Transcript: Public comments on California’s solitary confinement policies at the Committee on Public Safety hearing on Feb. 25, 2013

Partial transcript of public comments on prolonged solitary confinement in California’s state prisons at the Assembly Committee on Public Safety hearing on Feb. 25, 2013:

Public Comment #1:
…My partner has been in Pelican Bay for 18 years. In his words, “Critics say that prisoners in solitary are animals and beyond rehabilitation so the public doesn’t dare question how we are treated. We made some bad decisions and are paying for it now, but we’re human beings first. When a person makes mistakes in life, it doesn’t mean he’s…a disgrace to society.” California penal code Section 5917 makes it a crime to maliciously and intentionally maim, torture, wound, torment, deprive of necessary food or shelter, subject to needless suffering, inflict unnecessary cruelty or abuse, or fail to provide adequate exercise area for animals confined in enclosed area. The National Academy of Sciences allows significantly more square footage in housing a head of cow than prisoners in solitary confinement. Prisons are taxpayer-funded institution. They do have their place but we ask that you pay very careful attention to the languaging [sic] in the new SDP [step-down program]. It’s very imprecise. It can be interpreted very arbitrarily. And we ask that you very deeply consider the end to SHU confinement.

Public Comment #2:
[Letter read by wife of a Pelican Bay SHU inmate]
…I’d like to read this to you: “I went to classification the other day and asked them where I stood in terms of the step-down program. Has my file been reviewed? What step according to which of my file am I likely to end up in? They told me my file had not yet been reviewed and to justify the delay that they were reviewing the files of those who have been in the SHU the longest. When I told them that I had been in the SHU since 1987, for 26 years, they got all quiet, glanced down to my file for a second, and they quickly looked up and said, ‘Well, we should be getting to you soon.'” The step-down program is just like the previous 6-year inactive…are exactly the same. The use of innocuous material with no documentation or connection to gang activity. They’ve used an Easter card that he wrote to his niece and on an Easter egg had a trimming of detailed decoration on the Easter egg and they said that that was connected to Aztec – something that was a gang activity…Also, there’s no outside review. That’s the second thing. They’re going to continue to do this and find these things, and they’re going never going to meet the criteria to progress to the next step.

Public Comment #3:
About a year ago, I found myself standing next to you at a stop light. We exchanged a couple of words, and we walked across the street. That neither made me your friend nor a politician. But yet, my son is considered an associate with people that he didn’t even talk to. So the major concern that we have is that being an associate – the associates are concerned about family members being categorized in one of these STG groups…penalizing them and us as families further by not allowing us to have our visits, not allowing my son to see his son. You know, those are very strong concerns for us.

Public Comment #4:
My name is Dolores Canales and I have a son that’s being held in Pelican Bay solitary confinement. In 2010, Aug. 26, 2010…was cited for being in violation of federal law because the National Institute of Health and federal law prohibit research chimpanzees to be held in solitary confinement, citing that solitary confinement is seen as detrimental to their mental and physical health for a chimpanzee. And how much more of a social being is my son in comparison to a chimpanzee? I would just like to close with I myself have been labeled as the “worst of the worst” by CDC. I myself have been labeled as a “program failure.” I myself have spent 20 years within the system that thank God I was not held in Pelican Bay SHU or I would still be there. Instead, I’ve been out here for 11 years – very productive member of society.

Public Comment #5:
[Read out of letter submitted by a Pelican Bay SHU inmate]
“I’ve been incarcerated for 27 years. I’ve been at Pelican Bay for 23 years and 20 of those years in solitary confinement here at Pelican Bay. We are kept in solitary confinement for things that have nothing to do with gang activities, such as drawings, photocopies of art works, saying hi to someone, lending a book or magazine to someone. These are things that the majority of us are being kept in solitary confinement. And due to these long years of sitting in a windowless cell about the size of a restroom for 23 hours a day has resulted in many physical and mental health issues, such as lack of sun, no human contact, eye problems, skin disorders, allergies, breathing problems, high blood pressure, heart problems, and mental issues, which are brought on or made worse due to being kept in solitary confinement for decades. Being kept in solitary confinement is affecting our chance at freedom. Many of us are serving life with the possibility of parole, which means we can go up in front of a board to get a date and be released from prison. But since we are here in the SHU, the board uses that reason to deny us a date, and now under the new law, a denial could cost us 5 to 10 or 15 years.”

Assemblymembers, us as Eddie’s family are also affected by our loved ones being kept in the SHU. The stress and worry has caused collateral damage to me and my family and especially to my mother-in-law.

Public Comment #6:
…The fact that we’re even here after a year talking about this stuff again is outrageous and should not allow the continued [sic]. If this happened in another country, it would be all over the news as it should be. Look, I don’t want to come back here in 6 more months or 30 years talking about the deplorable conditions where our people are being treated inhumanely. There’s a solution to this. Revolution – nothing less…

Public Comment #7:
I’m here on behalf of my brother who’s in Corcoran SHU. Two comments I heard earlier – my brother was validated for two things. One for participating in the hunger strike, and another for being on the list of somebody’s list…And also he mentioned to me too that he does not want to participate in the step-down program because they want him to admit he’s a member of a gang that he’s not even part of.

Public Comment #8:
Good afternoon. I have a son who’s in Pelican Bay SHU. I just want to say that we’ve got to have checks and balances…Any agency that’s responsible for policing themselves will never be fair but only act as a dictatorship. In court, you must have evidence to bring up charges; in the prison system, it’s whatever they say goes…How come they are not compliant with the agreement? It’s because they’re allowed to get away with it. I care about all human rights, and I’m not selective in choosing one. We cannot say we care about human rights and stand by and watch the atrocities committed by the CDC. Thank you.

Public Comment #9:
Hi, my name is Brandy and my brother is serving an indeterminate SHU…Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: “Prison walls don’t form barriers separating inmates from the protections of the Constitution.” Currently, we spend over $43,000 per year housing prisoner. None of those expense is for rehabilitation. Instead, we are spending this money creating a situation which fosters the deterioration of the minds and mental states of humans – people you plan to one day release back into society. The current system is unjust, unconscionable, and unacceptable, and must be fixed now.

Public Comment #10:
The hugest threat to the CDCR is not a validated gang member or associate but an educated person. Many of these men are in the SHU because they want to self-rehabilitate…I give immense respect to anyone who can surprise just one day in the SHU.

[Readout of statement from SHU prisoner]
“I’m currently being held in an administrative housing unit. I’ve been held in ASU for over 4 years, pending transfer to Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit due to my alleged association with a prison gang. I’m reaching out to you…being in prison is hard enough but solitary confinement is simply cruelty. Everyday spent in isolation is a slow torturous day that chips at your humanity and crushes your soul. So far, my worst experience in ASU has been watching how these people – how this place can break a person’s will to live and cause them to take their own life.”

Public Comment #11:
[Readout of statement from SHU prisoner]
“I’d like to say that CDCR has decided to play by its own rules for the way they handle new Africans, Latinos, Mexicans, and poor whites who may feel they are a threat or have influence on others by teaching history, culture, prison reform, and assisting each other in legal cases. They call us…gang members, and they assert the literature that we read and study promote violence. How so?…Being educated is the only way we’ll get liberated. We will rehabilitate ourselves, not the system. We’re trapped behind enemy lines in Secure Housing Units and AdSeg for learning and becoming knowledgeable men. We study economics, politics, psychology, sociology, history, and the ways of the unjust system that tries to keep us buried alive in these concrete tombs – some for 20, 30, and 40 years. We chose to sacrifice ourselves by way of a peaceful hunger strike twice in 2011 to bring attention to our oppressors; we have certain demands that we’d like met. And mind you, there are things that we already have coming but they took away…”

Public Comment #12:
My name is Marilyn McMahon. I’m an attorney and executive director of California Prison Focus. I’d like to just summarize a point in our letter from a Pelican Bay SHU prisoner to me. He finds it funny that the rationale CDCR gives for their validation program is that STGs in California are, according to CDCR, “the most violent and sophisticated” and that they’re responsible for “trafficking narcotics, committing and/or threatening violence against staff and offenders within the institutions.” Yet, you compare that with the source criteria that can get someone into the SHU – tattoos, art with cultural symbolism, reading the wrong books – what does that have to do with the rationale?

Public Comment #13:
[Readout of statement from an inmate in solitary confinement for 32 years]
“I believe that it’s imperative for us as prisoners who have endured the blunt forces of this deprivation to articulate its torturous impositions of our very humanity with the intent to dull our natural senses of touch, smell, taste, and seeing and hearing while simultaneously attempting to suffocate our human spirit, facilitating our unnatural deaths within the catacomb of this concrete construct serving as our burial as they introduce their step-down pilot programs, which is the equivalent of scripting the obituaries to deny our humanity.”

Public Comment #15:
…Even animals deserve not to be isolated.

Public Comment #16:
My name is Linda Evans. I work with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and All of Us or None. I am formerly incarcerated and have done many months myself in solitary confinement, although not under the most brutal conditions that I find here. I have a statement that I will send to you because we don’t have time for it to be read…We appreciate this hearing but we feel very strongly that we must do something and that there must be an external review of all of the prisoners that are in the SHU – something independent so that the internal racism and the internal regulations inside CDCR will not be used to prolong the torture of these people.

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14 Comments on “Transcript: Public comments on California’s solitary confinement policies at the Committee on Public Safety hearing on Feb. 25, 2013

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