Transcript: Dorsey Nunn on the class action lawsuit against prolonged solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay prison

Remarks by Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of the Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, on the Ruiz v. Brown class action lawsuit challenging California’s use of prolonged solitary confinement in state prisons 

(Telephone press briefing held on May 31, 2012) 

“My name is Dorsey Nunn. I’m the Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and I’m also a formerly incarcerated person.

“What draws me to this suit was the hunger strike. When they went on hunger strike, I was contacted and asked to be a mediator between the California Department of Corrections and the guys on the hunger strike.

Read more: Lawsuit challenges California’s prolonged solitary confinement policy

“So I made a trip to Pelican Bay to visit people that weren’t strangers. They were people I knew from a long time ago and that’s when I started discovering people that have been locked up since 1987.

“And they told me of the horrendous conditions that was there – the lack of exercise, the lack of sunshine, the inability to be touched by anybody other than being suspicious.

“I had been on a number of visits over the course of the last 40 years but I found myself crying on the way back from Pelican Bay. I was crying not only just for the people who were at Pelican Bay, I was crying for the rest of society where our torture was invisible to them.

“When I thought about engaging in this particular lawsuit – I had the attorney on my staff engage in this lawsuit – what I was thinking about was that I have a right as a citizen of the United States to ensure that people are not tortured.

“I also thought about my friend P.J. who has been in the hole since 1987. I couldn’t imagine how come people couldn’t see that they were crossing certain lines.

“So it may not have been torture for the first 15 days. It may not have been torture for several months. It may have not been torture even for a few years. But when you start talking about 30 or 40 years in solitary confinement with no real means of getting out and no real process of getting out, it has to be torture.

“I thought about our introduction to this question of what happened to people in Pelican Bay in regards to the conditions of confinement.

“Our involvement in this case initially started out with us asking how many people were able to maintain contact with their families under these conditions. We found out that – surveyed the population in the short quarter and surveyed the population at Pelican Bay – that very few were able to do that.

“So my name is Dorsey. I’m a formerly incarcerated person. And when I went to Pelican Bay, it moved me from the point of thinking that people could possibly being tortured in interviewing old-time friends recognize that they were being tortured.”

 

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