Transcript: Testimony by Marie Levin on California’s solitary confinement policies before the Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013
Partial transcript of testimony by Marie Levin, a member of the Prison Hunger Strike Coalition, before the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013:
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to all of you. My name is Marie Levin and I’m a native of Oakland, California. I’m a member of the Prison Hunger Strike Coalition.
My brother is Ronnie Dewberry, who goes by the name of Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa. He is housed in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit – the SHU. He is one of the 4 representatives.
It was very painful for me to visit my brother for many years. I visited my brother through my mother and my sister. It was painful because when I – the very first time that I saw him – you see people handcuffed all the time but you don’t see people with chains on their ankles, and my brother when I see him behind the window, this was at San Quentin – I mean, that just disturbed me so much and I had to walk away and cry about the situation. I came back but through those years from when he first was incarcerated up until now.
15 years – 15 plus years I was unable to visit my brother. So I visited through my mother and my sister.
My mother had three strokes and the last stroke left her paralyzed on the right side, and so she’s been in the hospital facility.
My sister died. So the question was then, who’s going to see about my brother? So it fell on me. I’m the only one here. My other sister’s in Florida.
So I got involved with the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition when I found out that my brother, along with thousands of other inmates, who were about to go on a hunger strike, and this is in my brother’s words: “I am doing it because of dehumanizing circumstances, myself and many other fellow prisoners are willing to do a hunger strike – some until our death. We hope it doesn’t come to that but it’s something we’re willing to do.”
This hunger strike showed many of us that how serious these inmates were about changing their dehumanizing and inhumane conditions.
My brother has been locked up for 32 years, originally for a crime he did not commit. He has been in solitary confinement for 29 of those years for being labeled a gang member, and that gang being the BGF, which is the Black Guerrilla Family.
I’m here today to address the issues of the pilot program.
My brother, Sitawa, is a political thinker. I want to make that clear. He’s a political thinker and a student of history – his history. The Black American knowledge that he has gained he used to educate those inmates, which includes all racial groups. Because of this, my brother, Sitawa, was labeled a Black Guerrilla Family Member, which is a gang.
CDCR has unlimited discretion to do whatever they choose to do with an inmate, such as trivial write-ups, not liking how a man answers questions in the workbook, and saying a man is insincere are all potential reasons to keep a man in the SHU for the rest of his life…
The workbooks that they are being given are assuming that a man is a gang member. If a man is not in a gang, he would have to lie to answer in a way that CDCR will say is satisfactory. These workbooks are demeaning, inappropriate for my brother as well as for many of the other older inmates who have been in there for decades. This is both an insult to their intelligence and their years. Some still remain in the SHU for decades.
…I don’t know how many of you in here believe in The Lord. I do and I believe that one day my brother will be free but under these circumstances and conditions, I don’t believe that that would happen. No one who is labeled as a gang member will be reviewed in the first two years of the program.
My brother has been given the label of gang member. That’s two more years where nothing will change for him. That’s not right.
Placed in prison for a crime as I stated before that he did not commit and placed in solitary confinement because he is being a political thinker.
Calling a man a part of a Security Threat Group is labeling men like my brother in an unfair way. Many of the men in the SHU are not a threat to anyone.
I want to speak on the telephone calls that they mentioned. My mother was given the opportunity – or I should say my brother was given the opportunity to get a phone call through to my mother. My mother, based on the doctor’s report, has one month to a year or so to live, and this report was given in December. And so my brother was given the opportunity based on a lot of things that were through the doctors, lawyers making this happen, my mother was – my brother was given the opportunity to speak to my mother for a total of 30 minutes in December and I’m very grateful for that and so is he and my mother. But given the fact that these new regulations, it would be after the second year that my brother would be able to get a phone call through, and that is unacceptable.
I believe that if they’re concerned about families being in touch with the inmates, if they’re really concerned about these inmates being in touch with their families, then that phone call my brother never would have gotten…but that phone call that he would not be able to receive in another two years is far too long.
I want to end by saying that my brother as well as the other representatives are doing all that they can to promote racial unity and peace among the prisoners.
- 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)