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“What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.”—Karl Marx
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Furthering the Movement to Stop Mass Incarceration – Major Panel at National Lawyers Guild Convention in Chicago

NLG SMIN panelists

Law for the People 2014: National Convention Major Panel

September 6, 2014 – 10:30AM – Noon

Furthering the Movement to Stop Mass Incarceration

Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro – Ballroom Salon B – C

2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, with an additional 5 million under the control of the criminal “in”justice system on probation and parole. Over 30,000 are in immigration detention centers, and Obama has deported a record 2 million immigrants. As Michelle Alexander points out in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, courthouse doors are closed to systemic legal challenges to the racial inequality which has lead to more than 50% of the prison population being people of color.

This will not stop without a mass movement that demands an end to mass incarceration and the criminalization of Black and Latino youth. In this panel, former prisoners and others intimately familiar with the broader social consequences of mass incarceration will lead a discussion on how to turn around what is now two generations living under the injustice of mass incarceration. We will call for a Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration in October 2014, initiated by Dr. Cornel West and Carl Dix, co-founders of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.

NLG Hannibal Gregory

Presenters

Gregory Koger – Revolutionary communist activist with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN). Gregory just returned from spending most of the last month on the front lines of the Ferguson rebellion in response to the police execution of Michael Brown. A member of the National Lawyers Guild, paralegal and former jailhouse lawyer, Gregory spent 11 years in prison, including over 6 years straight in solitary confinement, where he transformed himself from a gang member to a revolutionary. Since his release from prison has dedicated his life to ending the injustices of capitalism. He has spoken from cellblocks to universities about need to build a mass movement to end mass incarceration as part of the struggle for a liberated world for all humanity. Deeply inspired by the California prison hunger strike, Gregory organized a Chicago Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons in August 2011. During the 30,000-strong resumption of the hunger strike in July 2013, he spoke on NPR and other radio stations in support of the brothers and sisters on hunger strike, and he spent two weeks on hunger strike in solidarity while locked down in Cook County Jail serving a 300-day sentence for recording a political statement on an iPhone. He is currently the Plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the decades-old policy of banning all newspapers in Cook County Jail (Koger v. Dart).

Mark Lewis Taylor – Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. Writer, teacher, scholar and activist, Mark Lewis Taylor is a theologian in the vein of engaged thinkers who trace and analyze liberating spirit – the spirit of decolonizing political practices, wherein re-membered collective suffering of the earth and its oppressed peoples can become “specters,” material forces for multidimensional revolutionary change. In addition to being the author of several books, he is the founder of “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” a group of teachers from all levels of education, organizing since 1995 for a new trial on behalf of Abu-Jamal, a journalist  on Pennsylvania’s death row for 30 years. Activist movements achieved a victory in 2011, securing Abu-Jamal’s transfer from death row to general population. Nevertheless, the struggle to free him from prison continues, as many join in support of Desmond Tutu’s demand for his “immediate release.”

Brian Orozco – NLG member and practicing lawyer who has worked with prisoners and their families in California and Illinois and will speak to police/prison guard brutality, what the prisoners and their family members have been doing to protest their own conditions, and why massive resistance is needed to end the torture of solitary confinement and other atrocities. And why the NLG needs to be part of the Month of Resistance.

Hannibal Salim Ali – Stop Mass Incarceration Network. Hannibal attended the April 2014 SMIN strategy meeting in New York City with Dr. Cornel West and Carl Dix – co-founders of SMIN – and participated in the collective drafting of the Call For A Month Of Resistance To Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression And The Criminalization Of A Generation. Hannibal spent many years in prison himself and is the uncle of Anjustine Hunter, who was murdered by police in Tennessee.

 

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Recent Discussions on Mass Incarceration

I’ve had the chance to speak recently regarding mass incarceration – here are a couple of the discussions:

Jail Industrial Complex – UpFront with Rev. Jessie Jackson

Hosted by Rev. Jessie Jackson. Panelists:
Barbara Arnwine, attorney, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law;
Jonathan Jackson, RainbowPUSH national spokesman;
Gregory Koger, Stop Mass Incarceration Network;
Dr. Donna Leak, former high school superintendent;
Michael Seng, Attorney, Law Professor, John Marshall Law School, Chicago;
David Shapiro, Attorney, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University Law School.

 

New Revelations in 30,000 Strong Pelican Bay Prisoner Hunger Strike

Former inmate Gregory Koger and Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Alexis Agathocleous discuss the progress since Pelican Bay hunger strike and the merits of solitary confinement as torture –   March 7, 2014

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Rising From The Pit: Illinois Prisoners Join National Upsurge of Resistance to Torture and Dehumanizing Conditions in U.S. Prisons

In 1878 convicts began backbreaking labor carving into the limestone bluffs along the bank of the Mississippi River outside Chester, Illinois. Over a decade of sweat and sorrow at gunpoint produced two cell houses enclosed by a massive wall built from the limestone quarried by the prisoners. The prison – formerly Southern Illinois Penitentiary and now Menard “Correctional Center” – is known as “The Pit.”

On January 15, 2014, prisoners in The Pit’s “High Security Unit” began a hunger strike to oppose their placement into inhumane conditions in isolation under Administrative Detention. Solitary confinement exceeding 15 days is considered torture and prohibited under international law. We must support the prisoners stepping forward and putting their lives on the line to demand an end to these crimes being systematically perpetrated by the rulers of the United States.

The courageous hunger strike by prisoners at Menard is the latest uprising in a wave of prisoner-lead struggle against torture and the dehumanizing conditions within the United States’ historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration. Last year’s 30,000-strong resumption of the California prison hunger strike (which I joined for two weeks in solidarity while a political prisoner in Cook County Jail) was the biggest and most publicized, but a number of other organized struggles by prisoners have taken place in the last several years – from work stoppages in Georgia to hunger strikes in Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, and Washington. Also last year prisoners in Guantanamo participated in a long hunger strike and faced brutal forced feeding, bringing resistance and exposure on a more international level. Recently, prisoners in Indiana’s Westville “Correctional Facility” began a hunger strike on January 13, 2014 to protest nutritionally deficient food.

*****

Many of the prisoners on hunger strike in Menard were formerly held in Tamms – Illinois’ official “supermax” prison modeled after Pelican Bay SHU. Tamms was closed down in January 2013 after a fifteen year long political and legal battle by prisoners, family members and activists. Several of the prisoners placed in the HSU at Menard are “jailhouse lawyers” – prisoners self-educated in the law who help other prisoners with legal work and challenge prison conditions.

“They won’t tell anybody why they are in Administrative Detention, let alone give them an informal hearing to contest the undisclosed allegations,”1 one Menard prisoner wrote. He said, “There are mice just running wild. They have 20 guys using one pair of fingernail clippers with no cleaning in between uses, there is absolutely no mental health screening or evaluation, nor do any mental health staff even make rounds.” Another prisoner said, “I’m a jailhouse lawyer. And [I] file/help other prisoners with their grievances and lawsuits. Because of that I was retaliated against and transferred to Menard and placed in the High Security Unit under Administrative Detention.”2

Since beginning the hunger strike, prisoners reported to attorney Alice Lynd (and published in the San Francisco BayView) that “officers shook down their cells and took any food they found. The hunger strikers were sent to see medical staff and charged $5 for medical treatment.”3 In 2000 the IDOC began charging prisoners $5 per incident to receive medical care – a direct violation of international law, including the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment which states that prisoners’ medical “care and treatment shall be provided free of charge.”

Additionally, Lynd reported one prisoner was pushed down the stairs by two officers while handcuffed and then beaten.4 Officers pushing handcuffed and/or shackled prisoners down the stairs is a common form of retaliation in segregation units in Illinois prisons, as prisoners are never allowed to leave their cells without handcuffs and/or shackles.

*****

With the closing of Tamms – the most visible face of torture in Illinois’ prison system – prisoners were sent to other prisons where the practice of solitary confinement has been hiding behind older and less-scrutinized walls. Within weeks of Tamms prisoners being transferred to Illinois’ long-term disciplinary segregation prison in Pontiac, IL, nearly 50 prisoners began a hunger strike opposing the conditions there. A number of smaller and not well-publicized hunger strikes against the conditions at Pontiac have taken place since it was converted from a regular maximum security prison to long-term disciplinary segregation in the late-1990s.

Debate and struggle roil every day behind the prison walls about the repressive and degrading conditions and what to do about it – especially in solitary confinement. Far too often prisoners have little or no connection on the other side of the walls to expose the horrors of what they are facing – and to support them when they do organize to oppose those conditions.

Solitary confinement is specifically implemented to destroy people psychologically, emotionally and intellectually. It is a severely damaging and demobilizing form of torture that survivors never escape. Over 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

Mass incarceration, rooted in the foundational white supremacy of this country, is a response of the ruling class to the driving dynamics of capitalism-imperialism. The drive for ever greater profits has decimated inner city communities as factories uprooted and set up sweatshops abroad where they can even more brutally exploit workers than they can here – leaving generations of principally Black and Brown youth locked out of society who will never be meaningfully employed. It is also a conscious response to the revolutionary upsurge of the 1960s – implemented to contain and repress millions who this system has no future for and who could become the backbone of the struggle for a radically different and more liberated world for all humanity.

*****

The conditions and retaliation described by the men in Menard sound all too real and familiar to me. I spent over 6 years straight in indeterminate segregation in Pontiac – and most of my time there in the North Cellhouse.  It was under those same conditions that I became part of a new generation of prison-educated revolutionaries beginning to emerge within those concrete tombs. I firmly believe it will take revolution – nothing less – to end the crimes of this system, and that we can bring into being a society that values and meets the material, cultural and intellectual needs of all humanity – a communist world.

Last year Carl Dix, Clyde Young and I issued a call – An Appeal to the Brothers and Sisters Locked Down in this Society’s Prisons: Bear Witness to Torture in U.S. Prisons and to All Law Enforcement Abuse. I’d like to reiterate that call, which read in part:

“The world needs to know of the sadistic, systemic horror of long-term solitary confinement, which is enforced on more than 80,000 people in the U.S. prison system. We know that revisiting this can be difficult for those who are facing or have faced these conditions, but the truth must be laid bare for all. All of society needs to know of the racial profiling that sucked you into the pipeline to prison, of the horrific conditions everyone in prison endures and of the open discrimination formerly incarcerated people face after release. You are in a unique position to expose the lying justifications given by the authorities for what they are.”

“Send these stories to the Bear Witness Project of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. Through this you will be opening the eyes of those who are shielded from the real situation in the inner cities and the actual conditions enforced in prison. And letting those caught up in the cycle of going in and out of prison know that what they’re up against are social problems, not individual ones, and that by standing up and resisting them together, we can change the way mass incarceration is looked at in society and contribute to bringing forward a movement that can end it.”

And I call on all people of conscience to support the prisoners and to step forward and follow the courageous example they are setting. Much love, respect and support to the brothers and sisters rising up from deep within the depths of this criminal system of injustice.

*****

Mail Bear Witness correspondence to:

PRLF 1321 N Milwaukee, #407 Chicago, IL 60622
or Stop Mass Incarceration Network P.O. Box 941, Knickerbocker Station, New York City, NY  10002-0900

For those outside the walls:
contact@PRLF.org

stopmassincarceration@gmail.com

Web: www.stopmassincarceration.org

Footnotes:

1.  “Locked-Up in ‘High Security Unit’ and Not Told Why, Prisoners Hunger Strike for Answer,” Ray Downs; Riverfront Times Blogs, January 21, 2014

2. Id.

3. “Update from Menard hunger strikers: We need outside support, force feeding threatened” Alice Lynd; San Francisco BayView, January 21, 2014

4. Id.

* Also published in Revolution newspaper online: Rising From the Pit: Illinois Prisoners Join National Upsurge of Resistance to Torture and Dehumanizing Conditions in U.S. Prisons,  January 27, 2014

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Revolutionary Gregory Koger Released from Cook County Jail

I’m back down after a long legal and political battle, including two weeks on hunger strike in Cook County Jail in solidarity with the California prison hunger strike. Got some reading and writing done as well. Will have more to say soon. Much love – Gregory

 

“I will continue to be on the front lines and continue to fight, and I know many of you will be there with me.” – Gregory Koger

 

Over 50 people came together in Chicago on Saturday, November 2 to celebrate Gregory Koger’s release from Cook County Jail. Gregory’s release came after he served the remainder of an outrageous sentence that should never have been imposed, for a political act that was never a crime. (See “Revolutionary Gregory Koger Sent Back to Jail” for background.) The evening of music, hugs, and conversation was sponsored by the defense committee that has fought for his innocence and freedom for four years, warmly welcoming him back to the “outside” where he vowed to continue to fight to liberate humanity.

Sunsara Taylor, whose statement protesting censorship Gregory was filming when he was arrested, sent a beautiful statement.

Statement from Sunsara Taylor, sent to the celebration of Gregory Koger’s release:

I don’t know if this will reach you while you are all together celebrating—but either way I want to send the biggest virtual hug imaginable. I have been furious and agonized every day knowing that you have been unjustly and outrageously held behind bars and denied very basic freedoms. Yet, even behind bars your determination and strength and revolutionary understanding shined. Even as I know that millions of others remain in America’s hellholes and even though I know the world is teeming with unbearable and unnecessary suffering due to this outmoded, illegitimate capitalist-imperialist, life-crushing system we live under—my spirit is lifted and I am deeply happy to know that today you are out. Even more so to know that you are celebrating with people who know and love and deeply respect you. With people who have been touched by you and learned from your courage and strength. I am, as always, proud to count you as a friend and a comrade. It is great to have you back—we have much to accomplish together!

Until all are free,

Sunsara

A member of his defense committee, the Ad Hoc Committee for Reason, spoke for many when she said, “Speaking as a visitor to that hellhole, spending even one hour there was too much. How anyone incarcerated under those conditions could be expected to survive, much less be rehabilitated is unrealistic. Gregory did manage to survive and no doubt had some damned good discussions with his fellow inmates and will continue his fight against injustice.”

Gregory’s heartfelt talk was the highlight of the evening. We want to share this with the readers of Revolution, especially those who are locked down in the hellholes of this country:

“In talking to someone earlier tonight, I recounted that in the last 19 years of my life, I have had 9 months when I wasn’t in jail, in prison, on parole, on probation, or on bond. Including over half the time of the [seven years] since I’ve been out of prison has been spent fighting this case.”

“It didn’t surprise me what the criminal injustice system did in this case, but there were aspects that I think surprised all of us. The fact that I was charged with criminal trespass for just standing there holding an iPhone, which every legal scholar and lawyer we consulted with said there is no way that is trespassing; the fact they tried to hold me in contempt of court because my defense committee had a website that talked about the larger political questions related to this case; the fact that at the very end of the case, the judge issued a secret ruling without any notice to my attorney or myself that there was a hearing happening and then issued a warrant for my arrest. The fact that none of the substantive legal issues we raised were ever addressed by the court was not all that surprising to me because I know how the system works.”

“People have spoken about where I come from. It was very much in the conditions of torture, conditions in which tens of thousands of people in U.S. prisons are held in solitary confinement, where I began to really grapple with the broader questions of society, including why is the world this way. And that is where I ultimately came to conclude, through reading Revolution newspaper and other revolutionary literature, that there is absolutely no reason for this system to do what it does to people—billions and billions of people in the world—ruining their lives and offering them no hope whatsoever. There are the resources on this planet to feed, clothe, provide housing, healthcare, and education for everyone, and to provide intellectual and cultural life for the millions and billions of people who are systematically locked out of those realms. All that could happen, but it doesn’t because of the capitalist-imperialist system. But we can get to that world through revolution—nothing less. This is what I firmly believe.”

“During the course of this battle I have made friends with so many people who don’t all agree with what I believe, including many who do not agree with communism. But we have united together to oppose the glaring injustices of this system, of which one small part is this case we have fought for the last four years. To me this is an expression and an example of what needs to happen much more in society. An example of both the core strategic approach and outlook of the Revolutionary Communist Party—that we have to bring together people from the bottom of society and people from middle class backgrounds who don’t have the direct experience of that kind of oppression and injustice. We will never get to another world without people from the bottom and people from other parts of society being firmly committed toward humanity. We really had a great expression of that throughout the course of this case.”

“On a personal level, just seeing and knowing everybody here, many of whom I first met through the work of struggling against this case, people from many different backgrounds—writers, intellectuals, and people who don’t have a fucking thing. Artists like [the world-renowned jazz musicians] who are performing here tonight. Other people who know what torture is like [a friend at the party] who was tortured in Chile under Pinochet, who was out there fighting against the torture that’s happening to prisoners in solitary confinement in the U.S. People like me, and like this brother here, who was in the same prisons as me in the same conditions, who are now revolutionaries fighting against the system. I was on a hunger strike the first two weeks I was in jail in solidarity with the California prisoners’ hunger strike against torture…”

“I want to thank everybody. This has been a very trying and difficult four years, but we have built a tremendous amount of strength taking this on. On the biggest level in society, the core fault line contradictions that were embodied and encapsulated in this case—from the role of prisoners in this society, and mass incarceration, to the repression of voices of dissent and critical thinking. I will say that we lost the case legally, but we won it politically.” [cheers]

“This is a big inflection point, not the least for me. This has been a major component of the last 4 years. The last time I was in Cook County Jail three years ago there was a point when I was depressed, recognizing that the place they had me—in that jail cell—was exactly where they wanted me and people like me. But this time I didn’t get depressed, I got pissed off. My life will continue to be dedicated to fighting against this system and its outrageous manifestation of mass incarceration, against the degrading oppression of women and LGBT brothers and sisters; against the oppression of immigrants and all the things this system does to people here and around the world. I will continue to be on the front lines and continue to fight, and I know many of you will be there with me. So I want to thank everybody for coming out tonight from the bottom of my heart.”

Gregory asks that all those who wish to celebrate his release donate to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund. Thousands of dollars are needed to continue to send Revolution newspaper, BAsics, and other revolutionary literature to all the prisoners who are requesting it. Donate online at prlf.org. Or contact PRLF at:

1321 N Milwaukee Ave. #407, Chicago, IL 60622
773-960-6952  contact@PRLF.org

Originally published in Revolution newspaper – www.revcom.us

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Dr. Antonio Martinez & Gregory Koger on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons

Gregory Koger & Dr. Antonio Martinez on Worldview with Jerome McDonnell WBEZ 91.5 FM

On July 8, 2013, over 30,000 prisoners in over two-thirds of California’s prisons began a hunger strike to demand an end to the systematic torture they face through long-term solitary confinement. Prisoners in several other states have joined them in work stoppages and hunger strikes. 2.3 million people are in prison in the U.S. and over 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in the United States – under conditions that amount to torture under international law.

  • Dr. Antonio Martinez, a psychologist with the Institute for Survivors of Human Rights Abuse and co-founder of the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture. Dr. Martinez has been recognized by UNESCO for his lifelong work treating survivors of torture and human rights abuses.
  • Gregory Koger, torture survivor who spent over six years in solitary confinement in Illinois prison. He is a revolutionary who works with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and has spoken in universities and high schools regarding torture in U.S. prisons. Mr. Koger – a jailhouse lawyer in prison and a member of the National Lawyers Guild – was a homeless teenager in a street gang when he was sent to an adult maximum security prison; he transformed himself in solitary confinement and has dedicated his life since his release to opposing injustice. He will be joining the hunger strike on July 23 when he faces a court hearing to jail him to serve an unjust 300-day sentence for recording a statement against censorship on an iPhone at a public meeting of the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago. More details on his case available at www.dropthecharges.net

During the initial California prison hunger strike in July 2011, Mr. Koger organized a Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons. Dr. Martinez spoke at that Forum, and compared the widespread, systematic use of torture in U.S. prisons to experiences of torture in other countries:  “What I hear here is very similar to what I hear about the torture chambers in Guatemala, in Colombia, in Chile. Actually in Chile, Pinochet was more humane. They allowed people to be among others, they allowed some music, they allowed some type of interaction and they allowed more generous visits. And that was Pinochet. So what does that say about us as a society where all these things are the rule and not the exception? …”

Listen to the July 19, 2013 interview: Gregory Koger and Dr. Antonio Martinez – CA Prison Hunger Strike & Torture in U.S. Prisons (also Carl Dix on Trayvon Martin & Amina from Revolution Club LA) – The Michael Slate Show – KPFK Pacifica Radio LA 90.7 FM

Listen to the July 16, 2013 interview: Gregory Koger and Dr. Antonio Martinez – CA Prison Hunger Strike & Torture in U.S. PrisonsWorldview with Jerome McDonnell WBEZ NPR

Listen to the July 11, 2013 interview: Gregory Koger and Dr. Antonio Martinez – CA Prison Hunger Strike – Cliff Kelley Show WVON 

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Sign and Help Publish Emergency Call! to Stop Torture in U.S. Prisons

SMIN-logo-header-&-slogan-500px

 

Sign and Help Publish 

Emergency Call! to Stop Torture in U.S. Prisons 

in the Los Angeles Times

$25,000 Needed by Early July, 2013

 

“People who are locked down in segregation units of this society’s prisons, condemned as the ‘worst of the worst,’ are standing up against injustice, asserting their humanity in the process.  We must have the humanity to hear their call, and answer it with powerful support!”

Emergency Call! Join Us in Stopping Torture in U.S. Prisons!

 

Sign the Emergency Call! Join Us in Stopping Torture in U.S. Prisons! here

Donate to Help Publish the Emergency Call! here

 

People in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in CA have announced they are prepared to resume their Hunger Strike on July 8, 2013.  They are encouraging prisoners nationwide to join them in acting to shine a spotlight on the horrific conditions faced by those held in long term solitary confinement; and in acting to STOP them.

More than 80,000 people in prison in the US are held in long term solitary confinement.  They spend 22 hours or more each day in small, windowless and sometimes soundless cells. They are placed in solitary arbitrarily and have no channels to challenge being put there. Many are denied human contact for months, years or even decades.  These conditions fit the international definition of torture, and studies have found that these conditions can drive people insane.

12,000 California prisoners stood up to change these conditions by going on a hunger strike in 2011. They suspended that hunger strike when the authorities agreed to improve conditions.  But authorities haven’t improved the conditions, and the prisoners have declared that they will once more put their lives on the line.

WE MUST HAVE THEIR BACKS!  Long term solitary confinement is a horrific injustice. United Nations experts on torture have called on all countries to end it, but the US has arrogantly rejected these calls.

The authorities hope to isolate the prisoners and crush their hunger strike.  We must not allow this to go down.  We must reject the authorities’ justifications for the horrors they are perpetrated – that these prisoners are brutal thugs, “the worst of the worst,” and deserve the treatment they are subjected to and that these conditions are required to keep society safe.  And we must reject the morally unconscionable stance of doing nothing while this torture is happening because it isn’t affecting “us.”  Instead we must stand with the prisoners who are standing up.

The publication of the Emergency Call in the Los Angeles Times will make this torture more widely known in society.  Itmoral clarity on the utter unacceptability of torture must reach millions. Help raise the $25,000 needed to get it published by early July, 2013.

The widespread torture in US prisons MUST END! Will you join us in standing up to it?  Will you sign this Emergency Call! and spread it to others?  Will you make a generous financial contribution to publish the Emergency Call and encourage others to do so as well?  Will you join Cornel West, Bill Ayers, Luis Valdez, Cynthia McKinney, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Chuck D, Marjorie Cohn, Carl Dix, Peter Schey, Robin DG Kelley, Blase Bonpane, Wayne Kramer, Rev. George F. Regas, Fr. Bob Bossie, SCJ and scores of others to Stop Torture in U.S Prisons?

You can donate online at http://stopmassincarceration.net/donate, or send a check payable to “Alliance For Global Justice,” a 501(C)(3) tax-exempt organization, with “Stop Mass Incarceration” on the memo line to:

Stop Mass Incarceration Network
P. O. Box 941
Knickerbocker Station
New York, Ny  10002

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No to Torture in U.S. Prisons – Support the Hunger Strikers

On July 8, 2013, prisoners in Pelican Bay SHU will resume their hunger strike. The leaders of the hunger strike have called on prisoners across California and across the country to join them on a  nationwide prison hunger strike/work stoppage,  with a proposal to other prisoners to develop their own plans and lists of demands pertinent to the conditions of their confinement.

The Stop Mass Incarceration Network has organized Days of Solidarity with the hunger strikers over the weekend of June 21,22 and 23rd, and is circulating an EMERGENCY CALL! JOIN US IN STOPPING TORTURE IN U.S. PRISONS!, which we are calling on people to sign and to donate to raise $25,000 to have the statement published in the Los Angeles Times. Additional information on SMIN’s plans for supporting the hunger strike can be found here.

I intend to have more to say on this in the coming days and weeks…

-Gregory

 

From the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement:

Written June 20, 2013 – The principal prisoner representatives from the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement do hereby present public notice that our nonviolent peaceful protest of our subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture via long term solitary confinement will resume on July 8, 2013, consisting of a hunger strike and work stoppage of indefinite duration until CDCR signs a legally binding agreement meeting our demands, the heart of which mandates an end to long term solitary confinement, as well as additional major reforms.

Our decision does not come lightly. For the past two years we’ve patiently kept an open dialogue with state officials, attempting to hold them to their promise to implement meaningful reforms responsive to our demands. For the past seven months we have repeatedly pointed out CDCR’s failure to honor their word – and we have explained in detail the ways in which they’ve acted in bad faith and what they need to do to avoid the resumption of our protest action.

On June 19, 2013, we participated in a mediation session ordered by the judge in our class action lawsuit, which unfortunately did not result in CDCR officials agreeing to settle the case on acceptable terms. While the mediation process will likely continue, it is clear to us that we must be prepared to renew our political non-violent protest on July 8 to stop torture in the SHUs (Security Housing Units) and Ad-Segs (Administrative Segregation) of CDCR.

Thus we are presently out of alternative options for achieving the long overdue reform to this system and, specifically, an end to state-sanctioned torture, and now we have to put our lives on the line via indefinite hunger strike to force CDCR to do what’s right.

We are certain that we will prevail … the only questions being: How many will die starvation-related deaths before state officials sign the agreement?

The world is watching!

Onward in Struggle and Solidarity.

Todd Ashker

Arturo Castellanos

Ronald Dewberry, aka Sitawa

Antonio Guillen

 

The  statement from the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement was published on Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.

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Statement by Gregory Koger at the Chicago City Council Hearing on Anti-Torture Resolution

On January 12, 2012, just one day after the tenth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, the Chicago city council held a hearing on a resolution organized by the Illinois Coalition Against Torture (ICAT) that publicly  condemns the use of torture and declares Chicago a “torture-free zone.” A broad array of people came out to speak publicly against the use of torture in the U.S. and abroad at the hearing organized by Alderman Joe Moore, who introduced the resolution to the Chicago city council. Listen to an excellent interview about the use of torture by the United States and the resolution with Mario Venegas and Dr. Frank Summers hereI spoke at the press conference and hearing about the pervasive use of torture in U.S. prisons in the form of long-term isolation and sensory deprivation in solitary confinement.

Speakers at the press conference and hearing included: Congressman Danny Davis; Flint Taylor, attorney with the People’s Law Office who has been instrumental in seeking justice for the men tortured by Chicago police commander John Burge; Dr. Frank Summers, psychologist who lead the fight within the APA to bar psychologists from participating in interrogations and torture in Guantanamo; Cherif Bassiouni, United Nations war crimes expert; Melinda Power and Margaret Power, Illinois Coalition Against Torture; Mary Lynn Everson, Marjorie Kovler Center; Sr. Benita Coffey, representing the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT); Laurie Jo Reynolds, activist with Tamms Year Ten; Mario Venegas, Chilean survivor of torture under Pinochet; Mark Clements, Burge torture survivor; Mary L. Johnson, mother of a Burge torture victim and inmate at Tamms Correctional Center, as well as several other mothers of Burge torture survivors; and Wallace “Gator” Bradley, who spoke to the use of torture in the federal ADX supermax prison. 

Gregory’s Statement

I’m Gregory Koger, torture survivor who spent nearly the entirety of my 20’s in solitary confinement in prison in Illinois.

The exact number of prisoners held in solitary confinement within the US is difficult to ascertain. A 2005 study1 found that as of 2004, 44 states had supermax prisons holding approximately 25,000 prisoners. This number does not take into account numerous prisoners held in isolation outside of officially designated supermax prisons. For example, Tamms – Illinois sole supermax prison – holds 408 prisoners, while Pontiac – Illinois long-term disciplinary segregation prison – holds 1,733 prisoners2 in similar conditions of isolation, many for years on end. The total number of prisoners held in isolation in the US is estimated to be between 50,000 – 100,000 persons.

Sensory deprivation in solitary confinement has been universally condemned and considered torture. In October, United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez called for the prohibition of solitary confinement, stating: “Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit (SHU)… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique.”3

Despite both universal condemnation and widespread knowledge of its seriously detrimental effects, the United States is now the foremost practitioner of solitary confinement in the world. This unprecedented use of solitary confinement arose concomitantly with with the explosion of mass incarceration in the U.S. since the early 1970s, under the guise of the “war on drugs” and – as Michelle Alexander has documented– racist New Jim Crow policies that leave the United States with a rate of incarceration for Black males five times higher than apartheid South Africa.Along with incarcerating more men, women and children than any other country in the history of the world, no other society has so routinely used torture in the form of solitary confinement.

As Harvard professor Dr. Atul Gawande stated, “In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement—on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door.”6 And as Dr. Gwande has also described, “”People experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture.”7

This summer, thousands of prisoners in over one-third of California prisons came together across racial and other dividing lines on hunger strike to oppose the inhumane treatment that they, and other prisoners across the country, face. Ending long-term isolation in solitary confinement was one of their core demands.

We should follow their courageous example by demanding an end to torture in the form of solitary confinement in prisons. We should categorically state – as this resolution does – that there is never any justification for torture and that it has no place in our city or our society. And we must demand that it stops and that those responsible for policies and practices of torture be brought to justice. Thank you.

1 “A Critical Look at Supermax Prisons.” Daniel P. Mears. Corrections Compendium. 2005.

2 IDOC Quarterly Report, October 1, 2011.

3 “UN Special Rapporteur on torture calls for the prohibition of solitary confinement.” United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. October 18, 2011.

4 The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Michelle Alexander. 2010.

5 South Africa near the end of apartheid in 1993 had a rate of incarceration for Black males of 851 per 100,000; the United States in 2001 had a rate of incarceration for Black males of 4,848 per 100,000. The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry (2003). Peter Wagner.

6 Hellhole. Dr. Atul Gawande. The New Yorker. March 30, 2009.

7Dr. Atul Gawande: Solitary Confinement is Torture.” Democracy Now! January 5, 2011.

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Reflections on Solitary Confinement and Resistance to Torture

Reflections on Solitary Confinement and Resistance to Torture

Teach-in on Torture and Indefinite Detention, Chicago – January 7, 2012

 

“In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement—on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door.”

Dr. Atul Gawande1

 

“The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in the society at large.”

Federal court testimony of Ralph Arons,
former warden at Marion federal supermax prison2

 

“Without a home of my own to return to, the Streets welcomed another lost soul to wander the barren wasteland littered with the broken hopes of countless other thrown-away lives. The landscape of cold, black rivers of asphalt would soon be replaced by razor-wire serpents crawling along the concrete walls and steel bars of the tombs reserved for boys barely grown, sent to be locked away lest their existence disturb the faultless facade finely crafted to conceal the truths that must not be confronted. We must not let them awaken from their American dreams…”

Gregory Koger

 

Quantifying Torture

The exact number of prisoners held in solitary confinement within the US is difficult to ascertain. A 2005 study3 found that as of 2004, 44 states had supermax prisons holding approximately 25,000 prisoners. This number does not take into account numerous prisoners held in isolation outside of officially designated supermax prisons. For example, Tamms – Illinois sole supermax prison – holds 408 prisoners, while Pontiac – Illinois long-term disciplinary segregation prison – holds 1,733 prisoners4 in similar conditions of isolation, many for years on end. Estimates for the total number of prisoners held in isolation in the US are estimated to be between 50,000 – 100,000. The unprecedented use of torture in the form of long-term isolation in solitary confinement in US prisons has developed concomitantly with the explosion of mass incarceration in the US since the early 1970s, under the guise of the “war on drugs” and racist New Jim Crow policies that leave the United States with a rate of incarceration for Black males five times higher than apartheid South Africa5 and where more Black folks are incarcerated or under the control of the criminal “justice” system than there were slaves just before the Civil War6.

 

Voice of the Voiceless

I’ve been asked to share some of my personal experience facing torture in the form of long-term isolation in solitary confinement in Illinois prisons. I thought two pieces I’ve written on my experience in solitary confinement would best capture that. First, an excerpt from Un-“Corrected”7– a piece I wrote in a prison cell after I had spent nearly 5 years in solitary confinement in Pontiac. And secondly, an excerpt from Thesis | Antithesis | Synthesis, which I wrote shortly after my release from prison.

 

An Excerpt from Un-“Corrected”

“As a prisoner at Pontiac, you will find yourself in an empty concrete and steel box, approximately 6 feet by 10 feet, where you will be confined 24 hours a day. Bare white walls surround you. Don’t even think about putting up a photo of your family, a drawing, or anything else on the walls to reduce the drab blankness, because doing so is a violation of the rules and will result in disciplinary action…

You eat in your cell, you get one eight-minute shower per week, and they have individual cages (approximately the size of one and a half or two cells) that you can go outside for approximately two hours, two times a week. Whenever you leave your cell, you will be handcuffed, and sometimes shackled and chained as well. You will be escorted by an officer wherever you go…

You can’t wear pants or regular prison clothing. You are forced to wear a tan-colored jumpsuit… The only pen you are allowed to have (and the one I am using now) is tiny and made of flexible rubber and plastic, approximately 3 inches long…

No mirrors are permitted at Pontiac, unlike other prisons with either steel mirrors permanently attached in the cell, or small flexible plastic mirrors. The entire objective here at Pontiac is depersonalization. We wouldn’t want you to be able to see yourself, what you look like, or remember that you are an individual…

You will routinely be choked by pepper spray that is used inside the building, usually by the ‘tactical team’…

All day, every day is spent in a small drab cell with basically nothing. The property restrictions are such that you can barely possess even a few books, newspapers and magazines, maybe a radio or TV. You will also be subjected to strip searches at various times, have your cell ‘shook down,’ searched by the officers who will take anything they consider ‘excess’ or ‘altered.’ If you run afoul of the officers, you may also receive some ‘special treatment:’ being denied food, having your personal property stolen, having your water turned off, or beaten, among other things. You will also be given disciplinary ‘tickets’ for violating arbitrary rules or not answering to the whims of an officer. Your punishment for receiving a ‘ticket’ can range from lost privileges to lost good time-thus increasing your time spent in prison…”

 

An Excerpt from Thesis | Antithesis | Synthesis

“Lightly running my fingertips over the concrete wall, I wonder how many other men have been here, how many other times someone has walked in and heard the metal door heavily slam shut behind them, to be left standing alone in this empty cell. Although I’m alone in the cell, a nonstop cacophony continuously bombards my ears. Other men, in other cells just like this one, strain against the solitude by calling out to each other; some to talk, others to argue, and some simply babble nonsensically to themselves.

As I gaze around at the sparse geometry of the empty chamber, I’m struck by the notion that this vacant cube of steel and concrete will be my abode for the foreseeable future. I might be in this particular cell for a week, a month, a year, but even if I’m transferred out of this cell, the next one will be almost exactly identical. Maybe it will have someone else’s name jaggedly carved into the paint underneath the bunk, maybe my next neighbor will spend all day and all night in a psychotic rage banging on the walls of his cell, maybe I’ll be in a cell with bars on the front as opposed to solid metal, but no matter what trivial differences may await me, the next cell will be just a carbon copy of my current crypt.

Twenty-four hours comprise a day, but time blurs out into timelessness without any environmental cues to differentiate day from night, light from darkness, winter from summer. Days, weeks, months, and seasons pass by while the cell remains the same. Brown leaves gently glide to the ground, the first tiny flakes of snow float past, pile up, then melt away as new green leaves spring forth, all beyond the walls and outside of my reality. Perhaps if I try to peek out of the sliver of a crack next to the cell door I can glimpse a small opaque window and I can tell that it’s morning by seeing the faint light beyond straining to penetrate the diabolic darkness within.

I lie on the bunk, staring up at a blank white ceiling, not wispy cotton-clouds stretched thin floating slowly across the pale blue sky, knowing that I cannot move more than a few feet in any direction. Instead of verdant fields of lush green grass beneath my toes, there will only be rough, gray concrete, well-worn by the soles of countless other men pacing the same few feet back and forth continuously. My skin won’t feel the gentle caress from the lips of a lover, only the jarring cold steel of handcuffs, chains, and shackles biting into the flesh.

Emptiness consumes me – empty cell, empty days, empty nights, empty life… Or is it I who consumes the emptiness? Becoming the Void into which I have been cast, I seek out Knowledge to fill the barrenness. Letters, words, sentences, ideas, and concepts begin to populate the untapped potential locked away and warehoused within this antisocial abyss of the damned. Books, magazines and newspapers sneak in to join me in my little corner of solitude, subverting the plans of the architects of the sensory deprivation regime designed to destroy men’s minds. I refuse to be ‘corrected’ into the mindless, submissive slave that they – and the system they uphold – require me to be…”

 

Resisting Torture and Oppression

As we organize to resist 10 years of torture and indefinite detention in Guantanamo, and in the context of the wave of resistance sweeping the globe from Tunisia and Tahrir Square to the Occupy Wall Street movement, I wanted to close with the inspiring example of the California prison hunger strikes. For three weeks in July, and another three weeks beginning at the end of September, thousands of prisoners in over one-third of California’s prisons came together across racial and other dividing lines fostered by prison administrators to put their lives on the line on hunger strikes to demand an end to the inhumane conditions of torture they face. Currently, prisoners in segregation at Corcoran prison are on a hunger strike that began December 28th. In the midst of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Comrade George Jackson, the foremost prison-educated revolutionary intellectual and theorist of the Black Panther Party, on August 21, 1971 and the righteous rebellion of prisoners at Attica Prison in New York three weeks later, the hunger strikers in California once again placed the heroic example of prisoners at the forefront of the struggle against oppression.

Check the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website for ongoing news and actions in support of the prisoners:

http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

And read more about the use of torture in US prisons from the Chicago Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons I organized.

 

1 Hellhole. Atul Gawande. The New Yorker. March 30, 2009.

2 The Proliferation of Control Unit Prisons in the United States. Fay Dowker & Glenn Good. Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, Vol. 4 No. 2 (1993).

3 “A Critical Look at Supermax Prisons.” Daniel P. Mears. Corrections Compendium. 2005.

4 IDOC Quarterly Report, October 1, 2011.

5 South Africa near the end of apartheid in 1993 had a rate of incarceration for Black males of 851 per 100,000; the United States in 2001 had a rate of incarceration for Black males of 4,848 per 100,000. The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry (2003). Peter Wagner.

6 The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Michelle Alexander. 2010.

7 Published from prison in the September 2005 issue of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center’s The Public i and the Urbana-Champaign Books to Prisoners Collective’s 2006 Words Through Bars: Poetry, articles and stories written by people in prison.

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Civil Disobedience in Support of California Prisoners Hunger Strike – CDCR Sacramento 10-14-11

Friday, October 14, 2011: Civil disobedience at the door of California Department of Corrections 1515 S Street, Sacramento

Larry Everest, Contributor to Revolution newspaper (revcom.us), author Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda, (www.LarryEverest.org)

Gregory “Joey” Johnson, revolutionary communist activist, interviewed in the film William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, defendant in the US Supreme Court flag burning case Texas v. Johnson.

Maryann, a World Can’t Wait activist, mother of a California prisoner

All of us have a moral responsibility to stand up for the basic rights and humanity of those held behind bars, and build a determined movement outside prison walls demanding CDCR grant the prisoners’ just demands and immediately halt its retaliation against hunger strikers.

Prisoners’ Five Core Demands:

1. End to group punishment and administrative abuse.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.

3. Comply with Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.

4. Provide adequate and nutritious food.

5. Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status prisoners.

For more info, go to:
http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com
http://revcom.us

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California Prison Hunger Strike Resumes September 26th

PEOPLE OF CONSCIENCE MUST ACT!
Support the Just Demands of the California Security Housing Unit (SHU) Prisoners

“More African-American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.”
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

On July 1, 2011 inmates at Pelican Bay SHU (Security Housing Unit) began a hunger strike that spread, with over 6,000 joining in prisons across the state. SHU prisoners live in extreme daily isolation for years… even decades… never leaving their prison cell for 23 hours a day.  Tens of thousands of prisoners are housed insimilar units across the country. Today, September 26, 2011, they resume their hunger strike.

 

This torture must stop.

Signs indicate that the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) may attempt to quickly crush or isolate hunger strikers and crack down on other California prisoners to prevent the strike from spreading. This makes it especially crucial thateveryone who cares about justice, who opposes torture, mobilize IMMEDIATELY and act in support the hunger strike and the prisoners’ demands.  We have the moral responsibility to act in a way commensurate with the justness of the prisoners’ demands and the urgency of the situation.  After seeing the state MURDER Troy Davis what does it say about our humanity if we don’t?

 

TAKE ACTION in Solidarity with California Prisoner’s Hunger Strike
Gather Friday, September 30
Jackson & State in Chicago’s Loop
12:00 Noon – Bring signs and Banners

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The Sound Before the Fury: The California Prison Hunger Strike

Beginning on July 1, 2011, hundreds of prisoners of all races in California’s Pelican Bay SHU (“Security Housing Unit”) began a historic hunger strike to demand an end to the cruel and inhumane treatment that they suffer under – including long-term solitary confinement, which constitutes torture under international law. The hunger strike rapidly spread to over 6,500 prisoners in over one-third of California’s prisons, making their heroic stand the most significant act of prisoner-led resistance in the U.S. in decades.

The prisoner’s five core demands include:

1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse – This is in response to prison officials punishment of all prisoners of a particular race as “group punishment” in response to a particular prisoner’s supposed rule violations, and the prison administrations abusive, pretextual use of “safety and concern”  to justify unnecessary punitive acts to justify indefinite SHU status and increasing restrictions on the programs and privileges available to the prisoners.

2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria – Alleged gang membership is one of the leading reasons put forth by prison officials to justify placement in solitary confinement. “Debriefing” – requiring prisoners to provide (oftentimes false) information about fellow prisoners – is one of the only ways to be released from the SHU. The “validation” procedure used by California prison officials includes such tenuous criteria as tattoos, reading materials, and association with other prisoners as “evidence” of gang membership.

3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement – Calling on California prison officials to implement the findings and recommendations of the the Commission, including: ending conditions of isolation, making segregation a last resort, ending long-term solitary confinement and providing SHU prisoners with meaningful access to adequate natural sunlight and  quality health care and treatment.

4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food – Cease the practice of denying adequate, nutritious meals and demanding an end to using food as a tool to punish SHU prisoners.

5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates – Including expanding visiting time and adding one day per week, allowing one photograph per year, allowing a weekly phone call, allowing two packages a year, expanding canteen and package items allowed, more tv channels and tv/radio combinations, allowing craft and art items such as colored pencils, allowing sweat suits and caps, allowing walls calendars, installing pull-up/dip bars in SHU “yards,” and allowing correspondence educational coursed that require proctored exams.

After going without food for 20 days, the prisoners at Pelican Bay ended their hunger strike, with a call to people on the outside to continue the struggle against torture in U.S. prisons, to ensure their demands are met and that they are not retaliated against for their peaceful political protest. As a statement from the Short Corridor Collective (one group of leaders of the hunger strike at Pelican Bay SHU) explained:

“Many inmates across the state heard about our protest and rose to the occasion in a solid show of support and solidarity, as did thousands of people around the world! Many inmates put their health and lives on the line; many came close to death and experienced medical emergencies. All acted for the collective cause and recognized the great potential for forcing change on the use of SHU units across the country…

We’re counting on all of our outside supporters to continue to collectively support us and to carry on with shining light on our resistance in here. This is the right time for change in these prisons and the movement is growing across the land! Without the peoples’ support outside, we cannot be successful! All support, no matter the size, or content, comes together as a powerful force. We’ve already brought more mainstream exposure about these CDCR-SHU’s than ever before and our time for real change to this system is now!”

Two historic anniversaries of prison resistance in the U.S. are upon us: Comrade George Jackson, the foremost prison-educated revolutionary intellectual and theorist of the Black Panther Party, who inspired many on both sides of the prison walls with his transformation from an 18-year-old accused of a $70 gas station robbery and sentenced to one-year-to-life in California prison into a class-conscious communist revolutionary, was assassinated by prison guards on August 21, 1971. And the righteous rebellion of prisoners at Attica Prison in New York three weeks later on September 9, 1971, who for four liberating days peacefully held the prison yard and demanded improvements in prison conditions, until the prison was stormed by New York State Police Troopers who indiscriminately opened fired, killing 29 prisoners and 10 prison guards, wounding 89 prisoners with gunfire, and injuring hundreds more prisoners in retaliation in the aftermath.

As L.D. Barkley, 21-year-old spokesperson for the Attica prisoners eloquently stated, “The entire incident that has erupted here at Attica is . . . [the result] of the unmitigated oppression wrought by the racist administration of this prison. We are men. We are not beasts, and we do not intend to be beaten and driven as such… What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed…”

Forty years later, after an unprecedented explosion in racist mass incarceration and an unparalleled regime of pervasive solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, the hunger strikers in California have once again placed the heroic example of prisoners at the forefront of the struggle against oppression.

[Originally published in the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center’s Public i newspaper – August 2011]

 

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Chicago Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons

Taking inspiration from the courageous actions of the California prison hunger strikers, who came together across racial and other dividing lines from within the depths of the most dehumanizing and degrading conditions, and recognizing the moral imperative to take urgent action commensurate with their heroic stand, I took the lead in organizing a Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike & Torture in U.S. Prisons, held in Chicago on August 4, 2011. Sponsored by the Chicago and Evanston Chapters of the World Can’t Wait and the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, and endorsed by the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Forum brought together a broad range of people deeply concerned about and actively involved in opposing torture in U.S. prisons.

After opening the Forum with a discussion of the background of the hunger strike and the prisoners demands, including situating the prisoner’s actions in the context of the explosion of mass incarceration in the U.S., several panelist spoke.

Alan Mills is the Legal Director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, which has been engaged in litigation to change conditions at Tamms, Illinois’ supermax prison which was directly modeled on Pelican Bay, since the day it opened. He began by describing the massive increase in the prison population in the U.S. since the 1970s, with the United State’s current prison population of nearly 2.5 million literally off the charts – an incarceration rate never seen in the history of the world. He explained that the prison population in the U.S. is not linked to the crime rate: the crime rate has dropped since the 1990s, while the prison population has continued to explode. As one stunning example of the racist nature of the system of mass incarceration imposed by the rulers of the U.S., he compared the rate of incarceration of adult Black males in the U.S. and apartheid South Africa, a regime universally condemned as one of the most racist in the history of the world. The U.S. currently incarcerates adult Black men at a rate that is over five times higher than apartheid South Africa!

What are people in prison for? Contrary to what many might believe, Mr. Mills explained that, “people in prison are not there because of murder, rape and mayhem. People are in prison because of drugs. That’s what happened in the mid-70s – people didn’t go out and start killing more people, the federal government followed by the state governments cracked down on people who possess drugs and they all went to prison… Not surprisingly, it’s also not racially neutral. Whites use drugs, just like everybody else – whites don’t go to prison… If police concentrated the same resources on college campuses as they concentrate in public housing projects, you’d have a lot more young white college-educated men in prison.”

Mr. Mills then went on to describe the horrendous conditions in California and Illinois prisons, supermax and SHU conditions in particular. He showed photographs of “group therapy” in California SHU, where prisoners sit inside phone-booth size cages: “This is mental health treatment in California. They put you in these little cages, and this is called ‘group therapy.’ The therapist out there gave up, he said ‘I can’t treat men like this,’ so he brings a guitar in… and plays, at least gives them some music to listen to during therapy session. That’s mental health treatment in California. They’re the luck ones. If you try to commit suicide in California you get moved to a suicide bed, but there aren’t enough of them, so you sit there in these cages, for hours and hours and hours and sometimes days. And in at least one case… someone died in there. Standing in a pool of urine and vomit and blood, when he sliced his arm waiting for a suicide bed in a cage.”

After further describing the conditions in Tamms, he talked about receiving video tape as part of their legal case challenging the conditions there; the tape recorded the cellblock, and they timed the number of minutes that a prisoner actually spends talking to someone at their cell door. The average prisoner got about 45 seconds a day of “face-to-face” contact with someone, through their cell door.

Professor Stephen Eisenman spoke next, with a presentation called “Tamms Supermax and Solitary Confinement: A Ten Point Indictment.” Professor Eisenman is Professor of Art History at Northwestern University, the author of several books including The Abu Ghraib Effect, and a prison reform activist with Tamms Year Ten who regularly publishes criticisms of the ‘penal state.

Professor Eisenman began by recounting the history of the use of solitary confinement in the U.S, which was rarely used as punishment until the opening of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia in 1829 and has been rarely used ever since – except for the last 25 years. Prisoners in Eastern State were kept in small cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour out for solitary exercise in an adjoining yard. Meals were served through a slot in the cell door, and there was no possibility of physical or even visual contact with other prisoners – whenever prisoners left their cell they were hooded. A similar, though somewhat less severe, regime was developed at the same time at Auburn Prison in New York.

But, as Professor Eisenman described, “The efficacy and morality of solitary confinement was soon challenged. Within a few years of opening, Eastern State was condemned by prison reformers for increasing recidivism rate and causing prisoners to become insane. Inhumane conditions become subject of international notoriety.” And by the end of the 1800s, even the U.S. Supreme Court condemned the use of solitary confinement. Until Alcatraz D Block opened in 1934, solitary confinement remained very rare, and even very rarely used in Alcatraz until it closed in 1963. Between 1963 and 1983, no federal prison had solitary confinement as its main operative function. Then in 1983, the federal prison at Marion, Illinois established a permanent lockdown and six years later the first supermax prison opened at Pelican Bay.

He went on to document that international law and U.N. treaties consider long-term solitary confinement and sensory deprivation to be forms of torture or “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” He documented that solitary confinement is prohibited by numerous U.N conventions. After reading one U.N. prohibition against medical or scientific experimentation without the preconsent of people involved, Professor Eisenman made the observation, “We really are conducting long-term experimentation of solitary confinement, of isolation, the kind of experimentation that we tend to associate with Nazi doctors, or with horror movies…”

In closing, Professor Eisenman poignantly pronounced: “The weight of history, the judgment of courts, the testimony of physicians and psychiatrists and the determination of international law all argue for the elimination of long-term solitary confinement and supermax prisons. How much longer will the state and federal government uphold them? How much longer will this violation of human rights and reason continue? States as different as Maine and Mississippi have made major strides in reducing the use of long-term solitary confinement. My organization… Tamms Year Ten has succeed in pressuring the IDOC, the Illinois Department of Corrections, to reduce their supermax population by between 1/4 and 1/3rd, and to obtain finally the prisoners rights to make telephone calls… But the basic armature of isolation at Tamms and in other supermax prisons such as Pelican Bay remains almost 200 years after it was shown at Eastern State penitentiary to be cruel and useless.”

The next panelist was Dr. Antonio Martinez, a psychologist with the Institute for Survivors of Human Rights Abuses and co-founder of the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture, who has lectured about the trauma and consequences of torture and abuse throughout the world.

Dr. Martinez expressed his visceral reaction to the exposure of the inhumanity of the torturous conditions of isolation that tens of thousands of prisoners languish under in the U.S.: “I’m appalled. I have heard so many stories of torture around the world, and when you hear these kind of things happening right here in the United States, not that I am surprised, but it’s in your own context, yes? I wonder how, what this makes you feel, as a person living in this context…”

He went on to further describe some of the feelings that the Forum had brought out: “One is the reaffirmation of normality in us, and the Other, that is the sick, the ‘bad person,’ reinforcing that we are ok, and they are totally wrong. That we are the repository of total virtue and they are the scourge of humanity, and because of that they don’t deserve treatment as a human being. That’s one response that probably at some level we all feel because we are human and we have that kind of reaction, especially if we have been victims of a crime at one moment… The reaction of attacking the Other, and by attacking the Other losing our own humanity.

The other reaction I have every time that I talk about this – and thats why I sometimes I do this as a sense of duty. I don’t enjoy this at all because every time that I talk about this topic and I have to first face seeing how human beings can be so cruel to human beings just to maintain a society of privilege. Because this is not in isolation, we have a very political context to why this happens in this society and it doesn’t happen in the Pygmy people, for example, that doesn’t own anything and don’t have a sense of private property.”

Speaking to the broader impact of the use of torture, he explained that one of its major effects is to instill fear in the population, to keep people from stepping forward and challenging those in power. He recounted an experience he had when he was invited by Amnesty International to give a healing workshop for women of Atenco. In May 2006, the peasant women of Atenco, Mexico had an agreement with the municipal authorities to allow them to sell flowers in the market square. However, when they arrived on the morning of May3rd, masses of police were arrayed and waiting to stop them. They staged a protest where the police killed two people (including a 14-year-old boy) and injured many more. In the next few days, more protests were held, and the police reacted with a campaign of beatings, house raids and indiscriminate detention. Of the hundreds of people detained, dozens of women suffered beatings, rapes and sexual assaults at the hands of the police while detained.

On his way to Mexico to give the healing workshop, Dr. Martinez was detained by security, who held him in a room and claimed that a person with his name was an “international terrorist” and that they had to “check to make sure it wasn’t him.” They held him for over half an hour in isolation and then came back and told him they would have to keep a copy of his passport. And this had a real effect on him: “It was difficult for me to denounce the things I wanted to denounce. I had to stop and had to remember what I was, what was my center, my heart, what was the center of my humanity and decided: other people are taking bigger risks than me and I need to take these risks and say what I came here to say. But it really choked me up, really.”

That fear and control is exactly what torture is used for: “And that’s what all these things are about, it’s about social control. It’s about a society – and you know this, I’m just repeating – it’s about a society that needs to control the Other and to let people know that they are under control. Because 2% of the population that owns 80% of the resources want to maintain business as usual. That’s what it’s all about. In the last moment, that’s what it’s all about – about social control.”

Dr. Martinez then went on to compare the use of torture in U.S. prisons to experiences of torture in other countries: “What I hear here is very similar to what I hear about the torture chambers in Guatemala, in Colombia, in Chile. Actually in Chile, Pinochet was more humane. They allowed people to be among others, they allowed some music, they allowed some type of interaction and they allowed more generous visits. And that was Pinochet. So what does that say about us as a society where all these things are the rule and not the exception? …It reflects a very increasing trend to what I call, because I haven’t found a better name, friendly fascism. With a smiley face. Where we have two United States: one that is for all of us ‘law abiding citizens’ with certain economic status; and another one for what it calls the ‘dangerous classes,’ the classes that need to be controlled, the classes that have to be measured and observed. And where unfortunately psychology – my profession that sometimes I hate, to be a psychologist – but psychologists are a big, big part of it. Because just as part of our existence we contribute to this mess by creating an illusion that social problems are individual problems, yes?”

In describing the effects of isolation and solitary confinement, Dr. Martinez explained: “All human experience is contextual. We know that we are human because we interact with other humans. If that is broke, it has broken the most essential part of what it means to be a social person. Being a human is to be social. So what they are doing in these prisons is breaking, breaking the individual to the point that some of them will be very difficult to return. They would be better if they tortured them physically and they killed them rather than to do that to another human being. And then a percentage of them will return to society eventually and then we all will pay for that crime that they are doing. This is criminal, the situation, and in any international court would be a criminal act what they are doing there.”

People subjected to these forms of torture struggle with so much internal fear, depression and other symptoms that one of the most debilitating effects of isolation and solitary confinement is that it serves to make it even more difficult for people to organize for social change.

The use of torture has wide-reaching effects, including on those who participate in torture, as Dr. Martinez recounted: “We have to think that these people are working there 8 hours, sometimes overtime 10 hours. What it does to the mind of a guard having to do all these cruel things to these prisoners… One of the fundamental positions of this system, this monstrous system that we live in, is that there’s a separation between work and family. That what happens at work doesn’t have anything to do with your family. But we know that that’s a myth, that you cannot be going around being a crocodile in your business trying to eat everybody alive, treating other people like objects not as subjects, and suddenly you enter into the reality of the space of your house and you turn into this sweet angel of compassion and love. So what does this type of treatment do to the guards but [also] the families of the guards? What does it do also to society? What does it do to the children of these prisoners that are not able to have human contact with their father or their mother?”

In closing, Dr. Martinez tied together the haunting effects of torture: “So in reality all these parts that look isolated there, it filters down into the fabric of society that we are constructing every day. And in reality I don’t want to be part of that society because it is a society that is based on the oppression of the Other, on fascist oppression, on the use of force, on the use of intimidation. I don’t know what else to say. Because it is appalling that this type of thing is happening and we still can call ourselves a democracy. It’s acting against our own interests to do this type of thing. And it really will create harder criminals and people without hope, and communities without hope, because this filters down. Torture in Latin America was always a secret, a secret that everybody knows, and this type of behavior, that is also torture, is a secret that in order to work as it is intended to work has to leak out. This is not by chance that we know about these things, because part of this type of behavior in these prisons is to create social control over us right here.”

The final panelist, Laurie Jo Reynolds, organizer of Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots campaign to end the use of long-term isolation at Tamms, spoke about her work in organizing against torture. She highlighted a prominent art campaign where they used mud-stencils proclaiming “Tamms is Torture” and “End Torture in Illinois” on sidewalks and walls across the city to expose the use of torture. She discussed the work they’ve done in bringing out the humanity of the men suffering torture in Tamms, including mounting more than 50 educational, artistic and cultural events about the use of isolation and segregation in Illinois prisons. She also described the work they’ve done in pushing for legal reform of the prison system through the legislative process.

In closing the Forum, I reiterated the heroic example that the hunger strikers have provided us, including their protest being the basis for organizing the Forum, and the exposure they’ve brought to the pervasive and systematic use of long-term isolation as torture in U.S. Prisons. People have a moral responsibility to act both in support of the hunger strikers, including ensuring that their demands are met and that they do not suffer retaliation for their peaceful political protest, as well as to take actions that are commensurate with the risk and the stand that the prisoners have taken coming together on the hunger strike to end the use of torture in U.S. prisons.

 

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Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike & Torture in U.S. Prisons

Thursday, August 4 at 7pm

Grace Place, 637 S Dearborn Street, Chicago

Beginning on July 1, 2011, hundreds of prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay SHU (“Security Housing Unit”) began a historic hunger strike to demand an end to long-term solitary confinement, which constitutes torture under international law, and other demands to end the cruel and inhumane treatment they suffer under. The hunger strike rapidly spread to over 6,500 prisoners in over one-third of California’s prisons, making their heroic stand the most significant prisoner-led resistance in the U.S. in decades. After going without food for 20 days, the prisoners at Pelican Bay ended their hunger strike, with a call to people on the outside to continue the struggle against torture in U.S. prisons and to ensure their demands are met and that they are not retaliated against for their peaceful political protest. As of Friday, July 22, California prison administrators reported hundreds of prisoners at California’s Corcoran SHU remained on hunger strike, and families reported as of July 26 that prisoners at Corcoran continued to refuse food. See www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com for the prisoner’s demands and more details.

The use of long-term isolation pervades the U.S. prison system, with tens of thousands of prisoners held in conditions that violate international standards against torture. Join us for a discussion of the courageous stand taken by thousands of prisoners across California and the widespread, systematic use of long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons – including in Illinois, the effects of torture on its survivors and what people of conscience can do.

The courageous actions of the prisoners in California risking their lives on hunger strike have dragged the hidden humanitarian crisis that is the pervasive use of long-term isolation in U.S. prisons into the light – anyone concerned about human rights must be part of this discussion.

Panelists include:
  • Dr. Antonio Martinez, a psychologist with the Institute for Survivors of Human Rights Abuses and co-founder of the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture. Dr. Martinez has lectured about the trauma and consequences of torture and abuse throughout the world.
  • Alan Mills, Legal Director of the Uptown People’s Law Center. The People’s Law Center has has been engaged in litigation to change conditions at Tamms, Illinois supermax prison, since the day it opened.
  • Stephen F. Eisenman is Professor of Art History at Northwestern University.  He is the author of (among other books) Gauguin’s Skirt (1997) and The Abu Ghraib Effect (2007).  He is also a prison reform activist with Tamms Year Ten, and regularly publishes his criticisms of the “penal state” in The Chicago Sun Times and Monthly Review. Prof. Eisenman is currently completing a book entitled Meat Modernism concerned with the image of animals in Western Art from the mid 18th Century until today.
  • Laurie Jo Reynolds is the organizer of Tamms Year Ten, the grassroots campaign to end the use of long-term isolation at Tamms supermax prison in Southern Illinois. TY10 was launched in 2008, at the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the prison, with the strategy of pushing for reform through public education, media attention, and legislative oversight. TY10 mounted more than 50 educational, artistic and cultural events about the use of isolation and segregation in Illinois prisons, and pulled together a coalition of concerned citizens, faith groups, mental health advocates, law and public policy clinics, prison reformers, and human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in London. Reynolds is currently a Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow.

Moderated by Gregory Koger, social justice activist who as a youth spent over six years straight in solitary confinement in prison in Illinois.

Sponsored by the Chicago Chapter of World Can’t Wait and Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund

 

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Rally to Support Pelican Bay and California Prison Hunger Strike

Chicago Rally to Support Pelican Bay and California Prison Hunger Strike

Friday, July 22 · 4:30pm

State of Illinois James R Thompson Center
100 W Randolph Street (downtown Chicago)
Chicago, Illinois

URGENT NEED to act to support the Hunger Strike!
The Hunger Strike in Pelican Bay and other California prisons is about to enter it’s 4th week. Every person of conscience needs to think about what actions they can take in support.

More info at: http://prisonerhungerstrik​esolidarity.wordpress.com/ and http://revcom.us/

Things you can do at: http://prisonerhungerstrik​esolidarity.wordpress.com/​take-action/

Core Demands in Brief:

1) End “group punishment” where an individual prisoner breaks a rule and prison officials punish a whole group of prisoners of the same race.
2) Abolish “debriefing” and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. False and/or highly questionable “evidence” is used to accuse prisoners of being active/inactive members of prison gangs who are then sent to the SHU where they are subjected to long-term isolation and torturous conditions. One of the only ways these prisoners can get out the SHU is if they “debrief”…that is, give prison officials information on gang activity.
3) Comply with recommendations from a 2006 U.S. commission to “make segregation a last resort” and “end conditions of isolation.”
4) Provide Adequate Food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food. They want adequate food, wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals and an end to the use of food as a way to punish prisoners in the SHU.
5) Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates…including the opportunity to “engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities…” which are routinely denied. Demands include one phone call per week, more visiting time, permission to have wall calendars, sweat suits and watch caps (warm clothing is often denied even though cells and the exercise cage can be bitterly cold.

 

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“… With nothing to lose and a world to win!” – Letter from a Prisoner in Pelican Bay SHU on Hunger Strike

Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund just received this letter, postmarked July 8, 2011, from one of the hunger strikers in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at California’s Pelican Bay prison. He is also one of 49 subscribers to Revolution newspaper at Pelican Bay State Prison, thanks to the generous donors to Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:

Greetings, I write in concerns of the hunger strike that begun on July 1st of 2011 here in Pelican Bay Shu. And as I get into the current effort made at Pelican Bay let me give some background to what lead to this social protest from the viewpoint of one of the hunger strike participants and its important to see the Repression unleashed on the Barrios and ghettos that lead to being wharehoused in koncentration kamps like Pelican Bay throughout America.

The prisons in California hold the most prisoners than any other state in America yet many of the conditions are the same. Pelican Bay opened for business in 1989, taking a page from the Federal Prison system and what it was doing with its new ‘supermax’ concept of incarceration. California began a new dawn in its housing of those prisoners it felt unruly. Pelican Bay Security Housing unit or Shu as it’s known is a prison within a bulging state prison system and is the future of what is the supermax America.

Supermaxing prisoners is not exclusive to Californians as America has about 70,000 men and women held in supermax prisons nationwide! 70,000 people housed in supermax! This is unprecedented. Never in the history of the world has their ever been as much as 70,000 people housed in supermax prisons, not even in Nazi Germany was their 70,000 supermax prisoners. America has become #1 in supermax prisoners of all time.

The conditions at Pelican Bay may shock the public, the idea that American citizens endure torture daily, yearly and for decades may be a surprise to many, or the fact that many of the conditions for prisoners being held in Guantanimo Bay are really better than Shu prisoners in Pelican Bay is hard to swallow but its true.  Shu prisoners here endure 22 ½ hours locked in their cell every day. Their cell is a windowless concrete tomb that includes a slab of cement for a mattress and a toilet and sink. Shu prisoners are held in solitary confinement with no cellmate and for some this solitary has gone on for decades. Its important to note that the United Nations has said that solitary supermax is torture as this is known to create a psychological disorder in what has come to be called ‘Shu syndrome’! The studies that have been done concerning the supermax has shown that after 60 days of supermax people begin to experience a wide range of symptoms from panic attacks to psychosis and even emotional breakdown.

There is no human physical contact between prisoners and any other human being ever in Shu. Everything from food to laundry to books or mail is passed through a slot in the door. The psychological effects from supermax cannot be reversed by rehousing into a regular general population in another prison, yet some have been here in shu for decades, this in a country that claims to uphold human Rights, even occupying other counties under the excuse of their citizens having their human rights violated. And all along people in its prisons have their human rights trampled on without a murmur coming from the ‘halls of Democracy’.

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the California prison system is over stuffed with prisoners to the point where it now has a couple years to reduce its population by about 30,000 prisoners. Indeed the Supreme court said about one prisoner a week dies in California prisons due to medical care thats insufficient. One prisoner a week! It should also be noted that California seems to be the epicenter for the prison boom in this country and thus the epicenter for the prison boom globally and so precidents set in California should be followed closely especially when it comes to supermax prisons.

So what does it take to get one sent to a Shu supermax? The short answer is not very much. I was corresponding with someone once who asked me if someone arrested for a drunk driving and sent to prison can ever be sent to the Shu, and that person was shocked when I said yes! The thing that would shock the public the most is that people sent to Supermax in California are not sent here necessarily because of a crime or physical violation in a prison general population, one can come to prison for a drunk driving and happen to be a ‘jailhouse lawyer’ helping other prisoners with appeal’s and tackling violations in prisoner rights and be targeted by guards for Shu.  One can get on the bad side of guards or simply refuse to go along with their wrongdoing or refuse to provide information and be targeted for Shu, just being a rebellious or progressive prisoner gets one targeted and labeled a ‘gang member’ and sent to Shu. The Shu is made out as a big stick to intimidate the prison population into passivity, (think deportation threats to migrants or the whip shown to the slave). It doesn’t mean its going to be used but the thought of it existing is enough to control a large portion of the prison population so it becomes a tool not used for rehabilitation but for social control. The fact that the Shu has no kind of self help program’s or classes such as victims awareness, narcotics anonymous, etc, or G.E.D. or college courses shows it is not a place designed to ‘rehabilitate’.  One would think with the prison administration labeling those in Shu as ‘worst of the worst’, ‘uncorrigible’ or ‘the most violent’ in California’s prisons one would think there would be atleast one anger management class available (even if it had to be done via mail) but no dice. Instead prisoners are forced to languish in their windowless cell for 22½ hours a day every day.

Once a prisoner finds themselves in Shu and if the prisoners has a life sentence, as this person goes to board to see if he or she is eligible to parole it will be denied because nobody has been paroled from Shu with a life sentence, as administrators see it as ‘if your in Shu, your not ready for society.’ Thus Shu becomes an even bigger stick a huge whip to those of us with life sentences as it is basically a Death Sentence once sent to Shu. Any psychiatrist would agree even the thought of this playing out in ones head while locked in Solitary 22½ [hours] a day must be indescribably cruel. And once here in Shu their is a system called ‘debriefing’ that demands one to snitch on others or even make stuff up in order to be released from Shu and back into general population. After years of torture many will make stuff up on anyone just to escape the mind numbing torture of this sensory deprivation, and unfortunately someone will fill his/her cell and the cycle of torture continues.

Within this house of horrors of Shu that I have described lies an even more draconian existence (if one can imagine this) that within Shu exists what is called ‘the short corridor.’ The short corridor consists of about two hundred men here in Pelican Bay.  This is where if prison officials feel you are a leader of sorts, you will be placed in short corridor where food is even less & worse, you have less movement out of your cell, less yard and mail is censored even more. It is these conditions where even reading material such as philosophy or history is censored. Pelican Bay Shu is designed to control, nothing more. We seen even Revolution newspaper being censored and banned from this prison at one time.  Take a minute to think of living in a certain zip code or apartment building where city officials notify you that Revolution newspaper is banned and is not allowed in your neighborhood.  How would you feel about these city officials?  How would you feel about the system that upholds the actions of these city officials? This Hegemony and Draconian existence has led to the non violent civil disobedience playing out in the Shu. Mao said where you find much repression youll find much resistance! This resistance, although non violent is not expected to be met with a smile from prison officials but what other choice is there when you are left in your windowless cell in solitary for years with no recourse from the courts? But the efforts of the Pelican Bay hunger strike is more than the injustice unleashed on Shu prisoners.  For vast swaths of the public this situation will call attention to the ills of not just the California Supermax but of the U. S. prison system in general.  As I think of the whirlwind sweeping the middle East that was born from a Tunisian street vendor and has now been called an arab spring, I wonder in regards to the efforts of resistance from the Georgian prisoners,  I wonder if the American prison system has developed a Georgian spring?

There are many demands some of which are contact visits with family, the ability to make a phone call (some have not been allowed phone calls for decades). Shu prisoners are not currently allowed to use a phone ever so as long as your here you wont use the phone. Medical services, with the present medical system you can sign up for feeling ill and not be seen for weeks, by then you feel better but your still charged five dollars. Those with documented illnesses are denied pain medications and surgeries are put through a stringent review board, treatment is very hard to obtain here. Because of the sensory deprivation a TV/ radio combination is being requested. The T.V. we are allowed to purchase has no radio and radios are not allowed. Music has long been known to be therapeutic yet in Shu it is denied, the act of enjoying music is banned. The ability to obtain colored pencils and art paper are being requested as it is also a form of therapy to create art, this basic act of expressing oneself through art is being denied to Shu prisoners and colored pencils and art paper are currently forbidden. The ability to purchase two care packages a year are being requested as at this time only one care package a year is allowable, forcing some prisoners such as Muslim Prisoners who cannot purchase halal food items on the prison commisary as the prison commisary has no halal food items. Thus many are forced to simply eat the meager slop issued on the trays given for meals.

General population prisoners are able to purchase radios, colored pencils, art paper, use the phone daily and get contact visits, take photos and receive four care packages a year. The ability to take photos is being requested as those who have been in Shu for 20+ years have not been able to take a photo to send their family. Many families do not have the money or transportation to travel all the way to Pelican Bay for a visit and a photo would substitute a visit as at this time Shu prisoners are forbidden from receiving a photo. The ability to recieve direct sunlight is being requested as currently the dog run yard has a sheet of blurred plastic so the sun is blocked out and the way the yard is designed the sun does not make contact with ones skin. It’s a known fact sunlight is essential to health and even bone density. Shu prisoners are withheld direct sunlight at this time. The dismantling of the ‘debriefing process’ is also being requested, the necessity to compromise another in order to leave Shu is a horrendous practice, one I suspect will be looked back on as incredulous as one now sees the selling of human skins in the day of slavery in America.

The whole process of ‘validation’ which qualifies one to be placed in Shu is faulty and without merit, for years its been known that some prisoners will make stuff up to leave Shu. Experts on torture have well documented that when one is tortured people will say whatever you want to know just so long as the torture stops.  So as a result more people many innocent of the accusations will be placed in Shu. See Revolution issue #237 on Pelican Bay for the core demands. The issues that force people to seek redress by depriving oneself of nutrients is not exclusive to Pelican Bay Shu. The prison system in America is filled with the injustices that Shu prisoners experience here in Pelican Bay, and to deprive oneself of food is often the last line of defense, the last rock to hurl at a monster who makes life a constant state of torture, a perpetual waterboarding. Marx said in ‘On the Jewish Question,’ “We must emancipate ourselves before we can emancipate others”. I think prisoners are indeed emancipating ourselves and moving forward with a strong Revolutionary surge in seeking justice. Prisoners are tired of the decades long white torture that is often hidden from the public eye and which is now being heard nationwide with the strike – with nothing to lose and a world to win!

XXXX

 

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Chicago Rally in Support of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike

Rally in Support of the Hunger Strike and Just Demands of Prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 — 10:30 am

On the steps of the Cook County Courthouse (26th & California)

In an act of tremendous courage, prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in California are beginning an indefinite hunger strike on July 1, 2011. This hunger strike is demanding an end to the horrendous and dehumanizing conditions imposed on prisoners at Pelican Bay.  People everywhere must come to their aid and support their demands.

Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) is a super-maximum security prison located in an isolated part of northern California, twenty miles from the Oregon border.  There are more than 3,000 prisoners confined at this prison. More than a thousand prisoners are locked down in the SHU at Pelican Bay, where they are subjected to isolation, maximum sensory deprivation, and brutality.

These conditions are horrific, dehumanizing and in violation of international law.  This is official state-sanctioned torture, carried out in state and federal prisons across the nation. In fact, tens of thousands of prisoners are confined to isolation units throughout the country.]

The following core demands are being circulated in a “final notice from prisoners on D-Corridor” at Pelican Bay:

1)       End “group punishment” where an individual prisoner breaks a rule and prison officials punish a whole group of prisoners of the same race.

2)       Abolish “debriefing” and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. False and/or highly questionable “evidence” is used to accuse prisoners of being active/inactive members of prison gangs who are then sent to the SHU where they are subjected to long-term isolation and torturous conditions. One of the only ways these prisoners can get out the SHU is if they “debrief”…that is, give prison officials information on gang activity.

3)        Comply with recommendations from a 2006 U.S. commission to “make segregation a last resort” and “end conditions of isolation.”

4)       Provide Adequate Food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food. They want adequate food, wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals and an end to the use of food as a way to punish prisoners in the SHU.

5)       Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates…including the opportunity to “engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities…” which are routinely denied. Demands include one phone call per week, more visiting time, permission to have wall calendars, sweat suits and watch caps (warm clothing is often denied even though cells and the exercise cage can be bitterly cold.

The prisoners who have called for this strike have made clear that they are uniting across racial lines, an extremely important development, given racial divisions in prison, which are often fomented by prison officials.  And they have called on prisoners throughout the California prison system, including prisoners who are “suffering injustices in general population, administrative segregation and solitary confinement,” to join them in the strike.

The prisoners are shining a spotlight on the horrific and unacceptable conditions existing inside the corridors of Pelican Bay State Prison; they must not be allowed to stand alone. People throughout the state of California and beyond must urgently come to their aid and support, standing firmly in support of the hunger strike and supporting the just demands of the prisoners.

 

Resources on the Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strike: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

News from Pelican Bay Hunger Strike and Protests at Revolution newspaper

Speakers/Endorsers list in formation includes:

Duffie Clark, Illinois Institute for Community Law

Mark Clemmons, Administrator with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Englewood Political Task Force

Fred Hampton, Jr.; Chairman of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee

Omega; C Number Prisoners Campaign

Dwight Taylor, Citizens Against Violence in Gary

Voice Of The Ex-offender (V.O.T.E.)

 

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Support the Hunger Strike at Pelican Bay!

A broad coalition of prisoners at California’s notorious Pelican Bay SHU (Security Housing Unit) supermax prison today began an indefinite hunger strike to protest against and demand an end to the inhumane conditions of isolation and sensory deprivation that violate international human rights standards against torture that they endure on a daily basis.

Joining the Pelican Bay prisoners in their hunger strike are prisoners at Corcoran SHU, another hellhole known for the brutal and degrading conditions that the “greatest and freest country in the world” imposes on those ensnared within its inhuman clutches, including prison guards forcing prisoners to fight against each other in “gladiator fights” that the guards would bet on.

As the recent article The Living Hell in Pelican Bay Prison by Li Onesto in Revolution newspaper documented, “Mass incarceration in this country is about locking up a whole section of society—especially poor Black and Latino men—to whom this system offers no future. Prisons in the U.S. are aimed at punishment—degrading, dehumanizing, and breaking people. And the SHU at Pelican Bay is a model in doing exactly that.”

The United States has the largest prison population in the world – with only 5% of the world’s population, it holds one-fourth of all prisoners in the world within its unrivaled and historically unparalleled racist dungeons. As Michelle Alexander has documented in her vital recent book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, there are more Black folks in jail, on probation or parole than were  enslaved in this country just before the Civil War (listen to audio of her discussing the key points from her book here). And the United States has a higher rate of incarceration for Black men than apartheid South Africa, a regime universally considered one of the most racist in the history of the world.

That this system offers millions upon millions of youth no better future and no greater fate than crime and punishment, a future of living and dying being shoved through the revolving racist doors of the “justice” system, just one of the many crimes that the rulers of this system perpetrate upon the people of the world, is reason enough to sweep this system from the face of the earth and struggle together to bring into being a radically different and far more liberatory world for not just the people of the United States, but the whole world.

Mass incarceration is one of the key concentrations of social contradiction that not only affects millions of those cast off at the bottom of society but outrages many people from other strata and backgrounds that can serve to awaken and strengthen the political consciousness of the people, bring them forward in resistance to the crimes of this system, and exposing this cruelly oppressive and exploitative system as the outmoded fetter holding back the advancement and liberation of all humanity that capitalism-imperialism is – as part of building a movement for revolution, as Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, concentrated in Some Principles for Building A Movement for Revolution.

And as the recent Supreme Court ruling that conditions in California’s prisons violate Constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment portends, mass incarceration is becoming a faultline that divides the ruling class, and can potentially serve to further break open the possibility of a revolutionary situation developing (see A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party On The Strategy For Revolution for more on the development of a revolutionary situation and the strategy for making revolution).

The courageous example of these prisoners coming together, across racial and other dividing lines inculcated and fostered by those in power to keep people divided, from within the bowels of the most dehumanizing and degrading conditions, and stepping forward to demand an end to the torture and inhumane conditions being forced upon them by the United States government, risking death and retaliation in the process, should inspire and challenge us to support their struggle and step forward to join them – as part of getting rid of this whole damn capitalist system and bringing forward a liberated world for all people.

The brothers in Pelican Bay have agreed on the following five core demands, reprinted in their entirety below:

1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse – This is in response to PBSP’s application of “group punishment” as a means to address individual inmates rule violations. This includes the administration’s abusive, pretextual use of “safety and concern” to justify what are unnecessary punitive acts. This policy has been applied in the context of justifying indefinite SHU status, and progressively restricting our programming and privileges.

2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria

  • Perceived gang membership is one of the leading reasons for placement in solitary confinement.
  • The practice of “debriefing,” or offering up information about fellow prisoners particularly regarding gang status, is often demanded in return for better food or release from the SHU. Debriefing puts the safety of prisoners and their families at risk, because they are then viewed as “snitches.”
  • The validation procedure used by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employs such criteria as tattoos, readings materials, and associations with other prisoners (which can amount to as little as greeting) to identify gang members.
  • Many prisoners report that they are validated as gang members with evidence that is clearly false or using procedures that do not follow the Castillo v. Alameida settlement which restricted the use of photographs to prove association.

3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement – CDCR shall implement the findings and recommendations of the US commission on safety and abuse in America’s prisons final 2006 report regarding CDCR SHU facilities as follows:

  • End Conditions of Isolation (p. 14) Ensure that prisoners in SHU and Ad-Seg (Administrative Segregation) have regular meaningful contact and freedom from extreme physical deprivations that are known to cause lasting harm. (pp. 52-57)
  • Make Segregation a Last Resort (p. 14). Create a more productive form of confinement in the areas of allowing inmates in SHU and Ad-Seg [Administrative Segregation] the opportunity to engage in meaningful self-help treatment, work, education, religious, and other productive activities relating to having a sense of being a part of the community.
  • End Long-Term Solitary Confinement. Release inmates to general prison population who have been warehoused indefinitely in SHU for the last 10 to 40 years (and counting).
  • Provide SHU Inmates Immediate Meaningful Access to: i) adequate natural sunlight ii) quality health care and treatment, including the mandate of transferring all PBSP- SHU inmates with chronic health care problems to the New Folsom Medical SHU facility.

4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food – cease the practice of denying adequate food, and provide a wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals, and allow inmates to purchase additional vitamin supplements.

  • PBSP staff must cease their use of food as a tool to punish SHU inmates.
  • Provide a sergeant/lieutenant to independently observe the serving of each meal, and ensure each tray has the complete issue of food on it.
  • Feed the inmates whose job it is to serve SHU meals with meals that are separate from the pans of food sent from kitchen for SHU meals.

5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates.

Examples include:

  • Expand visiting regarding amount of time and adding one day per week.
  • Allow one photo per year.
  • Allow a weekly phone call.
  • Allow Two (2) annual packages per year. A 30 lb. package based on “item” weight and not packaging and box weight.
  • Expand canteen and package items allowed. Allow us to have the items in their original packaging [the cost for cosmetics, stationary, envelopes, should not count towards the max draw limit]
  • More TV channels.
  • Allow TV/Radio combinations, or TV and small battery operated radio
  • Allow Hobby Craft Items – art paper, colored pens, small pieces of colored pencils, watercolors, chalk, etc.
  • Allow sweat suits and watch caps.
  • Allow wall calendars.
  • Install pull-up/dip bars on SHU yards.
  • Allow correspondence courses that require proctored exams.

NOTE: The above examples of programs/privileges are all similar to what is allowed in other Supermax prisons (eg, Federal Florence, Colorado, and Ohio), which supports our position that CDCR-PBSP staff claims that such are a threat to safety and security are exaggerations.

 

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