Historic Call from Prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison to End Racial Hostility in State Prisons

The American Friends Service Committee finds this call by prisoners for a sweeping end to hostilities unprecedented. This is an opportunity that cannot be ignored. By their call, the prisoners are addressing the tensions between racial groups that have been used by the Department to justify long-term isolation.

California prisoners somehow reached through the iron bars of their windowless concrete cells in solitary confinement to call for an end to racial hostilities.

 

by Laura Magnani

 

In an historic action by prisoners from all racial groups at Pelican Bay State Prison, a call has gone out to end hostilities between racial groups in prisons throughout the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The prisoners stated: “If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals … now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time, and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups … If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues.”

The prisoners have set October 10, 2012, as the date to begin this process of racial reconciliation and are currently working to get the word out.

That is no small task — especially because the mainstream media has largely ignored this highly significant prison reform effort. The coalition of prison-rights advocates that has been working for more than a year in solidarity with the representatives of prisoners at Pelican Bay issued a press release which was only picked up by a few media outlets.

On September 26, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) issued a statement putting the action in an historical perspective. “Based on its experience of nine decades working on prison issues, AFSC finds this call by prisoners for a sweeping end to hostilities unprecedented. This is an opportunity that cannot be ignored. By their call, the prisoners are addressing the tensions between racial groups that have been used by the Department to justify long-term isolation,” the release said.

The call is coming from the same group of men who called two hunger strikes last summer to protest dehumanizing conditions, long-term solitary confinement and extreme sensory deprivation in the maximun security units of state prisons. The strikes were launched by men imprisoned in the short corridor of the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay prison, outside of Crescent City, Calif.

More than 12,000 prisoners joined together in last year’s hunger strike, launched on July 1, 2011, in a remarkable effort to reform torturous conditions of permanent solitary confinement in SHU units where prisoners are caged for years and decades in windowless cells. [See “Historic Hunger Strike Launches a Movement,” Street Spirit, August 2011.]

The hunger strikes lasted three weeks, and although the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation committed to make certain changes, very few changes have been implemented so far.

What has changed

* Prisoners have been allowed particular kinds of knit caps at certain times of the year.

* Prisoners can purchase calendars with pictures as long as they don’t have spiral bindings.

* Some exercise equipment is being installed in their yard area.

* Prisoners are allowed one picture a year to send to family members, though this is granted on a privileged basis.

* Four of the representatives in the short corridor of the SHU at Pelican Bay are meeting with prison officials monthly to discuss conditions in that one prison.

These are some of the reforms in the fifth demand of the hunger strikes.

The other demands spoke to issues about how and why people are designated as gang members by the prison system, thereby triggering their placement in the SHU. Prisoners called on officials to base placement on behavior rather than “gang association,” create mechanisms for transferring out of the SHU without having to snitch on other prisoners, and eliminate group punishment. The Department of Corrections is drafting new policies related to some of these issues, but they have been slow in coming and don’t move very far in correcting the problems.

Azadeh Zohrabi, a Soros Fellow and member of the hunger strike Mediation Team and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, said: “While the prison administration drags its feet on even the most basic reforms, these guys are trying to build peace throughout the system. That says a lot about their humanity and hope.”

The call to end hostilities goes directly to the underlying reasons given for putting people into long-term isolation —namely hostility toward other racial groups. The San Francisco Bay View quoted Luis J. Rodriguez, renowned violence intervention worker and author of Always Running: LA Vida Gang Days in L.A.

Rodriguez said, “My long-time experience in urban peace issues, gang truces, prevention and intervention is that when gang leaders and prisoners take full stock of the violence and how they can contribute to the peace, such peace will be strong, lasting and deep. I honor this effort as expressed in this statement.”

According to Rodriguez, “What is needed now — and where most peace efforts fail — is the meaningful and long-lasting support of society and government, in the form of prison reform, training, education, drug and mental health treatment and proper health care. We need an end to repressive measures that only feed into the violence and traumas.”

The Bay View also pointed out that prisoners have made suggestions in the past about how to reduce violence, but it has been difficult for the Department of Corrections to work with the prisoners. Indeed, some of the language in the call to end hostilities anticipates that there could be attempts to undermine the effort.

The first defense against defeating this historic effort is for the public to know about prison conditions. Newspapers like Street Spirit are key to this effort, since for 18 years, Street Spirit has been reporting on issues ignored by the mainstream media.

As this issue went to press, advocates decried Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of AB 1270, a bill authored by Tom Ammiano to allow the press back into prisons, without pre-chosen subjects to interview, or pre-arranged “tours.” The press has been kept out of these institutions since the late 1990s. Ammiano said of Gov. Brown’s veto, “The CDCR’s unwillingness to be transparent is part of what has led to court orders on prison health care and overcrowding.”

The American Friends Service Committee and partnering organizations are calling on the Department of  Corrections to spread the prisoners’ call to end racial enmity around in all its institutions. If we are serious about ending hostilities we can do no less.

The historic call from prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison to end racial hostilities is published below.

 

Agreement to End Hostilities

From Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison

 

To whom it may concern and all California Prisoners:

Greetings from the entire PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives. We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP-SHU Corridor. Wherein, we have arrived at a mutual agreement concerning the following points:

1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals, who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time, and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.

2. Therefore, beginning on October 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups … in SHU, Ad-Seg, General Population, and County Jails, will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end … and if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!!

3. We also want to warn those in the General Population that IGI will continue to plant undercover Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer  “inmates” amongst the solid GP prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats, and obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our mutual causes [i.e., forcing CDCR to open up all GP main lines, and return to a rehabilitative-type system of meaningful programs/privileges, including lifer conjugal visits, etc. via peaceful protest activity/noncooperation e.g., hunger strike, no labor, etc.].

People need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics, and refuse to allow such IGI inmate snitches to create chaos and reignite hostilities amongst our racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU, OCS, and SSU’s old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!!!

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention, and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners], and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!!

Because the reality is that collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force, that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners, and thereby, the public as a whole … and we simply cannot allow CDCR/CCPOA Prison Guard’s Union, IGI, ISU, OCS, and SSU, to continue to get away with their constant form of progressive oppression and warehousing of tens of thousands of prisoners, including the 14,000-plus prisoners held in solitary confinement torture chambers [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg Units], for decades!!!

We send our love and respects to all those of like mind and heart… onward in struggle and solidarity.

Presented by the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective:

Todd Ashker, C58191, D1-119

Arturo Castellanos, C17275, D1-121

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry), C35671, D1-117

Antonio Guillen, P81948, D2-106

And the Representatives Body:

Danny Troxell, B76578, D1-120

George Franco, D46556, D4-217

Ronnie Yandell, V27927, D4-215

Paul Redd, B72683, D2-117

James Baridi Williamson, D-34288. D4-107

Alfred Sandoval, D61000, D4-214

Louis  Powell, B59864, D1-104

Alex Yrigollen, H32421, D2-204

Gabriel Huerta, C80766, D3-222

Frank Clement, D07919, D3-116

Raymond Chavo Perez, K12922, D1-219

James Mario Perez, B48186, D3-124

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