The downloadable grievance petition for Texas has been updated to include some more relevant citations that were submitted by a comrade. Please download it here. Click the link below for more information on this campaign.
"The humaneness of a society can be judged by its prisons." - James Doare
On August 23rd, San Francisco Rep Tom Amiano and the Public Safety Committee in the state assembly held an informational hearing on conditions and policies at Pelican Bay - SHU (and we assume the SHUs here at Corcoran and Tehachapi as well). The NCTT Corcoran-SHU wishes to express our support for the people and organizations who have mobilized to lend their voices to this vital human rights initiative which began with our July 1st hunger strike and will not end until the 5 core demands have been appropriately addressed, the fundamental human rights initiative which is acknowledged, and the basic inhumanity of the prison industrial complex's use of sensory deprivation torture units is exposed and abolished.
But why should you care? Why should you care - men are being systematically subjected to psychologically torturous conditions in your name and with your tax dollars? The answer to that question requires you to have certain facts and accept some inconvenient truths. Prison is a socially hostile microcosm of society itself; a concentrated reflection of the contradictions of it's myriad socio-economic and political relationships, composed primarily of the surplus labor segment of the U.S. population. The SHU is a prison within prison, and the ultra-high security isolation units like Pelican Bay SHU's D-short corridor and Corcoran-SHU's 4B1L-C section are CIA style, experimental, psychological torture units.
Following the temporary halt to our peaceful protest on July 20 to give CDCR time to make some meaningful changes in line with our 5 core demands, Scott Kernan's first act was to publish a statement in the Sacramento Bee characterizing us as "violent gang leaders who've committed horrible crimes against the people of California", as though we are not a part of the people. I think it is of vital importance that this, as well as the actual motive force underlying such thinking be addressed.
Over the last 20 years there has been a successful campaign to demonize those convicted of a crime in the U.S., and a degree of social indifference in how they are treated. Through the successful efforts of such lobbies as the California Correctional Penal Officers Association (prison guards union) and it's front groups such as 'Crime Victim United,' and with the assistance of mainstream media programs covering everything from America's Most Wanted to Cops; from Dateline to your local news. The public has been systematically indoctrinated to not merely fear "prisoners," but to effectively dehumanize us as some subspecies of not quite humanity.
Your entertainment programming is 75% crime and punishment content, from the Law & Order franchise to CSI, from Justified to Hawaii 5-O, which not only brings in millions of viewers and sells billions of dollars in products annually via advertising, but divorces the so-called "criminal" from the human condition and casts him/her in the role of perpetual villain in the subconscious mind, deserving neither rights, compassion, or basic humanity. This was not some unconscious effort on the part of your elected officials, public servants, and corporate entities, no, this was a conscious program to dehumanize a specific segment of the U.S. population in order to ensure the speculative profits of the burgeoning - and now well established - prison industrial complex would go unchallenged and unprotected.
The fact is the origin of crime is relatively simplistic: the origin of all crime can be inexorably traced to the disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege, and opportunity in a society. So what we find here is not a matter of public safety proponents versus criminal fiends or "gang leaders", but more accurately an internal contradiction of the state itself which pits public safety versus social control and profit.
Contrary to the propaganda of politricsters such as Mr. Kernan, California SHU's are not inhabited by the "worst of the worst," and especially not in these ultra-high security isolation torture units like Pelican Bay SHU's D-Corridor or Corcoran SHU's 4B1L-C section. In fact a significant segment of this population has been consigned to these dungeons decades on end solely based on their political ideology and world views. Left-wing political ideologies and revolutionary scientific socialists are labeled "gang members" and tossed in the SHU with no thought to the contradiction this presents to the constitutional basis of freedom of speech, thought, and expression.
The truth of the matter is most here in Pelican Bay SHU D-Corridor and Corcoran SHU 4B1L C Section haven't had a rules violation, let alone broke a law, in decades. Institutional gang investigators claim to seek to mitigate the violence and socio-economic damage allegedly caused by "gangs" - yet the NCTT in Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHU over the course of the past 2 decades alone has developed and attempted to initiate numerous programs that would effectively do just that, and even more.
This hearing was a prime opportunity to declare, if the state will truly make rehabilitation their primary objective they may:
Meet in full the 5 core demands of the SHU human rights initiative, acknowledging the dismal failure of their "lock em up - lock em up" philosophy and its fundamental social and economic unsustainability
Restructure the entire correctional system and approach to imprisonment.
Mandate safe, clean and healthy rehabilitative environments where higher education and viable wage job skills are offered to all prisoners ensuring they can compete in today's technology society, ensure parole suitability, and make meaningful contributions to the community, institute community based parole boards, where the communities prisoners hail from decide when they can return to them.
Re-institute media access and transparency
Re-institute community ties programs such as social and family visiting for all prisoners, especially those in SHU-indeterminate units
Develop community reintroduction programs where prisoners have a community based support network that helps them re-acclimate to society and be re-integrated successfully.
Disband the CCPOA's stranglehold on elected officials which range from DAs and judges to the governor himself.
If this were to occur, crime and recidivism rates would drop, prison populations would decrease drastically (as would the violence which plagues them), thus failing to justify the fiscal expenditure for all these prisons, cops, guards, prosecutors, judges and many industries which serve them. The CCPOA's power would wane as it's membership and dues decreases. The state will not make rehabilitation (which begins with humane conditions of existence) their #1 priority because this is not in their economic and political interests.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This NCTT statement does a good job exposing the criminal injustice system as a tool of social control with no real interest in actually addressing crime or rehabilitation. We do disagree with one point here: while the vast array of people working in and around prisons certainly are motivated to protect their high wages and benefits, prisons themselves do not make a profit and so can not be working to protect their "speculative profits." As this article notes, those working on the side of the prison system do have a strong motivation to sustain and even grow them, but this is for social control fundamentally.
Beginning in February 2010 the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections decided to transfer 2000 prisoners out of state due to overcrowding in Pennsylvania prison system. The two states Pennsylvania sent its prisoners to were Michigan and Virginia. I was one of the prisoners they sent to Virginia. We all were just snatched in the middle of the night and transferred out of state. It was almost like being kidnapped, being taken from your family and being sent to a southern prison from a northern prison. Not even having a chance to call your family to let them know about the transfer.
It was said that we would only be transferred for three years, but now all the prisoners transferred to Michigan have been transferred back to Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania now has new prisons and room for its prisoners. My problem with this is that all of the prisoners transferred to Virginia, including myself, are still in Virginia, with no plans for us to be transferred back to Pennsylvania. What about us? Don't we have family in Pennsylvania who love us? Why are we being kept in Virginia, when the other prisoners have been sent back? It's almost like Pennsylvania does not care about us. The Virginia Department of Corrections says there is no plans to move us back to Pennsylvania. And one sad thing is that there was a large number of prisoners who are serving a life sentence who were transferred here to Virginia. I mean men who have been incarcerated for 15, 20 or 30 years just transferred out of state away from their families. It's just not fair.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This is just one of many examples of actions taken by prisons demonstrating that the Amerikan criminal injustice system has nothing to do with rehabilitation. It has been shown that ties to family and community are important to the ability of prisoners to stay on the streets once released, but Pennsylvania (and many other states) are more concerned with the economics of running their prison system than the well being of the prisoners. Prisons are a tool of social control in this country, and we should not be surprised by these callous actions by prison administrators. On a bigger scale, the system of imperialism displaces millions of people all around the world. Comrades isolated by out-of-state transfers should feel unity with refugees and migrants all around the world, who share a common interest in tearing down imperialism and rebuilding their communities. There is strength in numbers, and hope in unity and organizing.
I have recently been hit with censorship of your mailing sent on 9 September 2011. I did receive prior to that the letter you sent to activists, but then on September 9 I got two 1819 forms indicating disapproval of mail. I have previously won two 602s [grievances] on this very issue, yet they cite the old 2006 memo [a ban on MIM's mail that was overruled years ago].
What happened is the regular Correctional Officer (CO) already been 602'd by me and has seen the 602 granted at the Director level, but he only works five days a week. The other two days a floater works and is not aware of my granted 602. The floater sends it to Institution Gang Investigations (IGI), who says to deny me. I guess the temporary CO is not very fond of MIM. Anyhow, I am sure I'll win the 602 I am submitting, but I know if I do it will take months. If possible, can you send whatever it was again? It seems I'll be having problems getting my mail from MIM Distributors on the regular CO's days off.
I showed my previous 602 that was granted, but was told by the temp "I don't know. They tell us one thing and tell you another. We need to get it straight." This is obviously B.S. because when a 602 is granted, especially at the Director level, it is obviously "straight."
This is a constant barrage of censorship. It's nonstop. I get a 602 granted and then someone comes who don't like MIM literature and then I'm forced to wait months appealing this and missing out on my studies. It is a protracted effort to censor MIM. But nothing MIM(Prisons) says is bad; it's political literature! And why send it to the gang unit when it's political? In Amerika this is how political literature is handled; by labeling it "gang material." This only confirms what MIM(Prisons) says, that there are no rights in Amerika, only power struggles! What happened to the so-called "freedom of the press?"
This prison's population has just gotten done with a three-week hunger strike and now it seems, as one of the participants, I'm now being retaliated on by censoring my political science correspondence course. But I thought the administrators from Sacramento came saying they would work on bettering our conditions if we stopped striking and ate? And now this is the repayment — censoring the ability to think outside this cell, controlling my thoughts, and preventing me from learning anything besides the state's perspective. I can get all the Forbes, Wall Street Journal, National Review, USA Today, etc. that I want, but let me get something that speaks in the interests of poor people and I'm deprived.
This does not surprise me one bit, and I know how to go about the process of appealing. What pisses me off is thinking of all the prisoners across Amerika who also get this Gestapo-like treatment and who won't know how to appeal, or become discouraged and don't try. This is what pisses me off the most. But I know I got to go back to the legal front and go in for another legal battle.
This censorship in prisons is part of the reason prisoners went on hunger strike. This is why people starved; because of the years and decades of not being able to read history books, not being able to take correspondence courses, not being allowed to grapple with ideas. And when prisoners do try to understand critical thought, we are repressed. And when we protest torture, we are repaid with further repression! A society that creates dungeons and employs sadists to unleash all their sick methods on captive poor people, to torture and experiment on with their psychological abuses, is a society that is warped and morally bankrupt.
I am writing on behalf of Soldiers of Bondage (S.O.B.). We are a movement within the Illinois State prisons that fights the oppression by our government.
We fight obscurantism, opacity, and refuse to abnegate to our oppressors! Like any real movement we fight with every resource that we possess; instinct, intelligence, conviction, and (when necessary) violence.
Our mission is to free everyone from their chains of bondage so that they may be free and that we, as a unified people, can live under equitable conditions.
After reading and digesting the July/August 2011 issue of Under Lock & Key I have decided to unite with my comrades in order to better achieve the goals of S.O.B.
On September 26, prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison will resume their indefinite hunger strike after 2 months of hiatus, during which they negotiated with the state. The strike began on July 1, sweeping across California, and was put on hold by organizers on July 21, after 3 full weeks of fasting. Multiple prisoner negotiators from Pelican Bay have confirmed that Scott Kernan of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) promised the 5 demands would be met, but that they needed 2 to 3 weeks to comply. That window of time has long since passed, and comrades are gearing up for what promises to be a longer stretch with no food.
In a statement from one strike leader announcing the September 26 restart, he stated:
I appreciate the time and love you all have given to us and you can believe that we will not yield until justice is achieved. We went into this trying to save lives, if possible, but we see now that there will have to be casualties on our side and we all know that power concedes to no one without demands.(1)
On August 23, state legislator Tom Ammiano headed a hearing on conditions in California's SHUs and on the validation process that gets people placed there. It echoed previous hearings that did not stop torture in the SHU. He promised he would push the issue further than it has gone in the past, but like the reforms given by the CDCR, this is too little too late as comrades who have faced decades in these torture cells take this struggle to the next level.
The Truth About the Negotiations
The strike didn't end over some beanies and calendars. Letters that came from the leaders after the message was sent that the strike ended were very clear that they were only giving the state time to meet their demands before they would restart the food strike. Those in D-Corridor and other SHU prisoners aren't done yet.
The initial story that came out of limited communications between the inside and outside negotiation teams was that the strike had ended, period, in return for beanies, calendars, proctored exams and a promise to investigate the major complaints of the strikers. The extreme limits put on the outside negotiation team, who were only granted access to the strikers on a couple brief occasions, allowed the state to control how the negotiations were portrayed. As a result, many across the state were let down by the misleading reports that first came out, because the strikers had pledged to strike until all 5 demands were met.
It has since come to light that Scott Kernan circulated a fake version of the five demands,(2) and that prisoners received notices that they had broken the rules by organizing against the abuse that they face and that they will face "progressive discipline" in the future for similar actions. The latter contradicts CDCR Spokeswoman Terry Thorton who stated on record, "There are no punitive measures for inmates refusing to eat."(3) In typical repressive fashion, the state responds to complaints of torture committed by state employees with outlawing any form of protest by the victims. It just goes to show that their efforts to maintain "security" have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with social control.
It's also important to note that the best public offer coming from the state right now is that they might move away from gang affiliation charges and focus on actual rule violations as justification for throwing someone into a torture chamber. Within U.$. prisons the First Amendment is generally ignored and any form of expression or organizing not sanctioned by the state is considered against the rules. But even this reform has been on the table for a long time with no action. According to the 2004 Castillo court decision, which took 8 years to litigate, the CDCR committed to providing logical justification that evidence used to put someone into SHU was criminal in nature. Yet nothing has changed, as the lead attorney on the case, Charles Carbone, asserted at the August 23 hearing.
As Carbone pointed out, with exasperation, we already went through the whole song and dance of having hearings around the SHU with Senator Gloria Romero and the United Front to Abolish the SHU years ago. Another testifier at this year's hearing made testimony in the 70s and 80s about the detrimental effects of isolation, but they still went on to build Pelican Bay State Prison. It is clear that the state sees the SHU as an important tool of social control and cares nothing for the destruction they cause to oppressed people.
Scott Kernan was very clear at the hearing that the CDCR would continue with the debriefing process, using confidential informants, and that they will not allow prisoners to appeal secret evidence used against them. He also said gang validations will likely continue to bring indeterminate SHU sentences. Kernan did not stick around for the public comments, and remaining CDCR staff were not given an opportunity to respond when a public commenter asked when the 5 demands would be put down in writing, after Kernan promised it would only take 2 to 3 weeks.
Lessons in Organizing
Through this process we are all learning how to organize in our conditions and what limits we face.
One of the successes of the California hunger strike was the demonstration of United Front to the masses, which inspired many to the possibilities of prison-based organizing. We do not know the details of how groups coordinated on the inside around the strike, but we do know that many groups would not be willing to sacrifice their independence to others, and yet they worked together. This example should be followed by those on the outside. We need to recognize the strength that comes in uniting all who can be united at any given time on the most pressing issues that we face. Coalition organizing strategies have held back support by not allowing a diversity of voices to come out in unity in support of the hunger strike.
Having outside pressure during a food strike is crucial to ensuring that the state just does not let prisoners die, as they are more than willing to do if there isn't too much noise about it. Outside organizations also played an important role in spreading word about the hunger strike that was initiated by some of the most isolated people in the whole state. But, ultimately, the state controls our communication with prisoners. Despite all the work put in by the coalition to develop an outside negotiation team, the only role the state allowed them to play was to announce when the strike had ended and ensure that everyone knew to stop. The state realized that a memo from the CDCR was not going to be convincing. Other than this, the negotiation team was not allowed any access to the prisoner negotiators.
In ULK 21, we made it sound like the strike was over for beanies, calendars and proctors and some empty promises of change. This was the information coming from the outside negotiating team and the best information anyone seemed to have. Frustration with the outcome immediately started coming in and we fear that disillusionment may have followed. But this is what the SHU is designed for. This is why SHU inmates can't call people on the outside. This is why the press is not allowed in California prisons. Misinformation would be much harder to spread otherwise. So overcoming these barriers is part of what we need to learn here.
We need to learn to build protracted and sustainable battles. There are no quick fixes, and prisoners can't rely on the mainstream press or outside organizations to come in and rescue them. Recently, Pelican Bay censored MIM(Prisons)'s study pack on organizational structure. They recognize the importance of such information for prisoners to really get organized and exert their rights. As much as they want to label us a "security threat group" for doing it, MIM(Prisons) continues to struggle for our right to support prison-based organizing. For it is the prisoners who have the drive and determination to make the changes that need to be made to end this oppressive system.
El 26 de septiembre, los presos en Pelican Bay State Prison volverá a su huelga de hambre indefinida después de 2 meses de receso, durante el cual negoció con el Estado. La huelga se inició el 1 de julio, barriendo a través de California, y se dejó en suspenso por los organizadores el 21 de julio. Negociadores de presos múltiples de Pelican Bay han confirmado que Scott Kernan del Departamento de Correcciones y Rehabilitación de California (CDCR) prometió que las 5 demandas serían satisfechas, pero que necestiban 2-3 semanas par cumplir. Esta ventana de tiempo ha pasado hace tiempo, y los compañeros se están preparando para lo que promete ser un tramo más largo sin comida.
En el 23 de agosto, el legislador Tom Ammiano encabezó una audiencia sobre las condiciones de los SHU de California y el proceso de la validación que se coloca la gente allá. Se hizo un eco de audiencias previas que no paró la tortura en el SHU, pero prometió que empujara el tema más que había ido en el pasado.
La huelga no terminó sobre algunos gorritos y calendarios. Las cartas que vinieron de los líderes después de la mensaje que la huelga terminó eran muy claras que sólo daban el estado tiempo para cumplir con sus demandas antes de que recomenzarían la huelga de hambre.
Necesitamos aprender construir las batallas prolongadas y sostenibles. No hay ningunos soluciones rápidos, y los presos no pueden fiar en la prensa y las organizaciones ajenos para salvarles. Recientemente, Pelican Bay censuró el paquete de estudiar de MIM(Prisons) sobre la estructura organizacional. Reconocen la importancia de tal información para los preso realmente organizarse y ejercer sus derechos. Por tanto que quieren clasificarnos como un grupo de amenaza a la seguridad por hacerlo, MIM(Prisons) continua luchar por nuestro derecho a apoyar a la organización basada en la prisión. Porque son los presos que tienen la motivación y la determinación hacer los cambios que deben hacerse para terminar este sistema opresivo.
Prisoners working for free will now pay $100 per year for healthcare. Governor Rick Perry and the Texa$ legislature have signed a bill into law that will charge prisoners a one hundred dollar per year medical care fee. This new law (Sec. 501.063) will take effect September 1, of this year, and is a desperate attempt by the powers that be in Austin to save money on a prison system housing 160,000 people which is the second largest in the nation.
Charging prisoners for medical care, room and board, etc., is not a new idea; but in contrast to most other states, Texas doesn't pay their prisoners to work. Since Texas prisoners have no way to support themselves while incarcerated, they are financially dependent on friends and family members. It's their money they use to buy items like stamps, fans, t-shirts, hygiene and food items.
The new healthcare law will not only be taking from what little money prisoners get, it's in essence taxing the ones who send them money. If the prisoner doesn't have enough money in their trust fund account to cover the $100 fee, then 50% of all incoming funds will be deducted until the debt is paid in full.
Some prisoners only get 50 or 100 dollars a year - usually for their birthday or Christmas - meaning all that money their families sent and intended for them to have, will be seized by the state for something they shouldn't be charging prisoners for in the first place.
Workplace injuries and ailments due to prison conditions comprise a considerable percentage of prisoner requests for medical care. With the new law, they will be charged to receive medical care for on the job injuries; the same jobs they receive not a dime for.
A friend gave me a little study of yours, Level 1 Study Group in which a participant states that prisoners may be called upon to build bombs and war machines as Amerika's military industry expands. You respond that this is unlikely since "the imperialists will not share their military secrets" and "wouldn't want prisoners building bombs and war machines for security reasons." Well, you are wrong!
Try and take a tour of the Unicor in USP as well as FCI#1 in Victorville, CA by Adelanto. I was there 2007-2009 prior to going to SMU and worked in UNICOR in metal shop. We had a contract on making ammo cans for Humvees and Humvee engines and interiors were also worked on. Also we built little "Iraqi Villages," little pre-engineered huts for the military to put in the High Desert to train troops to raid prior to deployment to the Middle East.
Not just that, but we converted 5 ton and trucks, stripped them down and built them into MRAP prototypes (Mine Resistant Armored Protectant Vehicles), to train troops prior to deployment, with gun turret and everything, since real MRAPs come off the line in some warehouse and are immediately shipped to Afghanistan. We built 15 trainee MRAPs. Also, Humvees came into the shop and if any inmate found a bullet case or shell and turned it over we were rewarded with up to $100 bonus! Go to USP Victorvile and FCI #1 in UNICOR and see for yourself.
MIM(Prisons) responds: First we're happy to hear that prisoners participating in our study groups are sharing the lessons with others. It's a challenge to conduct these classes through the mail as interest grows. In order to expand this educational work more, we rely on our comrades behind bars to share what they are learning through USW-led educational institutions that can be conducted face-to-face.
We're also glad this prisoner took the time to write to us with information about prisoner labor in federal prisons, and to correct our comrade's mistake on the question of letting prisoners work on military construction. The extent of prison labor's involvement in supporting imperialist military repression is something we addressed in the article The Privatization of War: Imperialism Gasps its Last Breaths, printed in ULK 8. Much of our empirical knowledge of the U.$. prison system comes from our many supporters still on the inside, so we always welcome help keeping our facts straight.