Transcript: Testimony by Irene Huerta on California’s solitary confinement policies before the Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013
Partial transcript of testimony by Irene Huerta, wife of an inmate at Pelican Bay’s Secure Housing Unit, before the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013:
Good afternoon. Thank you for assembling here today, Mr. Chair, in order to discuss the changes the CDC began to implement following the Pelican Bay protests of 2011. I feel that it’s crucial that CDC is closely monitored while they are implementing new policies and procedures.
I myself, like many, have been at the mercy of CDC along with my husband, who has courageously suffered two hunger strikes to expose the horrendous, de-humanizing experience of solitary confinement under the control of CDC.
In 1983, my husband was judged by his peers and found guilty and sentenced. Gabriel Huerta [sp] has been in solitary confinement since 1986 initially for an alleged memorandum that connected him to a prison gang. This memorandum has never been produced.
My husband and I both acknowledge the sentence he was given. He had every intention in serving his time. However, we did not know that his rights as an American citizen and inalienable human rights stripped from him at every turn. Our issue is not about doing time. The concern is how he’s doing the time.
My husband often writes to me about the torture of isolation. His letters have expressed desperation to the point of himself comfortably numb.
He states, “Many people may not know what it’s like to be isolated for so long. The way that we’ve been here and I would say that it’s like being locked in the trunk of a car with just enough weather stripping removed so you can breathe and with enough food and water stuffed in everyday inside so that you can physically survive. You’re soon going to realize what it actually means when it said that we’re social beings. You’re going to crave social interaction and human contact…Just like the Pink Floyd song says “Hey you out there beyond the walls, can you hear me?” And yet every time you talk, every time you act like a human being and interact with other human beings, you’re told that it’s a gang activity and you have to stay another 6 years now before your next review.”
These are the written words of my husband who has been in solitary confinement for 28 years.
And I’m not speaking solely for the benefit of my husband but for countless men and women in SHU and their family members.
What I’m trying to convey as a story, which happens to be a similar story for the thousands of others who have been inputed as gang members and associates, on the rare occasion that I and other family members are allowed to visit, which is a 1,500 round-trip, the SHU inmates are transferred from one confined space to another, are placed in a 4 by 4 room where we must visit behind glass for a maximum of 1 hour and 45 minutes.
The CDC has made the determination that my husband is one of the dangerous gangs – the worst of the worst. What role has CDC been given in educational training to make an evaluation of my husband or thousands of others the worst of the worst?
These are our loved ones.
Since CDC’s assessment, my husband and I have been under examination. I have had my letters viewed without reason or provocation. I have had to write several appeals for reason unbeknownst to me.
During my frustration, my husband wrote, “This is all designed in an effort to frustrate and disrupt any bonds with family members or friends on the outside.”
Under the new step-down program, he would have to serve 4 more years as an alleged gang member, which he has already served 28.
What type of rehabilitation can be done under these types of living conditions? The damage that have been done by these type of confinement cannot be determined. Long-term isolation is torture.
I refuse to use the R in CDCR because there is no meaningful rehabilitation programs for SHU.
In talking with family members and hearing from other loved ones in Pelican Bay SHU, we agree the new regulations in the step-down program make it harder for them to get out of solitary confinement, especially those that the IGI has labelled as gang members.
Even though the LA Times did write an article of recent releases to general population, none of our loved ones in Pelican Bay have heard or seen any of the reviews or the releases, and when they ask the guards especially during hearings, they were always told they don’t know anything about it.
Here’s just some of what we’ve heard to the responses: Prisoners validated as a Security Threat Group prison gang members will continue to subject to automatic SHU confinement solely based on their validation. A formal charge of gang-related misconduct doesn’t have to be filed and a formal hearing doesn’t have to take place to determine guilt or innocence per their preponderance of federal evidence standards as required by CDCR’s formal rule violation hearing process.
Inmates are saying the only way out of SHU is to grow old, die, go insane, debrief, or successfully complete the 4-year minimum step-down program. Those who have already been in for decades don’t need to prove themselves any longer, especially for those who have been in [SHU] for years and who have educated and better themselves, determination to survive in what they call a hell hole.
There’s no independent oversight for IGI or OCS; no internal policy mechanism to make sure that decisions are fair and accurate or objective.
The pilot program establishes the minimum but no maximum time in SHU doesn’t guarantee an inmate will complete the process in 4 years or automatically get out of the SHU even after 4 years.
If CDC is serious about meaningful reform and rehabilitation, family contact to maintain healthy family bond. Now we ask to be allowed a minimum to have one phone call a month, extended SHU visits contact, more efficient queue processing since we are coming from a long distance.
And in closing, all we are asking is for our loved ones to be treated like human beings.
- WhatTheFolly.com: 50% of solitary confinement inmates reviewed under CDCR’s pilot program are recommended for release to general population
- WhatTheFolly.com: CA prison official offers muddled response on whether participation in a peaceful hunger strike would prolong detention of inmates in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay
- WhatTheFolly.com: Pelican Bay solitary confinement inmates threaten to resume hunger strike in July
- WhatTheFolly.com: Roundup: Testimonies on California’s solitary confinement policies, Secure Housing Unit (SHU) step-down program & revised gang validation criteria
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Testimony by CDCR officials on the proposed solitary confinement reforms before the Assembly Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Testimony by Renee Hansen on CDCR’s proposed Secure Housing Unit reforms before the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Testimony by Charles Carbone on California’s solitary confinement reforms before the Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Public comments on California’s solitary confinement policies at the Committee on Public Safety hearing on Feb. 25, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Testimony by Marie Levin on California’s solitary confinement policies before the Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Testimony by Irene Huerta on California’s solitary confinement policies before the Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Testimony by Laura Magnani on California’s solitary confinement policies before the Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Lawsuit challenges California’s prolonged solitary confinement policy
- WhatTheFolly.com: Recent developments in California’s solitary confinement policies
- WhatTheFolly.com: California’s recidivism rate drops but remains one of the nation’s highest
- California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation: Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy – March 1, 2012 (PDF)
- Letter from Pelican Bay State Prison SHU inmates to Gov. Jerry Brown and CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard on the resumption of hunger strike and work stoppage on July 8, 2013 (PDF)