[A careful and detailed rebuttal of the state prison officials justifications for the tortuous conditions prisoners in the Security Housing Units are subjected to — and severe repression of California prison hunger strikers. This article is well-worth reading, and passing along. — Frontlines ed.]
A Brief Discussion on the Reality and Impact of SHU Torture Units in the Wake of the August 23rd Legislative Hearings, From the N.C.T.T. – COR-SHU
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, 4/16/63
These sage words by Dr. King are both appropriate to the discussion we’d like to have with you on indefinite SHU confinement, and cautionary as to who we are as a society in these troubled times. This 2nd point is very relevant to this discussion and we hope you’ll stick with us as we explore subject matter that is both broad and disturbing which requires us to share some inconvenient truths.
Security Housing Units, SHUs, like those in Pelican Bay, Tehachapi, and this one here in Corcoran are torture units. They are used to indefinitely house human beings in solitary confinement, under constant illumination, based on an administrative determination that they are “gang” members or associates, with an impetus towards breaking their minds in hopes of eliciting information, coercing them into becoming informants or active agents of the state. The torture units are the living tombs of not only alleged “gang” members or associates, but political and politicized prisoners, human rights activists, critics of the prison industry, jailhouse lawyers and most anyone who in the sole determination of Institutional Gang Investigators (I.G.I.) and administrators, are not content to accept and submit passively to their role as commodities in the prison industrial complex. The United States, and many of it’s media outlets such as the ‘New York Times’ and ‘San Diego Union Tribune’, prior to the U.S. “War on Terror” routinely criticized China, Turkey, Burma, Syria, and other nations for holding prisoners in indefinite solitary confinement, under conditions of constant illumination and/or sensory deprivation, etc. for expressing contrary political views. They universally condemned the practice as torture, citing the United Nations Human Rights Commission Treaty. Their hypocrisy was of course revealed soon after the policy of U.S. sponsored torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and numerous secret C.I.A. blacksite prisons was exposed. Yet America’s dirty little secret is, state sponsored torture in the U.S. is neither new or exclusive to it’s “War on Terror”. Years before Abu Ghraib and ‘Gitmo’ they were murdering prisoners in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center, boiling men alive at Pelican Bay-SHU, and holding murderous bloodsport style bouts in Corcoran-SHU all along holding alleged “gang” members and left wing political ideologues for decades in sensory deprivation torture units at Pelican Bay, Corcoran, and Tehachapi SHUs. Yes, indefinite solitary confinement and constant illumination is being used right now in California SHU units, in conjunction with a program of systematic isolation and experimental behavior modification to torture prisoners everyday … with no end in sight. The California Supreme and 9th Circuit courts, in blatant indifference to constitutional and international law, have repeatedly refused to intervene on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHU who’ve lived under these psychologically torturous conditions for 10, 20, 30, and even 40 years straight, This is unadulterated hypocrisy, wherein your public officials are torturing fellow citizens in your name. The United Nations Convention Against Torture and other cruel and degrading treatment or punishment defines “torture” as: “any state-sanctioned action by which severe pain or suffering, mental or physical, is intentionally inflicted for obtaining information, punishment, info, intimidation, or discrimination.” This virtually defines the validation, indeterminate-SHU, and debriefing processes, which are all interconnected. We are told, quite frankly at ICC hearings, “You’ll only get out of SHU if you parole, debrief, or die.” The parole board is no different for those of us in SHU with determinate life sentences where we are told, “If you want a parole date, you may want to think about debriefing.” To debrief one must become an informant, an active agent of the state, and decades of such torture and withholding of freedom are powerful state sanctions to break men’s minds, compel them to lie, make something up, or simply parrot what they are told to say by state handlers to support a law enforcement agenda in order to escape the SHU. In at least 2 recent online articles, one by the notoriously pro-prison industry “Sacramento Bee”, we see debriefers doing just this: actually advocating the merits of the very SHU torture units that broke their minds and made them thralls of prison industrialists, the C.C.P.O.A. and all those with an economic and political interest in maintaining the symbolism of these torture units as the abode of “predatory gang leaders and organized criminals” and other exaggerations. The U. N. Human Rights Commission has stated prolonged solitary confinement, especially for purposes of extracting information, is prohibited as torture. SHUs are, by defintion, torture units; and specialty ultra-supermax isolation units like Pelican Bay’s D-Short Corridor and Corcoran SHUs for 4BIL-C-section, are specifically engineered to warp reality for purposes of breaking men’s minds. Such torture, no matter the supposed justification, is never an acceptable practice for a humane society. The UN Convention Against Torture states, “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether state or threat of war or political emergency… may be invoked as a reason for torture. “ As it stands, your correctional department and courts, some of your elected officials and all law enforcement agencies do feel torture is justified as long as it’s applied to those they deem “gang members”. But there is a much more insidious, socioeconomic and political motivation for the maintenance and expansion of SHU torture units and indeterminate SHU confinement based on “gang” validation. It is sustained by manipulating your perception of truth and humanity; by controlling your perception of these things the prison industrial complex dictates your actions, reactions, and inaction to their impact on lives and communities – yours included.
As you may be aware we embarked on a historic 21 day hunger strike in July in solidarity with the Pelican Bay SHU-D-Corridor Collective and the 5 core demands recognizing our basic human rights. We were joined by some 6,600 other prisoners across the state, countless others across the nation, and garnered the support of principled people all over the world. On August 23rd, 2011 a hearing was held by the legislative Committee on Public Safety in response to these issues. I want to take this time to highlight some of the distortions, misrepresentations of fact, and outright lies by CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan [a key prison industrialist], to illustrate just what we’re talking about here. There is an articulable economic basis upon which state sanctioned torture units are maintained in California and throughout the U.S. Before we get into Mr. Kernan’s comments it’s necessary for you to have a clear understanding of what they are – to understand why he would contradict himself – and openly lie – to a legislative oversight committee.
A central purpose of SHU torture units (and “gang” validations resulting in indeterminate SHU confinement) is to ensure your financial and political support for the expansion and maintenance of the prison industrial complex, by maximizing your fear and capitalizing on your ignorance of these issues. The foundational cornerstones of their success is convincing you that “gang” members (or at least those they’ve labeled as such) are these depraved, inhuman monsters hell bent on rape, murder and predation of innocent people; and only they, the “gang experts” know who these monsters are and how best to “protect” you from them. These allegedly malevolent, irrationally violent, and predatory organized gangs are the source of all societies ills and the very origin of crime in our communities. By maintaining these torture units and proclaiming they are the abodes of the “worst of the worst”, they have a symbolic manifestation of the validity of their claims. No one can refute their accounts or characterizations because transparency is non-existent in CDCR Prisoners have no public voices. The C.C.P.O.A. successfully lobbied to ban media interviews with prisoners so the public is left to a unilateral, one-sided view of prison conditions and their discontents. This allows them free reign to perpetuate the myth of the “inhuman gang member”, and with tacit media support, dehumanize an ever growing segment of the underclass community. Have you not noticed when your local news reports on a suspected offender, parolee, or even a victim of police brutality the first thing said as he or she is paraded across the screen is they are a “ validated gang member” of this or that “gang”, as though this designation somehow diminishes their human worth. When incidents occur in or around our schools, the school is put on “lockdown”, a term derived from the California prisons to denote a prison yard being “locked down” after a riot or other incident. These terms, consistently employed by authority and media figures, inevitably lead to the formation of a particular social psychology. When you hear the term “gang” or “gang member” it automatically conjures images of innocent drive-by shooting victims and prison rapes inspired by shows like “Oz” and other cinematic visions, divorcing these men and women from the human condition, dehumanizing them. These people, more often than not, were saddled with these characterizations because of the communities they come from, and may well have never committed a violent or predatory act in their lives. But you don’t know that. All you know is what you’ve been told by the anchorman, police, or CDC spokesman. They know that, because they’ve used millions of your tax dollars to engineer it what way. The truth of the matter is, there are no malevolent, irrationally violent, predatory gangs roving the streets of your cities or the prison yards of CDCR; only desperate men and women forced to the bottom rung of society through institutional disparities in economic and race based distribution of educational, employment, and employment opportunities at virtually every level of human activity in the U.S. Do gangs exist? Of course. That’s not the issue here. The issue is why do they exist and where are they prevalent? “Gangs”, and more centrally gang violence and high crime, are prevalent primarily in underclass communities. Crime and the formation of gang violence conditions are like water – they flow to areas of least resistance and emptiness – in this case economic “emptiness” (poverty). The national unemployment rate (not counting the under-employed or those who’ve stop looking) stands at 9.1%; yet in the New Afrikan (Black) community it’s 17% and in the Latino community is 14.5%; those without a high school diploma stand at 16% unemployed, while those with a bachelors degree a mere 4%. New Afrikans (Blacks) and Latinos make up 90% of the prison population but a scant 26% of the national population. The origin of crime is not “gangs” – “gangs” are a social symptom of that origin. The origin of all crime is the disproportionate distribution of wealth, privilege, and opportunity in our society. This is not by chance or happenstance, it is by design. Wage based employment and entrepreneurship are the only ways to “legally” create wealth in this society – when social conditions are such that a community contains a large population of surplus labor (either unemployable due to their lack of education or marketable skills – or the market simply can not sustain that population of workers) the only alternative to survive is the underground economy (be that illicit services such as narcotics, the sex trade, or gambling, or predatory crimes such as extortion, robbery and identity theft). There is a corresponding sense of socio-political impotence which accompanies the innate insecurity of poverty. Young men and women who have no power, no hope, no impact on their world and little to no love in their lives, form community based, lumpen organizations to fill that socio-political void in their existence. These the state calls “gangs” and has declared war on them. One of the reasons so few people vote in underclass communities is these disparities are institutional and systemic to U.S. capitalist economics – no matter who is in office, their plight doesn’t change. Because these communities are a marginal constituency, public officials extend a corresponding indifference to their plight – and instead of “protecting and serving” these communities, law enforcement, judicial, correctional and some legislative officials all too commonly have a containment, suppression, and adversarial relationship with these communities and those who come from them. Yet the Bell Curve theorists’ rhetoric and notions that young men and women want to stand on a street corner selling crack or want to risk their lives and freedom by engaging in unprovoked gang violence are simply untrue. You pick any prisoner in these SHU units validated as a “gang member” and offer him a job making $20.00 an hour, I can guarantee you he won’t break the law. But the environment in these communities, and most assuredly the environment in CDCR prisons, are not structured to produce such success or opportunity. Which brings me to my next point: The California correctional system is an environment designed and maintained by its administrators. CDC“R” effectively retards rehabilitation, especially among SHU prisoners (those, who by the state’s own admission, most need rehabilitation), by withholding the vital tech-based vocational training and higher education opportunities needed to compete in today’s high-tech world. It was primarily through the successful efforts of the CCPOA that funding through Pell grants for higher education was taken from prisoners. Predictably, what followed this repeal of the inmate Bill of Rights was an unprecedented boom in prison building and expansion of the prison population by 800% in the last 20 years. Racial antagonisms are encouraged to preclude broad class cooperation amongst prisoners, like the unprecedented unity shown in the recent hunger strike. Underdevelopment while in prison, coupled with an emphasis on seeking most any impetus for violation by parole officers once out of prison, is designed to preclude successful reintegration into society, maximize recidivism rates, and undermine the underclass communities from which these x-offenders hail. All to maintain the steady social dysfunction and economic desperation in these family units so a consistent flow of bodies is exiting these communities and entering jails and prisons, court systems and probation departments, ensuring a recession-proof industry of profit and expansion for the prison market and those who depend on your tax dollars to sustain their privilege. The very structure of CDCR regulations is designed to promote dependency, destroy ingenuity and self-determination, and deter unity. They actually have rules which bar prisoners from creating or running a business, which always boggled our minds in an economically depressed capitalist economy. If there are prisoners with the insight, talent, innovative ideas, and entrepreneurial acumen to make a meaningful contribution to this state’s economy and job market – men and women who the courts have determined owe some debt to society, why would you codify a basis for them not doing so, outside of the same “potential for impropriety” rhetoric they use to justify accepting unsubstantiated confidential information and mere suspicion as a basis for SHU confinement, there exists no justification for such a regulation. The only basis that follows reason is to prevent independence and promote dependency on the state, thus perpetuating institutionalization. If you combine all of this with the psycho-social decimation of men’s minds resulting from prolonged, in some cases endless, isolation in conditions such as these, is it any wonder psychiatrists + psychologists universally agree that this type of torture effectively destroys ones ability to function in society? Which is the point. As we’ve stated before, the modern criminal justice system in the U.S., and California in particular (where the CDCR is concerned especially), is the biggest conflict of interest in U.S. history: those entrusted with reducing the number of criminal offenders and protecting public safety have their potential profit margin directly attached to maximizing the number of offenders under their control at any given time. This is why the CCPOA fought so had to stop out of state transfers to comply with the medical receivers orders. The more prisoners under their control the larger their budget, the greater their salaries and benefits, and the more overtime hours they can bill to your tax dollars. Most vitally, however, is the more prisoners held, and for ever greater durations, the more assured they are of their long term job security; no matter the fragility of the economy in the current crisis. To be sure, an economic downturn to the rest of U.S. is an economic upturn for those in the prison industry. It means an inevitable increase in human commodities: prisoners. According to CDCR they spend an average of 78 thousand dollars to house us in these SHU cells each year – perhaps a little more due to the added isolation features in the Pelican Bay-SHU D-Short Corridor and Corcoran SHU 4BlL-C-section torture units. We assure you it does not cost 78K to feed us the 2 small trays and 1 sack lunch we receive each day, or to keep this light burning 24 hours, or to power our small 13” TVs. Besides being escorted to the K-9 dog cages for ‘yard’ 3 times a week in chains, and 5 minutes in the shower 3 times a week – we never leave these cells. So I assure you that money is not being spent on prisoners housed in these torture units – no – it’s spent on guards. It’s spent on their salaries, benefits, equipment, training, guns and bullets – not us. Of fiscal interest they (the I.G.I/I.S.U.) took $5,000 from the inmate welfare fund to erect a giant green wall. (Yes, the irony did not escape us.) To cut 4BIL off from the rest of the yard – this was prisoner money used to expand the isolation environmental of same. The guard working the SHU makes more money and with the overtime they can get, can in essence write their own checks on your buck and at expense of our minds, our bodies, and sometimes it feels – our very souls.
During the August 23rd legislative hearing the CDCR panel representative, Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan made some of the most baseless overly simplistic and outright false statements concerning prison existence related to SHU and so-called “gangs” that they must be debunked. He stated “gangs” were “responsible for ordering rapes…” in prison and are the “primary threat” for such heinous acts. This is not simply an outright lie, but in fact quite the opposite is true for the vast majority of men housed in these indeterminate SHU torture units. Taking liberties, or the forced sexual subjugation of anyone, especially another human under these conditions, is not simply prohibited by most SHU prisoners, but forcefully opposed. Mr. Kernan’s assertion that men housed here would even condone such sickness is a testament to the fear and dehumanization based rhetoric which has become the staple of prison industrialist propaganda over the past 20 years, and is an insult to our humanity. The N.C.T.T.-COR-SHU, collectively have over 100 years of experience living in the most dysfunctional and violent prisons in California and can state with definitive confidence that the vast majority of the “8000 assaults or stabbings the department has each year” has little to do with “gangs”, as Mr. Kernan said, and everything to do with overcrowded facilities, limited access to jobs, viable vocational training, and effective educational programs on yards throughout the system. Most of these altercations are the result of idleness related frustrations, limited space, and how CDCR administrators have structured these prisons historically; be it a dispute on the basketball or handball court, an unpaid gambling debt, a cross word said in frustration at overcrowded conditions taken as ‘disrespect’, or a race based rumor started by some guard – these things have little to do with “gangs”. Those instances where a “gang” member may be involved in a personal dispute (and according to CDCR, everyone in CDCR “runs with some gang”), the staff report it as “gang related” when the “gang” in fact had nothing to do with the initial incident. He went on to state millions of tax dollars were “wasted” each year, “and gangs would be identified as the primary problem”. Mr. Kernan has no factual basis for this statement and we can’t even conceive of the rubic by which he would venture this opinion when targeted educational and economic development programs in underclass communities and in prisons have been proven effective means by which to reduce both predatory and market based crime rates, and reduce recidivism amongst prisoners. Yet funding from such initiatives, due primarily to lobbying efforts of the C.C.P.O.A. and their political cabal, has been repeatedly diverted to prison custody budgets under the auspices of “public safety” – an oxymoronic application of the term if ever there was one. Mr. Kernan went on to state, it’s “only 3000” validated SHU prisoners in a population of 165,000, “that’s a very small number.” It’s this type of thinking that led to the use of C.I.A. black sites in Uzbekistan, Egypt, Pakistan, and yes Libya to imprison “under extraordinary interrogation conditions” terror suspects, and torture them for years – continuing still – in the U.S. war on terror. 3,000 torture victims in a population of 165,000 – is 3,000 too many. Mr. Kernan went on to state, “We won’t allow media to talk to individual inmates for fear of them sensationalizing their crimes, like Charles Manson or Scott Peterson”, a patently absurd notion he knew full well was untrue. No one here wants to “sensationalize” their criminal convictions or past lifestyles – in truth there is a significant segment of the indeterminate SHU population, such as the N.C.T.T. and those of like mind, who have dedicated their lives to not only atoning for the damage done to our communities as a result of our ignorance and lack of consciousness in the past, but for the damage putting forward meaningful programs and initiatives to improve the lives of the people in underclass communities as a whole. The only prisoners in the SHU Mr Kernan allowed the media to access, and the only ones such media outlets like the ‘Sacramento Bee’ seem to be interested in quoting, are debriefers, informants, and agents of the state. Mr. Kernan did not allow media access to the Pelican Bay D-Short Corridor collective or 4BIL-C-Section Collective because he did not want socio-politically conscious prisoners articulating the true basis and reasons for the hunger strike and the inescapable deteriorating psychological effects of SHU. This is simply another example of state-controlled media in a society that purports itself to be free and open. Yet another manifestation of CDCR’s successful gambit to monopolize the discussion. We found it ironic that Mr. Kernan attempted to dismiss and re-direct the blatant human rights violations which torture units represent, by stating “the violence the gangs perpetuate is the human rights violation”, when the vast majority of the “8000 assaults and stabbings” occurring in the modern CDCR are occurring on Sensitive Needs Yards (SNY) by the very debriefers and protective custody prisoners IGI has relied on, or broken, to manufacture uncorroborated and unsubstantiated “confidential information chronos” to put, and keep, other prisoners in indefinite SHU confinement. To be sure, the most violent “gang” in CDCR currently is “2.5” (1/2 of 5.0), the prison gang made up of debriefers and informants who directly work for I.G.I., I.S.U., and law-enforcement agencies. Mr. Kernan was adamant that “the courts have upheld the validation process and though harsh – the SHU is not torture.” That’s not exactly true either. That SHUs are torture units is uncontestable, yet California courts, most of the judges being elected with the backing of C.C.P.O.A. lobbying dollars, rarely uphold the Constitution where prisoners, and especially SHU prisoners, are seeking human rights protection. Yet, in the Koch v. Lewis case that the Supreme Court took addressed the indeterminate confinement in the equally harsh SMU-II Torture Unit in Florence, Arizona, the court found that Koch’s solitary confinement violated his right to due process under the 14th Amendment because there was no evidence that Koch had committed any overt act to warrant such torture. The claim that he was an Aryan Brotherhood member was insufficient. Substantive due process requires that evidence used must bear a logical relation to the specific deprivations. As Judge Moran stated, “the labeling of … Koch as a ‘gang member’ does not itself create legal concerns. Rather, it is the placement in SMU-II as a result of this alleged association that is constitutionally significant.” After hearing evidence of SMU-II conditions (identical to Cal-SHU conditions) and the psychological harm faced by prisoners, the court not only found a significant liberty deprivation but also that the very practice of sending prisoners to supermax torture units based on status alone – with no charges or evidence of misconduct – violated due process. The court concluded that there must be some evidence of misconduct, some overt gang related act, to justify placing Koch in SMU-II for an indefinite term. Yet as Mr. Kernan stated, virtually lifelong supermax detention for alleged “gang members” in U.S. domestic prisons continues to be judged constitutional here in California. It’s not that they, or he, does not know these torture units violate basic tenets of humaneness – they simply have an overriding interest in their maintenance: money and control. Your money, their control. This assertion by Mr. Kernan that this torture unit is not a torture unit is so outrageous and insulting it recalls Bush era admonitions that waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, and CIA blacksites abroad weren’t torture either. It is an absurdity, and a dangerous one. Mr. Kernan’s dogged assertion that gangs, and more centrally those of us housed in these SHU torture units, are the source of perpetual violence in CDCR ignores the inescapable reality of gross overcrowding, intentional underdevelopment and dependency, and the structural conditions they’ve created in California prisons which is the actual origin of prison violence. Until these structural fallacies are addressed violence in California prisons will continue no matter how many prisoners are consigned to this gaol, and he knows this. Mr. Kernan stated the process being discussed by “all state law enforcement, C.C.P.O.A., ( police) labor unions, (gang) experts, and the legislature itself” would allow prisoners “to earn a way out of the system by behavior and require the department to document when we feel not the case.” There’s 4 things wrong with this approach:
The determining body developing the policy (outside of legislators) consists exclusively of proponents of the prison industrial complex; thus whatever policy developed will reflect the same draconian, profit-driven, inhumanity that’s defined processes in these torture units thus far.
Most of us have not had any rules violations reports in decades. What do we need to “earn” through our “behavior” that’s not already been earned through years long records of proven disciplinary free behavior? Is it their suggestion that we must subject ourselves to the experimental behavior modification techniques developed in the Marion Federal supermax torture unit?
Indeterminate SHU confinement cannot be allowed to continually be based on what CDCR officials do or do not “feel is the case”. The primary issue here is the arbitrary nature of “gang” validations and subsequent indeterminate SHU confinement.
What Mr. Kernan is suggesting here is no different than the sham “6 year inactive review” that’s already in place.
Mr. Kernan stated the CDCR gang policy is “intended to protect inmates we are charged with, and staff”. Yet anyone who’s on this side of the cell door knows that’s a flat out lie. The CDCR gang policy is intended to inflate and maintain control of prison budgets, silence prisoner critics, preclude prisoner unity, and continue to scapegoat indeterminate SHU prisoners who’ve not had a single instance of documented misconduct in decades as a basis for extorting billions of taxpayer dollars through overexaggerating the “threat” posed by prisoners housed indefinitely in SHU. As we’ve stated previously, if prisoner, staff, and public safety were truly CDCR’s motive force they would have developed an environment and programs geared towards true rehabilitation, successful social reintegration and performance in society upon release. Such an environment runs contrary to their economic and political interests and unfortunately it also runs against a significant number of the peoples desire for vengeance against perceived offenders. Now then, a particularly disturbing lie Mr. Kernan relayed was that “all evidence used to validate is corroborated.” Simply put, that was a flat out lie. There is no independent corroboration of confidential informants’ statements or confidential information chronos known as “1030s”. Why he would utter a lie that is so easily debunked is truly beyond us. To give you an example of what I.G.I. deems “corroboration”, they have little boxes on the 1030 chrono listed “a)” through “f)” which states why they consider such a source – “reliable”. In 2008, a “1030” used to deny an indeterminate SHU prisoner release on “inactive” status, a debriefer who was briefly in this individual’s cell told I.G.I, the individual spoke of the merits of socialism, the history of political resistance to racism in America, and the validity of the socio-economic and political views of Frantz Fanon, Ho Chi Minh, and George Lester Jackson. The I.G.I. told the debriefer this was “B.G.F. education”, to which the debriefer quickly agreed, framed it in those terms, and parroted what his I.G.I. handler told him to. Now this same guy the debriefer was lying on wrote an article in California Prison Focus in 2003 critical of CDC, its use of validation on political + politicized prisoners and some leftist political ideas. They considered this “more than one source independently provide(ing) the same information”, and part of the information provided by the source has already proven to be true.” They of course gave him a “1030” for the article itself, 5 years old, at that same time for “providing” BGF education” in a California Prison Focus.” This expression of his political views and social criticism of CDCR’s practice of arbitrarily targeting and punishing left wing political ideologues in prison, in violation of the 1st Amendment and California Code of Regulations Title 15 §3004, was sufficient to earn him an indefinite continuation in SHU. Not only is political speech and expression supposed to be protected by the Constitution, but it boggles the mind how an article in a publication CDCR not only allows into institutions, but staff deliver to our cell doors, can possibly be corroboration of some impropriety that’s not a violation of law – and in no way corroborative of a coerced informants’ scripted lies. This is what passes for “corroboration” in Mr. Kernan’s CDCR. The fact is there is no corroboration and no way to verify it if there was – I.G.I. is the only ones who get to see the evidence used to consign us to these torture units. Mr. Kernan went on to state, “These offenders are in the SHU with mountains of documentation of illegal criminal activities both out on the streets and public and in prisons is vast…”, and it’s just these types of irresponsible, intentionally dishonest statements which have cowed courts and legislatures alike into turning a blind eye to wholesale psychological torture for decades in California prisons. The truth of the matter is most validated SHU prisoners haven’t had a single documented instance of misconduct of any kind – (RVR, DA referal) for a criminal act in decades. I assure you if such a “mountain of illegal activities” was documented, you’d have a corresponding, equally high mountain of rules violation reports, district attorney referrals and indictments. This is a lie specifically designed to put forward a non-existent justification for that which according to the “rule of law” is unjustifiable: indefinite psychological torture to coerce men into becoming informants, agent provocateurs, and advocates for the same heinous practice which broke their minds and subsumed their wills. To be sure, Mr. Kernan contradicted himself in his next breath by stating, in response to the statistical data showing that violence has only increased as Sensitive Needs Yards (inhabited exclusively by the debriefers, informants, and other protective custody designees Mr. Kernan is singing the praises of) have expanded, “the state’s gang problem has even increased, but separating those offenders we have in SHU has led to a decrease”. Upon hearing this absurdity, even the assemblyman had to call him on the contradiction as the hearing wore on and the objective evidence in front of the legislative oversight committee continued to contradict the lies and distortions Mr. Kernan was offering as authority he stated, “Let’s not lose focus on the real public safety threat perpetuated by gangs in our system.” It is this narrow and intentionally ill informed perspective on public safety that has produced an 800% increase in the California prison population, a dysfunctional correctional and rehabilitation system and led to the use and expansion of domestic human experimentation, torture units on the victims of a socio-economic arrangement that has forced them from the bottom rung of society to the bowels of Pelican Bay and Corcoran-SHUs. Mr. Kernan, and the rest of the prison industrialists can lay the blame for society’s ills at the feet of “gangs” all they like, and the vicious cycle will only continue ebbing towards the inexorable decline of Western civilization. Until such time as we all accept the fact that gangs are the inevitable outgrowth of educational and labor underdevelopment in underclass communities, and your political and economic leaders unwillingness or inability to address the gross disparities between the haves and have nots as the true origin of society’s ills, gang violence and systemic criminality will continue to be a part of the U.S. social fabric. CDCR can make some significant contributions to a new approach; but as the continued intransigence of the department shows – true public safety is a remote concern of those you’ve invested with that responsibility. The actual public safety threat lies in the underlying socio-economic relationship between poor communities and the prison industry, our society’s indifference to that conflict, and the apparent dogged pursuit of law enforcement and correctional policies which are both a dismal, inhumane failure and economically unsustainable. The definition of insanity is pursuing the same course of action – repeatedly – and expecting a different result. I’d like to address one final point Mr. Kernan raised as I believe it’s pertinent. He states “an offender that wants to rehab himself, he can’t, because of an inmate telling him to go stab someone or he will be killed…” This is both a misrepresentation of the truth and a dangerous exaggeration. There are numerous non-affiliates in the general population of CDCR and Mr. Kernan is well aware of it. Everyone in prison knows lumpen organizations or “gangs” in prisons don’t force membership onto non-affiliates because history has proven such prisoners always become informants, agents, or easily compelled to lie on those they formally ran with. But that’s not the core issue here, what is, is Mr. Kernan’s willingness to dispense such tripe as “facts” in hopes of somehow convincing the people that the perpetual torture of over 3000 human beings is somehow legitimate. This type of thinking and talk must be confronted and debunked. Indefinite solitary confinement of humans in California, across the U.S., and around the world must be opposed, resisted, and abolished.
In the wake of the atrocities of World War II, a document was drafted which stated “… the protagonists of the practice of human experimentation justify their views on the basis that such experiments yield results for the good of society that are unprocurable by other methods or means of study. All agree however that certain basic principles must be observed in order to satisfy moral, ethical, and legal concepts.” … that was an excerpt from the Nuremberg code. Have we as a society descended so far into the miasma of fear, hatred, and dehumanization that we would condone the state sponsored torture of thousands of humans from your own communities, in your name? We began this discussion with a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to illustrate the slippery slope we are on as a society, irregardless of class or colonial status. The one consistent theme running through the accounts of Holocaust, internment camp, and other mass torture survivors or fellow citizens is they got on the trains, or the trucks, or discounted the rumors of torture and atrocities because they simply didn’t believe it could be happening there (here) in a “civilized society”. History has proven in times of social, political, or economic duress that civilization is a very thin veneer and effective dehumanization always leads to inhumane acts. The 100s of thousands of New Afrikans (Blacks) that were butchered, dismembered, lynched, imprisoned, or beaten during chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights era by Americans were done that way because those doling out the abuse didn’t view them as “humans”. The U.S. Army was able to slaughter men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, Black Canyon, and Amirrilo Texas because they did not view Native Americans and Mexicans as “humans”. We are now comfortable turning a blind eye to government agencies and departments tossing human beings into indefinite solitary confinement on whatever basis they see fit – subjecting them to constant illumination, sensory deprivation, social isolation, political repression and much, much worse – because they are suspected “terrorists” or “gang members”. Because far too many don’t view “terrorists” or “gang members” as “humans”. When we swat a fly or step on a roach, we feel no moral outrage or empathy because these things are not human. The exact same psychological process is at play here and billions of dollars have been spent over decades to convince you that we are not humans, so turning a blind eye to our perpetual torture is no great Injustice … But we are humans. We are sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, friends, and townsmen to people and communities whom we love dearly and who love us. Injustice and inhumanity anywhere – Yes, even here in Pelican Bay and Corcoran SHU, is a threat to justice and humanity everywhere! The struggle is just beginning. Don’t stand with us and against torture units because we ask it of you – no – do so because it’s the right thing to do and you would be on the right side of history. Do so because if you don’t, someone you love or – God forbid you yourself – may well be next. Do so because you want a new, safer, and more humane world in which to raise our children, share our lives, and enrich one another. Let your voices be heard! Call your legislators, join the coalition, speak about this on your college campuses, at your schools, and in your homes. Galvanize your churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and community centers. Educate yourself about all the companies, contractors, corporations, and industries benefiting from the imprisonment of your fellow citizens and explore the many alternatives to youth and adult imprisonment. Contact Amnesty International, the Center for Human Rights, your local congressman and senators, and voice your opposition to that which must be opposed. We here of the N.C.T.T.-COR-SHU, and those strong and determined men here with us, are fully prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to bring an end to this man made perdition – to give our very lives, but even this we fear may not be enough. But what will tip the scales in favor of humanity and right is you. Despite all their money and power, there is one force even the prison industry must bow to: the power of the people. Your voice is stronger than all the money the prison industry lobby can bring to bear. It is our sincerest hope that humanity and right will prevail and you all will stand with us on the right side of history. Our love and solidarity to all those who love freedom, justice, and equality and fear only failure. In struggle – N.C.T.T.- COR-SHU
For more information on the Cal-SHU Hunger strike, the struggle to abolish torture units or the N.C.T.T.-COR-SHU contact:
Zaharibu Dorrough D-83611
CSP-COR-SHU 4BIL #63
Corcoran, CA 93212
Heshima Denham J-38283
CSP-COR-SHU 4BIL #46
Corcoran, CA 93212
Kambui Robinson C-82830
CSP-COR-SHU 4BIL #49
Corcoran, CA 93212