demise of that mentality prisoncrats, as well as establishment forces in society, find to be a threat to their existence. The prisoncrats have not been in the slightest manner reluctant in making their intent known in smashing out recalcitrant voices still remaining within the California prison system. S.H.U. represents the physical reality of that intent by its very design ad operation. Every facet of S.H.U. operations procedure is in effect low-intensity psychological warfare to break the spirit of the prisoners trapped inside S.H.U.
This area of the state is noted for its rainfall, so there isn't much sunshine to begin with. Being in S.H.U. the first thing noticeable about prisoners is the lack of natural skin tone of all prisoners regardless of ethnic origin. Although, there hasn't been any conclusive medical research done that could determine a connection between the lack of vital sunrays on the human body, and prolong stress of being locked-up in S.H.U. If there might be a direct relation to the various illness prisoner are coming down with. Moreover, when a prisoner has been diagnosed with a serious mental condition, the difficulty in obtaining a basic rudimentary care, speaks volumes to the disregard for S.H.U. prisoners. With the on-going steady decrease in the daily diet, not having sufficient nutritional value a prisoner's health is in consistent jeopardy. Good health is having a positive outlook on life. For the S.H.U. prisoners to maintain a positive outlook is an enormous task done under strenuous conditions. The biggest and a foreboding aspect of S.H.U. is the policy of parole, switch, or die. For a prisoner without a parole date there are only two ways open to him that would allow the prisoner to leave S.H.U. The option to become a snitch is something totally unacceptable to a man of principles, so the prospect of dying I prison is the reality for one not willing to compromise.
What is critical to the comprehension of this draconian policy of parole, snitch, or die is not allowing the implacable for of humanity to define the people's reality according to his interest. It is a mistake of defining the people's social reality I accordance with U.S. economic global interest, and see ourselves within the context of criminals. Or better yet, as poorly misguided, uneducated people who failed to take advantage of educational opportunities that would provide us with the tools to compete in the job market. Since we have failed to become good up standing denizens of capitalist order, perhaps it's due to intrinsic character flaws. As opposed to the inherent imbalances within the economic system of capitalism, itself. The reality is that what is happening within the prison system across this country, in terms of treatment of S.H.U. prisoners wishing to retain the ability to think independently of capitalist interest in, in the larger respect, directly connected to the universal struggle of humanity's efforts to free itself from the hideous barbaric capitalist-globalist forces seeking to make all humanity its fateful appendage.
--a California prisoner, July 2004