On the Mass Political Movement Inside US Prisons

Pelican Bay Hunger Strike: Four years and still fighting

July 14, 2015, SF Bayview Newspaper

by Claude Marks and Isaac Ontiveros

Four years ago prisoners in California – led by those in the control units of Pelican Bay – organized a hunger strike to demand an end to the torturous conditions of solitary confinement. Two more strikes would follow, with over 30,000 prisoners taking united action in the summer of 2013 – both in isolation and in general population in nearly every California prison.

“Will You Stand Up and Let Your Voice Be Heard July 8th 2013?” – Art: Michael D. Russell

The strikes reflected significant shifts in political consciousness among prisoners and their loved ones. The violence of imprisonment was further exposed by demands and heightened organization from within the cages. Prisoner-led collective actions as well as growing public support dramatically have changed the political landscape.

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G. N. Saibaba: The Biggest “little man” in the Country Today

Sanhati, April 8, 2015

saibaba

[Sanhati’s Editorial Note: In view of G. N. Saibaba’s continued incarceration, we are reprinting this article which was written by P K Vijayan in June 2014 and originally appeared in the Economic and Political Weekly.]

I want to tell you a story, of a little man, if I can; his name was – well, his name – we will come to it shortly. This little man was born into a wretchedly poor peasant family that lived on the outskirts of a little known village, with the out-castes and untouchables. This little man’s father had chosen to live with the marginal and the excluded, as a mark of solidarity with them – and this was motivated simply by an instinctive sense of justice, since the little man’s father was not even literate, let alone politically educated.

So the little man grew up amongst the sweepers and the scavengers, with hunger and deprivation as bosom companions to him and his siblings. Then, when he was barely five years old, he was afflicted with polio in both his legs, as a result of which he almost died from lack of medical facilities. But the little man’s father managed to stave off his death, by running from pillar to post, from every doctor to every dispensary that held out hope, till the fast-spreading disease was finally checked; nevertheless, the little man lost the use of both his legs completely from the disease.

This did not deter the little man or his father. He was enrolled in a mission school, where he learned to read and write and consumed everything he read with rapacious delight. Reading by the light of street lamps, dragging himself on his elbows and hands on the dirt roads of his village, from home to school, eating one meal in two days sometimes, the little man delighted in the world of books, and forgot about his own deprived and depraved one, for the hours that he was lost in them. The father meanwhile, took the little man wherever he could, showing him as much of the world as he could from the handlebars of his bicycle, obdurately refusing to accept that his son’s condition would limit his mobility. The little man thus grew up with a deep wanderlust and an indomitable will to overcome the limitations of his condition.

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Why solitary confinement is a form of modern-day torture

by Molly Crabapple

Commentary from fusion.net:

As of 2013, there were 80,000 men and women in solitary confinement in the United States, some of them as young as 14 years old. In this illustrated op-ed video, artist Molly Crabapple explains the psychological and physical trauma suffered by those forced to spend 22-24 hours a day alone — sometimes for arbitrary reasons, like reading the wrong book, or having the wrong tattoo — in a grey, concrete box. (According to the U.N. 15 days in solitary is torture.) “There is no limit to how long someone can be held in solitary confinement,” says Crabappple. “And very little evidence is needed to justify holding a person in solitary indefinitely.”

“Black Panther Political Prisoner Herman Wallace’s Conviction Overturned: Immediate Release Ordered”

Breaking News!  —  Tuesday, October 1, 2013

http://angola3news.blogspot.com/2013/10/herman-wallaces-conviction-overturned.html


Read today’s court ruling here.
Miraculous news this morning! Judge Jackson has overturned Herman’s conviction, granting him full habeas relief based on the systematic exclusion of women from the jury in violation of the 14th Amendment.

Even more astonishingly, the Judge clearly orders that “the State immediately release Mr. Wallace from custody.”  No application for bail is required, and the State is given 30 days to notify Herman if they plan to re-indict him. Continue reading

As Bradley Manning faces sentencing for exposing war crimes…..

Statement by Julian Assange on behalf of WikiLeaks:

Today Bradley Manning reportedly made a statement of remorse in a sentencing hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland. Manning’s statement comes towards the end of a court martial trial pursued with unprecedented prosecutorial zeal.

Since his arrest, Mr. Manning has been an emblem of courage and endurance in the face of adversity. He has resisted extraordinary pressure. He has been held in solitary confinement, stripped naked and subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment by the United States government. His constitutional right to a speedy trial has been ignored. He has sat for three years in pretrial detention, while the government assembled 141 witnesses and withheld thousands of documents from his lawyers.

The government has denied him the right to conduct a basic whistleblower defense. It overcharged him until he faced over a century in prison and barred all but a handful of his witnesses. He was denied the right at trial to argue that no harm was caused by his alleged actions. His defence team was pre-emptively banned from describing his intent or showing that his actions harmed no one.

Despite these obstacles, Mr. Manning and his defense team have fought at every step. Last month, he was eventually convicted of charges carrying up to 90 years of prison time. The US government admitted that his actions did not physically harm a single person, and he was acquitted of “aiding the enemy.” His convictions solely relate to his alleged decision to inform the public of war crimes and systematic injustice. Continue reading

As California Prisoner Hunger Strike Reaches Critical Moment, Families and Advocates Return to Capitol, Demand Action from State Government

August 14, 2013

Press Contact: Azadeh Zohrabi, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, Ph:  310-612-9706

the mock "SHU" solitary confinement cell at the State Capitol

The mock “SHU” solitary confinement cell at the State Capitol

Oakland—All eyes are on California, as prisoners across the state’s vast prison system hit their 38th day of hunger strike in protest of the torturous conditions of solitary confinement.  Prisoners’ loved ones and supporters joined 100 people on the steps of the state capitol Wednesday afternoon to demand swift and resolute action from California decision makers.  Activists also set up a life-sized replica of a Security Housing Unit (SHU) cell, encouraging the governor, legislators, and members of the public to experience for just a few minutes what thousands of California prisons live through, many for decades.

Irene Huerta’s husband has been in solitary for 28 years and is currently on hunger strike.  Huerta is part of a mediation team that is trying to keep channels of communication open between strikers and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), with hopes of reaching an end to the strike.  “It is important for us to be here today.  It is day 38 and our loved ones could die soon if no one steps up to do anything,” says Huerta.  She joins many others in condemning the CDCR’s continued attacks on strikers, along with Governor Brown’s total silence on the entire issue.  “For Brown to say nothing at all, at such a critical moment, that is a slap in the face.  To say anything at all, even to speak against the strike, that’s one thing.  But to remain silent when people’s lives are on the line and their families are worried sick? There is nothing worse.” Continue reading

The Five Most Important Demands from the California Prison Hunger Strike

Thousands-strong strike is the latest chapter in the state’s unfolding prison crisis

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-five-most-important-demands-from-the-california-prison-hunger-strike-20130716

July 16, 2013

For more than a week, the California prison system has been gripped by the largest hunger strike in its history. Today, campaigners say that some 12,000 inmates continue to refuse food in roughly two-thirds of the state’s 32 facilities. That’s down from the 30,000 who kicked off the strike, but still more than twice the number who participated in a similar action two years earlier.

The strike – which began with a group of men held in isolation in Pelican Bay State Prison before spreading across the state – was principally motivated by California’s aggressive use of solitary confinement. In many cases, the strikers’ demands are simple: one photo a year, one phone call per week, permission to use wall calendars.

“The prisoners are not on a suicide mission,” says Roger White, campaign director of a Bay Area coalition called Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity. “If they didn’t have hope that things could change and that CDCR [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] could actually implement the demands, they wouldn’t be striking.”

In 2011, a United Nations torture rapporteur called for an absolute and international ban on indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, arguing that just a few a days locked up alone in a cell has been shown to produce lifelong mental health problems. In California, hundreds of Pelican Bay prisoners have spent a decade or more in solitary confinement – some for as many as 20 or 30 years. Continue reading

Solidarity Network: “ALL OUT FOR CALIFORNIA PRISONER HUNGER STRIKE 2013”

California prisoners started a hunger strike and work actions today for basic human rights.
Support their demands – join us for a demonstration at Corcoran Saturday – July 13th!
Check out this new video!

Edited by Lucas Guilkey & Nicole Deane
Music: Fatgums ‘Kill the Vultures” & The Coup ‘My Favorite Mutiny’
 Published on Jul 8, 2013

JULY 13TH RALLY AT CORCORAN

SIGN THE PLEDGE OF RESISTANCE and become part of the EMERGENCY RESPONSE NETWORK

SIGN THE PETITION TO GOVERNOR BROWN

MORE INFORMATION: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com

In 2011, over 12,000 prisoners and their family and community members participated in statewide hunger strikes protesting the inhumane conditions in California’s Security Housing Units (SHU or solitary confinement). California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation promised meaningful reform as a result of those protests, but nothing meaningful has reached the people living in these cages. Prisoners have announced another hunger strike will begin July 8th because of CDCR’s failure to fulfill that promise. Continue reading

California prison officials say 30,000 inmates refuse meals

By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2013

California officials Monday said 30,000 inmates refused meals at the start of what could be the largest prison protest in state history.

Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.

The corrections department will not acknowledge a hunger strike until inmates have missed nine consecutive meals. Even so, Thornton said, Monday’s numbers are far larger than those California saw two years earlier during a series of hunger strikes that drew international attention.

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US Prisons: Solitary Confinement Threatens Millions, and Tortures Thousands, in Prisons today

GAO Report Questions Widespread Use of Solitary Confinement in Federal Prisons

adx-florence-4The U.S. Bureau of Prisons currently holds more than 12,400 individuals in 23-hour-a-day lockdown, making it the largest practitioner of solitary and other forms of isolated confinement in the nation, and most likely the world. Yet the BOP does not know whether its use of “segregated housing” has any impact on prison safety, how it affects the prisoners who endure it, or how much it all costs American taxpayers. This according to a comprehensive report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO documents a dramatic rise in the use of isolated confinement, continuing over the past five years. Yet “BOP has not assessed the impact of segregated housing on institutional safety or the impacts of long-term segregation on inmates.” The report also questions recent steps taken by the BOP, ostensibly to address its use of isolated confinement. ”In January 2013,” the report summary states, “BOP authorized a study of segregated housing; however, it is unclear to what extent the study will assess the extent to which segregated housing units contribute to institutional safety.” The report summary continues: ”As of January 2013, BOP is considering conducting mental health case reviews for inmates held in SHUs or ADX for more than 12 continuous months. However, without an assessment of the impact of segregation on institutional safety or study of the long-term impact of segregated housing on inmates, BOP cannot determine the extent to which segregated housing achieves its stated purpose to protect inmates, staff and the general public.”

According to the cover letter released with the report, the study of the BOP’s use of segregated housing was done at the request of three members of Congress: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who last year convened a Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on solitary confinement in which he sharply questioned BOP director Charles Samuels; Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; and Bobby Scott (D-VA), ranking member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations. The letter states:

There is little publicly available information on BOP’s use of segregated housing units. Given the potential high costs, lack of research on their effectiveness, and possible long-term detrimental effects on inmates, you requested that we review BOP’s segregated housing unit practices, including BOP’s standards, reasons for segregating inmates, and costs.

The report is indeed a mine of information on a subject that has been largely hidden from the public by the BOP, which bars press visits to its solitary confinement facilities and which collects, aggregates, and publishes little data on its use of prison isolation.

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US Political Prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz: Resisting the “Spiritual Death” of Solitary Confinement

maroonbookcover1“Control unit facilities cannot be allowed to exist,” writes Russell Maroon Shoatz in a piece called “Death by Regulation.”They serve no purpose other than to dehumanize their occupants. Our collective welfare demands that we do everything within our power to bring about an end to this form of imprisonment and torture.”

Shoatz, a former Black Panther who will turn 70 years old in August, has been held in solitary confinement in Pennsylvania prisons since 1983. His only time in the general prison population in the last 30 years was an 18-month stint spent at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth that ended in 1991.

Maroon has had only one misconduct since 1989. His most recent violation was in 1999, when he covered a vent in his cell that was blowing cold air in an attempt to stay warm.

From 1995 until the end of last month, Maroon had been held at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Greene in southwestern Pennsylvania. Without warning Maroon was transferred on Thursday, March 28 to SCI Mahanoy in the eastern part of Pennsylvania.

A growing grassroots national movement had been mobilizing to win his release into the general population. This transfer appeared to be a response by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to the gathering legal and political pressure. Continue reading

The Louder My Voice the Deeper They Bury Me

Herman Wallace

Herman Wallace

Voices from Solitary: The Louder My Voice the Deeper They Bury Me

by Herman Wallace, who has been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s prison system for almost 41 years, mostly in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola.

A Defined Voice

They removed my whisper from general population
To maximum security I gained a voice
They removed my voice from maximum security
To administrative segregation
My voice gave hope
They removed my voice from administrative segregation
To solitary confinement
My voice became vibration for unity
They removed my voice from solitary confinement
To the Supermax of Camp J
And now they wish to destroy me
The louder my voice the deeper they bury me
I SAID, THE LOUDER MY VOICE THE DEEPER THEY BURY ME!
Free all political prisoners, prisoners of war, prisoner of consciousness.

Click here to listen to Herman Wallace read his poem.

for more about Herman Wallace: http://www.whoishermanwallace.com/

Source:  http://solitarywatch.com/2013/04/11/the-louder-my-voice-the-deeper-they-bury-me/

Strategizing To Defeat Control Unit Prisons And Solitary Confinement

By Angola 3 News, 15 February, 2013

Out of Control:  A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons, by Nancy Kurshan

Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons, by Nancy Kurshan

–An interview with author/activist Nancy Kurshan

Author and longtime activist Nancy Kurshan’s new book, entitled Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons , has just been released by the Freedom Archives . Kurshan’s book documents the work of The Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML), which she co-founded in 1985 as a response to the lockdown at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois. It quickly turned into a broader campaign against control unit prisons and human rights violations in US prisons that lasted fifteen years, until 2000. The following excerpt from Out of Control details CEML’s origins:

I had been living in Chicago for about a year when I heard the news that two guards had been killed by two prisoners in the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, 350 miles south of Chicago. Although it was an isolated incident with no associated riot conditions, the prison was immediately placed on lockdown status, and the authorities seized on the opportunity to violently repress the entire prison population. For two years, from 1983 to 1985, all of the 350 men imprisoned there were subjected to brutal, dehumanizing conditions. All work programs were shut down, as were educational activities and religious services.

During the initial stage of this lockdown, 60 guards equipped with riot gear, much of it shipped in from other prisons, systematically beat approximately 100 handcuffed and defenseless prisoners. Guards also subjected some prisoners to forced finger probes of the rectum. Random beatings and rectal probes continued through the two-year lockdown. Despite clear evidence of physical and psychological brutality at the hands of the guards, Congress and the courts refused to intervene to stop the lockdown…

…Although the terrible conditions at the prison were striking, what drew us to Marion in particular was the history of struggle of the prisoners and their allies on the outside. When the infamous Alcatraz was closed in 1962, Marion Federal Penitentiary was opened and became the new Alcatraz, the end of the line for the “worst of the worst.”

In 1972 there was a prisoner’s peaceful work stoppage at Marion led by Puerto Rican Nationalist Rafael Cancel Miranda. In response to this peaceful work stoppage, the authorities placed a section of the prison under lockdown, thus creating the first “control unit,” essentially a prison within a prison, amplifying the use of isolation as a form of control, previously used only for a selected prisoner. That was 1972.

At this time, in 1985, after two years of lockdown, they converted the whole prison into a control unit. Importantly, because Marion in 1985 was “the end of the line,” the only “Level 6” federal prison, there were disproportionate numbers of political prisoners—those who were incarcerated for their political beliefs and actions. These included people such as Native American Leonard Peltier who had spent years there until recently, and now (in 1985) Black Panthers Sundiata Acoli and Sekou Odinga , Puerto Rican independentista Oscar López Rivera , and white revolutionary Bill Dunne . These were people we knew or identified with, activists of the 1960s and 1970s incarcerated for their political activities. Marion, like its predecessor Alcatraz and its successor ADX Florence, was clearly a destination point for political prisoners. Continue reading

Unlock The Box: The Fight Against Solitary Confinement in New York

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, The Nation, October 2, 2012

On the first chilly morning in September, several dozen demonstrators gathered in front of a limestone skyscraper on Chambers Street in Lower Manhattan. Some wore orange jumpsuits, and two of them held a broad banner with the hand-painted words, “Solitary Is Torture.”

The subject of the protest was the abuse of prisoners—not at Guantánamo, Bagram or some distant black site, but on Rikers Island, less than ten miles away. The protesters, members of a new advocacy group called the New York City Jails Action Coalition (JAC), argue that conditions there—particularly solitary confinement—constitute torture in their own backyard. The target of the protest was the New York City Board of Correction, which oversees conditions for the 13,000-odd men, women, and children who inhabit New York City’s jails on a given day, and whose monthly meeting was taking place inside.

According to the City’s own figures, the number of isolation cells at Rikers has risen to nearly 1,000 and is still growing. The JAC also points to the existence of special solitary confinement units on Rikers Island, designed to hold teenagers and people with mental illness.

“This type of treatment is cruel and inhumane to any human being, especially growing adolescents,” said Lisa Ortega, mother of a 18-year-old with psychiatric disabilities who was placed in twenty-three-hour-a-day solitary confinement on Rikers for weeks at a time, amounting to several months, when he was 16. “The damage done is irreversible.”

Until recently, it seemed like New York’s penchant for solitary confinement might be irreversible too. But a growing number of activists are working to combat the overuse of solitary in both the city’s jails and the state’s prisons. (New York City and New York State isolate their prisoners at the rate of about 10 percent and 8 percent, respectively—both rates more than double the national average.) In addition to JAC, which focuses on city jails, an informal coalition of prisoners’ rights groups and civil liberties organizations has formed to fight for change at the state level. Critical to both efforts are that they involve directly affected individuals—survivors of solitary and their families. And both draw on the work of an older organization, Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement, which has led a ten-year campaign to limit the use of solitary confinement on people with mental illness. Continue reading