Transcript: Earl Fears’ testimony on the harmful impacts of solitary confinement practices at California’s Secure Housing Units (SHU) prison facilities
Transcript of the testimony delivered by Earl Fears, who served time in Corcoran State Prison’s Secure Housing Units (SHU), at the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee hearing on Aug. 23, 2011:
“My name is Earl Fears. I’d like to speak on behalf of people locked up in SHU programs and just the system in general of lock up.
“When I come in here today, I don’t speak for prisoners that’s usually addressed in front of a panel with suits and ties because that’s not what type of person I am.
“When I was in the system, I was in a system. I was being punished because of reasons that I did doing to society. I admit to being a small-time crack dealer. I admit to being an alcoholic. I admit to being a small-time burglar. And these things are real. I want to come in here today to speak on behalf of a person that wears a tee-shirt, sagging pants, and baseball cap because this needs to get out to people like yourselves and people on the panel.
“Deeds I did going to prison caused me to one time go to the SHU program for a short time. But when I was in the SHU program, I felt that this right here has got to be crazy man. I did 18 years in and out of prison but the SHU program is the bottom of the pit.
“What I witnessed in this short time, I felt that when you cry – a man cry, a gangster cry, a killer cry, an ex-con cry – it has to be a reason. I feel that these people who started the hunger strike, they had to be wanting to get out – to get their voice to get somebody to hear it. Because in order for a person to be willing to lay down and die just for somebody to hear the situation that go on in a SHU program, they had to be serious.
“You know, just small things in the SHU program causes people to want to yell, beat against the walls, or whatever. I’m saying that you’ve got some kind of program that’s running the SHU program where you discipline people. But I don’t think that a person that’s in the SHU program should be punished by little things that are to aggravate a person that’s locked down just because they have the power to aggravate a person that is already in a state of mind that’s going through a mental process. Small things like maybe let’s not deliver them their toilet paper today because I don’t feel like passing them out. Let’s not escort them to the showers today because I don’t feel like running shower day today. When I want to go outside to see the outside, which is straight up, because there’s nothing else around me, and I want to breathe natural air and somebody has the right to say let’s not have unlock today and take him to the yard. This is the type of things that I’m talking about that causes mental stress in a SHU program.
“If I’m on a yard or open program inside a prison, I can talk to people, I may get to a phone. But you know, to get a phone or a letter that was given to me today and I don’t receive it for two weeks or three weeks, I think that’s cruelty. If somebody that was working that shift that day pass by a person and says something as small as like “Your mother died today.” And you holler out your little tray slot and say, “Man, what are you talking about? My momma died today?” “Well, I don’t know what happened. You’ll have to look into it.” That’s not right. You know what I’m saying? The courtesy of a death or somebody in a serious situation like that, I think a person that’s being paid or running a guard or running that shift should have the courtesy to stop and say, “Mr. Fears or Mr. Washington or Mr. Blue, you have a member in your family death today.”
“I want to talk about the situations where people are released from different parts or the lockdown to put on the yard at the same time when fights can occur or whatever and people sit back and smile and laugh on who won that day.
“I want to also speak to that from my understanding there’s no prejudice in the SHU program because black, white, brown, whatever are all treated the same.
“I’m saying that I understand I’m in a SHU program because I did something wrong or I was accused of something that I didn’t do but I’m in a SHU program and I’m being punished. I am human. By being human, I do have certain rights to get a shower, receive something to clean my physical parts.
“And then, I do have emotions. Emotions such as a grown man crying because you can’t get in contact with your mother or your child or somebody of the sort. And what hurts really in the heart, when you have nobody to complain to, because talking to a wall you don’t get a response.
“But sometimes there’s a feeling that we’re in a program that’s run by like a SHU program or disciplinary academy or something like that, you know you want to tell somebody, you want to ask somebody for information, “How do I go about it?” I really don’t read. I really don’t write. I really don’t know how to go and talk to somebody that’s superior to me about I’m having this problem, that some of the cries that you hear from the cry of a person in the SHU program.
“I feel that if I’m in the SHU program for a year or more or just a month’s time, I feel that why if I’m put in this place and I’m locked in this confinement, at times I start to have mental problems. I start to have dreams. I have thoughts about will I ever hear from my wife again? Will I ever hear from my mother again? Will anybody coming here today and teach me how to pray, teach me how to just deal outside this wall? Because there is a world that goes on on the outside of this wall.
“And now I am confined and by being confined as such like in a SHU program, you shut off to all society. I can’t get no phone call, I can’t call my lawyer to say something is being wrong here because in the hole, you don’t have a phone call to call a lawyer. You don’t have a phone call to call your mother, to call your bother, to call your son, to call your child. You don’t have that right when you’re in the SHU program.
“I know you’d say it’s rules and regulations, and it’s not everyday prisoners that are sent to the SHU program, but they still are human. And somebody needs to look into it. I know that you have things that you have to do each and everyday. It might seem to you that an important thing like having toilet paper doesn’t mean nothing. But you try not having any for yourself for a day. Being to talk to a mental person that is of profession, you don’t have that right once a month or whatever.
“Once I’m an insulin-dependent, I take shots. It works better for you when you take your insulins on a routine daily. Like at 4:30, get it at 4:30. That’s what my doctor said. At 6:30, take it at 6:30. That’s what my doctor said. But if the person who’s passing out the insulin that day doesn’t seem to feel that’s important to get to me on time, that can give a reaction that could cause me to go into a coma, a diabetic coma or cause me to go into a diabetic reaction. The timing is important.
“It’s things that a lot of people in here today – See, I wanted to come in here and if I had come in here in my wait I was talking to a doctor or a lawyer or someone on the streets, I might have used a little profanity. I might have said something disrespectful. But now, I’m in here representing thousands of people that are incarceration and in things like that, that they just wanted to get the word out here. I didn’t know how to come out here because I know how to go out to the streets and be a criminal. I know how to go out to the streets and try to become a better person by going to school or something like that. I know that. But I don’t know who to get from inside the walls of a person in confinement and ask “How do I go about this? How do I learn about this?” How do I get the knowledge out here to pass to the next family or to a ex-member of a person that’s in a SHU program…”
- California Assembly Public Safety Committee: California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation Secure Housing Unit hearing from 8/23/11 (1 of 2)
- California Assembly Public Safety Committee: California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation Secure Housing Unit hearing from 8/23/11 (2 of 2)
- Southern California Public Radio: At hearing, prison officials say Pelican Bay isolation policies will change
- California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation’s website
- California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation: Pelican Bay State Prison
- California Prison Focus (CPF) website