"La brutalidad del encarcelamiento Supermax" Comité en Derechos Humanos Internacionales del Colegio de Abogados de la Ciudad de NY Septiembre 2011
Este reporte se abordó el crecimiento dramático de las facilidades de encarcelamiento "supermax" en los Estados Unidos durante las últimas tres décadas y destaca las condiciones de tortura y violaciones de las leyes domésticas e internacionales. Como una introducción al aislamiento a largo plazo en las prisiones de los Estados Unidos, y un resumen de casos y leyes pertinentes, este reportaje es un recurso excelente.
El reportaje cita cálculos que 80,000 prisioneros "…sufren condiciones de extrema depravación sensorial por meses o años sin fin, una experiencia agudísimo en lo cual el prisionero se mantiene aislado de cualquier contacto humano." Artículos en Under Lock & Key regularmente testifican a esta tortura que los prisioneros confrontan en aislamiento de largo plazo. Los autores observan que los cálculos son abiertamente variables y los números totales de gente en Supermax no se conocen. MIM(prisiones) ha dirigido su propio estudio para recopilar estadísticas en prisioneros de unidades de control y estimamos que hay cerca de 110,000 prisioneros en este momento en aislamiento de largo plazo.
Los autores concluyen correctamente sobre estas condiciones tortuosas: "La póliza del encarcel-amiento supermax, en la escala en la cual se ha estado aplicando en los Estados Unidos, viola derechos humanos básicos." Aunque MIM(prisiones) haría la pregunta cómo esta póliza estaría bien si la escala fuera menor. Esta advertencia de la "escala" es posible porque los autores fallan en dirigirse al sistema que determina quien se encarcela en aislamiento y porque son puestos allí.
Como parte de un resumen de casos legales y leyes pertinentes, el reporte nota que las cortes han fallado en dirigirse a esta tortura, la cual los autores consideran una violación de la octava enmienda: "con tal que el prisionero reciba comida y refugio adecuado, la extrema depravación de sentido que caracteriza supermax encarcelamiento deberá, bajo los leyes presentes, casi siempre será considerado adentro del límite de tratamiento permisible." Demuestran algunas de las dificultades legales en probar una violación de la octava enmienda, incluye la adición de la carga legal de la Acta de la Ley para la Reforma del Litigio Penitenciario (PLRA) la cual requiere que prisioneros presenten daños físicos antes de someter una acción de daños sufridos en custodia.
Los autores describen cómo el encarcelamiento supermax viola las leyes internacionales basadas en la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos, La Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos, La Norma Mínima de Reglas para el Tratamiento de Prisioneros de la ONU, El Convenio Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos, y La Convención contra la Tortura, entre otros. Ellos notan que la ley internacional no ha sido un factor para cortes estadounidenses en estos casos y llaman por cambio en este aspecto.
El reportaje concluye con las siguientes recomendaciones:
1) Las provisiones en la PLRA estipulando que los prisioneros demandantes no pueden recuperar daños "sin demostrar daño físico primero " debería ser revocado; 2) Prisioneros con enfermedades mentales serias nunca deberían de ser sujeto al encarcelamiento supermax; 3) Las condiciones de aislamiento extremo y restricción deberían ser impuestos sólo cuando una amenaza extrema y seria a la seguridad de la prisión ha sido establecido, y aun así en dichas circunstancias el encarcelamiento supermax debería ser por el tiempo mínimo posible, y los prisioneros se les debe de proporcionar con el procedimiento debido, y la oportunidad para disputar el encarcelamiento y apelar el encarcelamiento; 4) Cualquier forma de vivienda segregada debería de proveer formas de estimulación significante mental, físico y social; 5) Una agrupación nacional debería ser establecida para que reporten de pronto los números de prisioneros siendo detenidos en encarcelamiento supermax en prisiones estatales y federales y sus condiciones de encarcelamiento, y proponer legislativa adicional y reformas administrativas.
Como filántropos, decimos aislamiento a largo plazo es tortura y debe ser anulado inmediatamente, y como hemos discutido en otras partes, no estamos de acuerdo con punto 2 como campaña en que justifica el uso de tortura contra los resistentes más fuertes mientras malinterpreta la relación verdadera entre aislamiento de largo plazo y enfermedad mental.
Si implementado, las recomendaciones del comité reduciría ciertamente el número de prisioneros sufriendo en aislamiento de largo plazo, y son por lo tanto recomendaciones progresivas por un Colegio de Abogados que trabaja dentro del sistema de justifica que utiliza el encarcelamiento supermax como una herramienta de control social. Pero este mismo sistema, que ellos han apuntado ha demostrado su voluntad de ignorar la ley y actuar afuera de las normas de decencia común establecido por la octava amienda, seguramente no se puede confiar para determinar "cuando una extrema y seria amenaza a la seguridad de la prisión se ha establecido."
Los autores ignoran el amplio contexto del encarcelamiento supermax y su uso en los Estados Unidos. Como hemos reportado en un artículo en la historia de unidades de control: "La verdad detrás de las razones que estas unidades de control son necesitadas es que son un recurso político, económico y control social de todo una clase de opresos y gente privados de sus derechos. Estos incluyen especialmente africanos, latinos y gente indígena que son una parte desproporcionada en poblaciones de unidades controladas." Prisiones en los Estados Unidos son un suelo de crianza de resistencia contra el sistema que injustificadamente encierra segmentos de su populación y las unidades supermax se necesita para controlar aún más la educación y la organización inevitable que se produce entre los que se enfrentan cara a cara con la injusticia criminal del sistema
Mientras que este reporte es útil por las citaciones legales y el estudio de los daños causados por el aislamiento de largo plazo, es importante que lo pongamos en un contexto más amplio del sistema de injusticia criminal y entender que la tortura supermax no se puede reformar dentro este sistema. Esperamos hacer algunos mejoramientos significantes que tendrán un impacto particular en las vidas de nuestras camaradas políticos detrás de rejas que son el blanco de encarcelamiento en estas celdas de aislamiento, y en esa batalla nos unimos con el Colegio de Abogados de la Ciudad de NY y muchas otras que claramente miran la injusticia y inhumanidad del aislamiento supermax.
Prisioneros interesados en una copia de este reporte deben contactar la New York City Bar Association a 42 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036
I never got to read the piece on "strategic retreat" by Loco1 due to heavy censorship here, but wish to respond to the discussion in ULK24 titled Advance the California Hunger Strike through Strategic Unity and Criticism. First, the struggle spear-headed by SHU prisoners is not exclusive to SHU prisoners. This struggle includes all prisoners, not just in California but more broadly throughout Amerikkka. The dehumanizing treatment of prisoners is experienced by all prisoners at some point just as sure as Brown and Black people out in society are both hunted and rounded up, stopped and frisked by the thousands daily and shot and killed unarmed by the imperialist's first line of defense on a regular basis. Prisoners in Amerika are abused, oppressed, repressed, exploited and murdered either outright or by other means, i.e. denying medical treatment, etc. Of course some prisons are more brutal to its prisoners than others but make no mistake about it - we are all brutalized! SHUs by their very nature are torture kamps period.
This environment would thus produce more resistance just as one will find more resistance to imperialism in a Third World country than in say Amerika or England. The oppressed nations are still oppressed regardless if they are in this country or that country even if it is at a different level. So too are all prisoners oppressed whether in SHU or mainline. And I do agree that in the 2011 strike efforts SHU prisoners have been the vanguard in propelling and boldly arousing the thousands of prisoners to the call of action, our efforts were international as prisoners in other countries such as Canada and Australia even joined the strike in solidarity with Pelican Bay prisoners and thus with all prisoners in Amerika. Activists in Canada dropped a banner on the jail proclaiming its prisoners were hunger striking with Pelican Bay and so the banner read 'from Pelican Bay to Collins Bay'. So yes SHU prisoners spearheaded this mass effort but it should not become common for prisoners to rely on the "Pelican Bay vanguard" as this is dangerous.
When a movement is focused on a leader or a certain group... if these leaders are imprisoned, neutralized or corrupted the movement crumbles. One of the strengths of the current 'Occupy Wall Street Movement' is that it is a united front with no 'leader' or cadre group leading the pack. The state hates this and unleashes its propaganda machine to smut the OWS movement up as 'not being sure what they want' or 'not having leaders'. The state wants public 'leaders' to neutralize and take down as they have done for the past hundred years whenever a group rises up in Amerika.
Of course there is a role for leaders as vanguard whether they be in prison or out in society, but it's a dangerous road for the movement when people begin to rely on the "Pelican Bay vanguard" and take on the attitude of "I'm not going to strike or protest this or that because Pelican Bay isn't doing it right now" or if an injustice comes up in a prison in say North Dakota etc, and the prisoners say "well I'll wait until Pelican Bay rises up again." Some may even go so far as beginning to think that say prisoners in Hawaii are striking and they are in Alaska and they may say "well it's not the Pelican Bay prisoners I'm not partaking." This happens even here in California where if an action is not including Pelican Bay prisoners its looked at half-heartedly and many lose interest in 'rising up.' This is a real problem, one that I hope to combat in its infancy as I see the damage this brings to future struggles and it really retards the political development of prisoners into participants rather than individual leaders themselves.
What we must keep in mind is prisons today are much different than what prisons were in the days of Attica or Santa Fe, etc. Today prisoners are more controlled; prison activists are quickly targeted, separated and isolated from the prison mass. More and more control units are designed to house the revolutionary prisoners. Even on a "mainline" of level four prisons in California you only go out to yard with the roughly 200 prisoners in your block, with the other 800 or so in their cells waiting their turn. Some places only half a block goes out so 100 or less are out at a time. The state has begun to implement these methods past Attica and past Santa Fe to tighten their control on the prison population and attempt to smother any future embers of resistance. So as the state attempts to divide and conquer the prison population, prisoners often find themselves alone or with only a handful of conscious prisoners engaged in activism. It is these conscious prisoners that should be as matter - in constant motion constantly doing your thing to push the momentum.
And so although SHU prisoners have been the vanguard thus far I disagree with the writer when s/he says "The SHU prisoners are the vanguard in the struggle and it is up to them if the movement moves forward or dies a humiliating death." I believe this type of thinking is an error and incorrect. SHU prisoners, nor any prisoners who form the united front, consist as a centralized party, nor was this strike movement built with any hierarchy. And although I largely agree that the prison vanguard can be found in SHU, to say whether the movement "moves forward or dies" is up to SHU prisoners kind of reduces the larger prison masses (general population) to bystanders or frees them from responsibility should the movement die "a humiliating death" as the writer put it. SHU prisoners are extremely limited in their ability to operate, we are deprived to the point of it being torture. In some cases no mail period is allowed to or from a prisoner. In other cases any time one leaves a cell in shackles a team of guards with camcorder walk recording ones every step!
What we need to do is emphasize the responsibility of those on the general populations (mainlines) to learn from the international effort that was unleashed and begin to boldly arouse the imprisoned masses to get used to demanding human decency where it does not exist, to become familiar with refusing to be dehumanized, refusing to be exploited and refusing to be abused out on the mainlines. Small efforts and strikes, even when domestic (confined to one's prison) whether victorious or not, work to condition the imprisoned masses to the beautiful concept of resistance. A rally around lockdowns, food or educational/vocational opportunities quickly forages a footprint on the psyche and revolutionary spirit of those who participate in a grievance of some sort and teaches the priceless lesson of practice. Theory goes only so far in any struggle, at some point the baby must stand and take its own steps and this is a truly liberating and transforming experience that works to build on future efforts concerning a united front.
Every gulag in every state of Amerika is capable of injecting the movement with a second wind. It is up to every prisoner to begin to think of themselves as having the potential to move the movement forward or letting it die a humiliating death regardless of what prison or what state you dwell in! What holds any movement back is the will of the people to overcome what seems in our way. Mao said "a single spark can start a prairie fire" which has proven true time and again.
The fact that this effort included all LOs already shows that LOs comprehend the need to come together in a common effort; that hurdle has been completed. It is important that the imprisoned masses understand the concept of protracted struggle: it is a long drawn out effort in which, while practice is performed, the people are constantly studying and sharpening our ideologies. In this way we are wearing out the oppressor while building up the people politically.
I disagree with the proposal of the writer that we should focus on the debriefing process as our primary focus. I think this will work to divide the people. The problem is not all prisoners in SHU are validated for "debriefing" information, as many people's validation did not even use information from debriefing. Besides that we need to come high and see what unfolds. I do believe debriefing should be one of the demands but not the sole focus. In dealing with prison strikes and grievances I have found it more effective to make a list of demands and after its all over you may get one or two granted. I believe the demand to close the SHU needs to be at the forefront and I'm surprised it was not included in the five demands of the strikes.
Whether the state will actually comply or not should never affect our choice in a strike, but the demand to close the SHU should be at the front of our rallying cry as it generates a broader support system, it is a uniting force like no other for prisoners. Every state has a control unit whether it's called a SHU, SMU, etc. Of course we will always have other demands depending on the prison or oppressive circumstances of each facility but the primary demand, the most important should always be "Close down the control units!" Control units equal torture, this has been agreed by even the United Nations. The U.$. Supreme Court recently ruled California prisons in general amount to cruel and unusual punishment so it is a fact, let us now raise public opinion to this fact and in the process we will win "winnable" battles on meals, debriefing etc, and along the way the people will be energized by these winnable battles.
These small victories help keeping our eye, as well as the public's, on the most important aspect of our movement and that is to close the torture chambers known as SHU, SMU, etc. Whether we are victorious in this main demand in one year or twenty years is not what we should gauge our 'victory' with. Rather we should recognize conscious lifting and prison mass that is brought deeper into the struggle in the process - this is a true victory for the people.
It is true that we need to develop a strategic vision and understanding to move the movement forward and build what has already been laid down. This strategy should stem from a court analysis not only of the SHU environment but of the entire Amerikan prison system as this is what kind of movement we should be shooting for. ULK reaches many prisoners who can and will take these nutrients and flourish not just with the theory put for them in ULK but build on this and adapt it to each persyn's specific environment.
In California I see abolishing the 3 strikes law as worthy of a demand. The right to medical care is another. Contact visits for all. Access to direct sunlight. Nutritious food and access to all vitamin supplements, protein powders and other means to stay healthy. The abolishment of the use of solitary confinement. Abolish the debriefing system. Abolish censorship. Get parole dates and stop this denial for subjective reasons. The use of control units in Amerika is frowned upon by many people in society, from religious, activist, even some bourgeois liberals and actors oppose control units. The 2.4 million prisoners and their friends who oppose control units, some may not know they exist but all in all this is where we gain our most traction and support, it is precisely where we should start. I believe it is prison activists best organizing tool given to us complements of imperialism, we should not allow this opportunity to wither away.
There are crucial points that should be addressed in future efforts whether these efforts manifest in Pelican Bay or in a prison in North Dakota. The five demands were good, but as I pointed out above there are certainly more pressing issues that need to surface. The thing is to constantly improve on any effort one is involved in; move forward, not simply reproduce what occurred in Pelican Bay's torture chambers, but produce a stronger and more spectacular effort the next round. The Cultural Revolution was launched to unleash the people and have them not simply follow Mao's lead. It was to have the people themselves lead society to struggle in all different spheres, to push the "vanguard" forward, move society with all the creative energy of the masses and transform society and the vanguard.
This is what the 2011 strike movement should do to prisoners across Amerika, it should unleash the people's will to resist, uncork the desire to cast off oppression in every dungeon and every prison cell across Amerika and to teach not to just do like we do or say what we say but allow your dignity as men and wimmin to rise above your oppression and create two, three Pelican Bay movements for your humanity and become a force that awakens prison activism wherever you are no matter how many stand with you. A single street vendor in Tunisia sparked revolution in different countries! Realize your abilities, they are powerful in a concrete tomb. So take my shackled hand and I'll take yours and let's pull our way to freedom!
MIM(Prisons) responds: As we've expressed elsewhere, we do not abdicate leadership in the prison movement. We have much unity with what cipactli writes here in regards to organizing strategies that are decentralized and that protect their leaders. However, we do recognize the need for political leadership that s/he hints at. We recognize that the scientific endeavor that is revolutionary struggle produces scientific knowledge. And certain individuals and groups will possess and understand this knowledge before others. The Occupy movement is a mass movement that attempts to prevent any small group from taking control of it and defining it's politics. Such an approach can be a great learning experience in a budding mass movement. But such a movement will be very limited in what it can achieve, and just as has happened with the Occupy movement, a leadership will quickly come forth despite the claims to the contrary. That is why the scientific approach is to recognize and utilize leadership, utilizing real accountability and real democracy.
I am currently at Apalachee Correctional Institution - West Unit. There are 2 units here: East Unit, which houses approx 1300 prisoners and West unit, which houses approx 875 prisoners. I have spent time in confinement at both units.
The East Unit Disciplinary Confinement (DC) segregation section consists of three dorms with 28 cells each housing two men. So it holds 168 at maximum capacity, and is always full. In DC we are on 24-hour lockdown. Showers are allowed three times a week in cold water, with approximately three minutes to wash. We receive 3-4 hours of recreation in a dog cage every Saturday after 30 days in. The size of the cage is around 15x8 feet.
The East Unit also has another dorm known as Administrative Confinement (AC). We are placed there until it is decided we go to DC or get let out. Reasons we go to AC include disciplinary reports, investigations (which can be for anything from gang involvement, to stealing from the kitchen, to disrespect staff), or "just 'cause." There is no rec for AC and we can be there for a a month or more if it is for an investigation. The AC dorm consists of 35-40 two-man cells 8x10 feet in size.
AC at the East Unit can reach well over 100 degrees in the summer months and we are required to be in Class A uniforms until 10 pm. There is no air circulation despite the fact there is a fan at the end of the hall. The fan is against the wall so it blows no air.
We are also placed into confinement for check-ins which can last 3 weeks months.
In the West Unit, AC and DC are the same 8 x 10 feet two-man cells, housing 38 men. There is no recreation, and showers are three times a week with about five minutes to wash. We receive 1/4 of a bar of soap per week from a bar of free hotel soap. Also, we receive one roll of toilet paper for two men every 10 days. It's supposed to be one roll per person.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This prisoner responded to our request for information about the control units in prisons across the country. In filling out the survey, this elaboration about the conditions of confinement reveals yet another set of long term isolation units that can be called nothing short of torture.
Here at Menard, a prison within the Illinois Department of Corruptions, the prisoners have said "no more." We now are making a full and united front against the swine who confine us.
We have tried for years to voice our objections in a peaceful and civil manner to the hierarchy of this morally bankrupt system. However, these pigs refuse to listen. In fact it has now become completely and utterly impossible to exhaust any and all grievances with any kind of legally sound argument within its body, thereby stopping a prisoner from presenting any claim in any court.
Here in the segregation unit they have gathered together a group of sadistic pigs who torture at will. The head and ringleader of these cowards seems to be Officer Davis. The hierarchy put in cameras to curb the abuse. The piggies found blind spots, where prisoners' blood stains the concrete, and those responsible are allowed to hide.
There have been at least five severe and bloody staff assaults here in a row. The brass in their state capital keeps asking, why? Why, because you have left us with no other course of action. We have become intolerant of the consecutive abuses. We have finally found ourselves in a corner with nowhere to turn. I see no end to the bloodshed. Even after these pigs put those they believe responsible in extreme isolation, it continues!
Defiance and refusal to submit to these pigs has become a movement within itself. It has become much too large to squash. When things attain a certain size they become permanent. One can dredge a lake, but not an ocean.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This letter illustrates an important fact: when people are pushed into a corner, tortured and given no option of running away and no peaceful way to fight back, they will be forced into a violent response. It is ironic that the prisons are constantly censoring MIM(Prisons) as a threat to the security of the institution when it is their own policies and practices that threaten the safety of staff and prisoners the most!
We do want to point out that there is an alternative to short-term violence against the pigs. We need broader organization among our comrades behind bars so that they are not taken out one by one for fighting back. While we cannot judge individual cases of desperation, we know that the long battle is one that requires the building of unity and the education of our allies.
Sometimes I question our capabilities as prisoners. The reason I often muse this question is because of our lack of desired progression as prisoners. What exactly, if anything, are we accomplishing as prisoners?
There is not enough growth providing room for accomplishment. Growth is something which leads to conscious awareness — production. Not production in its synthetic form, or the bourgeois definition of the word. But productive transition of maturing into a person, who at this higher-level of "self," perceptively sensing and clearly seeing a need for core, unified prison objectives.
I do read Under Lock & Key whenever an issue slips past Florida Department of Correction's central repression and monitoring stations. It is apparent nationally we are faced with, as prisoners, the same dilemmas throughout the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). One common and predominate problem is widespread proliferation of the PIC's repressive technological and psychological maturation to a degree where it seems to rob prisoners of their inner virtues, their inner capabilities. This is a form of reverse mutation in prisoners growth, development, and production. A prisoner becomes a product of the environment, in which the state strips him of his capabilities. Consequently this crumbles the bridge to collective perseverance to commit to the struggle.
Currently I'm housed in a control unit. Recently I've been considered by administration as a disciplinary liability. Why? Because where I was previously housed had no functioning heating to adequately keep prisoners warm. Being housed in steel and concrete slab buildings, without insulation, is more a meat freezer than a habitat. It confused me why no one took steps to alter their immediate living conditions. As a leader it became my duty to take the initiative to vocally poll the people and actively seek their collective force. Yet, I was one of a handful (on a three-tier wing) to advocate for our humanity. Because I adamantly pursued my so-called 8th Amendment "right," I found myself being threatened with bodily harm through withholding and poisoning my food, and confronted with physical aggression by the pigs.
Not only did they issue me several write-ups, which eventually led to me being moved to a more segregated wing, but they also terminated my chances of being downgraded to a lower security status. This prolonged my assignment to this control unit and postponed my release to general population.
On this segregated wing I'm surrounded by a body of prisoners who've allowed the PIC to degenerate them to one of the worst states of mind this milieu could possibly lower a human being. I find appreciation in the phrase "a mind is a terrible thing to waste." Thus I'm left to ponder the capabilities of prisoners.
I must give a raised fist of solidarity to the comrades on hunger strike throughout California. I must give a raised fist of solidarity to the comrades throughout Georgia for providing a national platform of exemplary work in the struggle. Their leadership has taught us what can be accomplished collectively. These comrades have realized production and collective capabilities.
It is time for prisoners (nationally) to realize our true capabilities, and harness the same progressively.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This writer points out a common problem in Amerikan prisons: prisoners are reduced to complacency faced with repression and threats, and many are unwilling to, or unaware of, the need to resist. We need leaders who can use Under Lock & Key as an organizing tool to raise awareness, educate and ultimately organize people. It's a slow process, but we can not expect everyone to immediately be with the struggle. We have to remember that there was a time when we ourselves didn't participate. It's our job to share what we've learned and have patience in educating and organizing others, just as our teachers did with us.
This comrade is right that recent organizing in some states gives us a glimpse of what's possible and what we can accomplish if we come together. Part of this is a need for better unity across the conscious groups. For this in particular we call on organizations to join the United Front for Peace in Prisons and get past petty differences so that all conscious and progressive prisoners can come together, united against the criminal injustice system.
I'm writing to enlighten you of the new developments here within this oppressed segregated unit [Corcoran Ad-Seg]. For many years we have been denied our constitutional rights: our appeals process is wrongfully exercised, our appeals being lost or trashed or never making it to the appeals coordinators office. Our time constraints are being violated and surpass the time limitations they impose. But if we pass, even by a day, this administration gets very legalistic and denies our appeals on the sole basis of "time constraints."
By court order, we are allowed to possess TVs or radios, but this unit is depriving us of that right, telling us that due to "budget cuts" we cannot get our appliances. This doesn't make any sense at all, because there are so many other activities that are taking place and money being wasted on unnecessary things, but yet they claim "budget cuts."
The health care in this unit is poor, we lack the basic necessities and it takes up to two months to see the doctor and when we see him/her we get denied the rightful care. They continue to defy the court's order!
We are living under extreme conditions. It is real cold over here and yet they have the AC blowing. Our cells are super cold. We have gotten at numerous officers and the sergeant of this unit but to no avail, our environment continues to be cold.
This is just the beginning of the many violations and the torture we must endure, especially psychological. I've been filing grievances upon grievances challenging our conditions, but they just say, "we're working on it."
The rest of the comrades and I are in protest. We have begun a hunger strike. December 28, 2011 was the beginning of this peaceful protest, and we will continue this struggle till our needs are met.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We just hit the two year anniversary of the beginning of a United Struggle from Within campaign in California demanding that prisoner grievances be addressed. It continues to be a popular campaign, though many recognize its inherent limits in a system that is not interested in our grievances. Z-Unit in High Desert did utilize the campaign to achieve some temporary victories in their conditions. But it is little surprise comrades have stepped it up a notch beyond the petitions we were circulating.
While there is much to consider in strategizing and moving forward in the face of this repression, there is no doubt that conditions in California prisons continue to lead prisoners to make greater sacrifices in struggling for their common cause.
I'm incarcerated at Maryland's North Branch Correctional Institution (NBCI) in Cumberland, Maryland. I have been getting Under Lock & Key for about six months now. I'm writing this for me and my fellow prisoners; we need help. I have been here at NBCI in the segregation unit for two years now and there is a serious problem here. There is a big ring of corrupt racist white renegade prison guards employed here. These guards are anti-social/racist towards Black prisoners. They provoke, curse, challenge to fight, call them niggers, bitches, etc.
They broke the legs of one of my fellow comrades who I'm close to, and no one did anything to help. These prison guards take our food, recreation, and showers for days at a time. They spray us with pepper spray out of the blue for reasons that are still unknown. I have been a victim of that twice. I have tried to fight back but I'm one lone prisoner. Other prisoners are afraid to back me because they fear losing what little they have: single cells, TVs, etc. They are afraid of having their property sent home, being beaten, and/or thrown in the segregation unit.
The mental health patients housed in the prison who have Axis 1 diagnoses throw feces on other prisoners on the tier and the prison guards feed prisoners while the feces are on the tier. Prison guards abuse these Axis 1 diagnosis mental health patients; they agitate, provoke, mock, and call them stupid and retarded. These corrupt guards also constantly break their chain of command. They are not disciplined for their violations of Maryland Division of Corrections Directives. Even the Request for Administrative Remedy process is corrupt.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This letter describing the abuse and corruption at NBCI raises a concern directly related to campaigns MIM(Prisons) is leading. Staff in Maryland are not accountable for their actions. This is true in prisons across the country and this abuse of power inspired prisoners to initiate a campaign to Demand Our Grievances be Addressed. It's spread from California to Arizona, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. And anyone can help spread it further by requesting the form from us and doing the research on policies to cite for your state.
I'm doing okay here just maintaining and trying to stay positive throughout this madness that they call the SHU. Things are pretty much the same around here as they were before the hunger strikes. Basically all that's changed is the fact that we have beanies and can buy sweats and sweaters in our packages now. And also if you have a year clean then you can take a picture and buy art supplies, and we can get calendars in the mail.
So I don't know what's going on with all of the rest of the promises that were made as a result of the hunger strikes. The CDCR administration basically is keeping us in the dark and trying to shut down any and all communication that they feel is a threat.
CDCR stopped an eight-page double sided publication that was printed off of the computer back around the end of October. I appealed it and just received a response with them denying my appeal, so now I have to send it to the final level in Sacramento which I am doing tonight.
They say that since it talks about the hunger strikes and the organizers of the hunger strikers here in the SHU that it promotes gang activity. Also since there are other prisoners' letters that are reporting on what is going on in these prisons then that is prisoner correspondence and third party mail. And finally they claim that it promotes a conspiracy to disrupt prison security and that if we are allowed to receive said publication then it would be promoting the conspiracy to cause others mass disruptions of prison programs. Like I said I'm sending it to the final level of appeal and once I get it back I'll send it to you for you to see.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This report of only very small gains in response to the recent California prison food strike is consistent with what we have heard from others. The Five Core Demands of the strikers have been basically ignored with the exception of the really minor examples they provided for the fifth demand "Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates": this is where the art supplies, calendars and sweat suits were mentioned.
This is typical of the CDCR and in fact of all branches of imperialism: they give nothing to the oppressed without being forced to, and they give the minimum possible. The imperialists will concede nothing without a fight, and as we can see from the California hunger strike, even a widespread protest is not enough to accomplish significant change. This protest helped raise awareness of the struggle, and brought many people into activism. Now we must build on that experience.
Due to the budget cuts and Governor Perry refusing the stimulus package, in Texas prisons they've attacked those housed here. They ceased serving prepackaged cartons of milk, and went to powdered milk, and now they have attached a fee of $100 annual to medical. If you need medical care you will be charged for a toothache, diarrhea, headache, etc. But what's devastating is TDCJ doesn't pay its offenders money. Instead it uses good time which they take away as a punitive measure, causing you to do more time.
Since TDCJ doesn't reward or pay offenders, money needed has to come from gifts via family, friends etc. In other words they're extorting our loved ones, and this will follow those who parole with money to be paid and attached to parole fees.
Upon being released from the Texas system you'll receive a bus ticket to your county of conviction and $50. Upon reporting to parole you'll receive the second $50 from which parole fees of $12, victim fees, educational fees, and restitution fees will be deducted, so you're to reenter society on a very small amount of money.
Texas's systems practically operate on what they produce themselves for consumption. Clothing, shoes, food, etc., is all made at the multiple units, sent to central stores and resold to each unit.
TDCJ has the offenders scared. They will stack free world time on any act of violence - any kind of unions or solidarity will be attacked as Security Threat Groups and figureheads will be placed in level III Administrative Segregation.
They have sought out to break any sort of groups and unauthorized activities. Since I've been involved in prisoner rights we've lost more than gained: We have lost smoking products, canned goods, beans, meats, fruits, educational classes, GED, college courses, radios with speakers, cable TV, art privileges, and even carton milk. Long hair and facial hair were banned. They hold supposed good time above these bamboozled offenders and make them comply.
I recently received a major rule infraction, just because I told the law library trustee to stop throwing my photocopies on the floor. So he filed a LID (life endangerment) on me: he forged a letter and signed my name to it - saying I asked another to beat him up, so I received a major rule infraction for Penal Code 71-02 Organized Crime. I've filed 4 grievances on his department and security staff for sabotaging my legal request and destroying my letters. All were denied.
So I wrote to the law library supervisor with no response. I then wrote to the senior warden to no avail. The Office of the Attorney General offered nothing, but they found a dummy letter forged and they promptly protected their SSI (Support Service Inmate).
In Texas you're only allowed to file one grievance a week, and I've been here two years plus. I've filed approximately 94 and all have come back denied - no proof.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This story of grievances being denied over and over for legitimate cases is all too common, not just in Texas but in prisons across the country. This is why United Struggle from Within initiated the campaign demanding our grievances be addressed. We currently have petitions for California, Texas, New York, Virginia, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arizona and the campaign is spreading. We need legal researchers to create petitions for other states. And if you are in a state that already has a petition, write to us for a copy and join the campaign to demand grievances be addressed in your state. It's time to destroy the idea that people can effectively go to the state for protection from abuse in prison.
I've never heard of MIM(Prisons) but enjoyed reading your newsletter and could relate to most of it. I will pass it on to others (already have!) and get more to add to your mailing list.
Please, if it's possible, beg off a little on the SNY stuff! It really turns a lot of our stomachs, to be sure. When I came into the system in the 80s there was no such thing as SNY. Everyone held their mud, even those who got hit (because if they talked, they knew they wouldn't live through the next one.) If you "locked up" you went to the hole, period! No yard, no packages, no programming of any kind, nothing! Now, they make it too easy for guys to be weak and run off to the child molesters, rapists yard!
If you really feel you absolutely must print their filth, please get all the facts correct. Such as ULK 23, p. 13, Hunger Strike First Step in Building a United Front, second paragraph "and Pleasant Valley State Prison is SNY." I know more than a few guys who're going to be none too pleased about this news, as they are still there. I got my case (SHU) off of C yard, then got sent to Tehachapi SHU 4B, which is mostly GP, same for 4A Ad-Seg.
FYI, Pleasant Valley A yard is Level IV SNY, B yard is Level III GP, C yard is Level III GP, D yard is Level III SNY, and Level I is GP! Call CDCR and verify these facts if you will. It's your newsletter, but I would seriously consider (re-consider) who and what you print.
MIM(Prisons) responds: First we want to commend this comrade for recognizing that a few disagreements should not stop us from working together and spreading the revolutionary United Front. In that spirit we want to struggle for greater unity here.
The writer is responding to an ongoing debate in Under Lock & Key about prisoners who escape the mainline for Special Needs Yards (SNY) where they are pushed to "debrief" or snitch on fellow prisoners in return for better treatment (in particular in the context of California prisons, but there are parallel situations everywhere). Many prisoners have already testified that not all SNY prisoners must debrief, a fact that this comrade is not disputing. So the gist of his argument is that it's "too easy" for prisoners who run off to SNY. But prison is never easy, and as long as a comrade is engaging in solid and consistent political work, and not selling out his fellow prisoners, we don't care that s/he got moved to SNY to avoid persynal danger. Prisoners are constantly fighting legal battles to get moved away from dangerous prisons to places they hope will be better. Conditions are so bad in all prisons that this is rarely a significant change, but we won't tell anyone they have to stay in a situation that's dangerous to them if they have an alternative that doesn't involve endangering others.
As for the criticism of the facts in the Hunger Strike article, we take this very seriously. We rely on our comrades behind bars to report the facts about the prisons where they reside, but we do try to check facts wherever we can. In this case we should have caught this error about PVSP. It does not change the point made in that article calling for unity, but it's important we get facts correct.