Transcript: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s Q&A with Dorsey Nunn, Dolores Canales & Steven Czifra at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California – Oct. 9, 2013

Partial transcript of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) Q&A with Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Dolores Canales, family member of current Pelican Bay SHU inmate, and Steven Czifra, former SHU inmate and student at UC Berkeley, at the joint legislative hearing on “Segregation Policies in California Prisons: Current Conditions and Implications on Prison Management and Human Rights” on Oct. 9, 2013:

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
…Because we want to do the right thing and that means for us working with CDCR too…What thought have you given to alternatives to solitary confinement?

Dolores Canales, family member of current Pelican Bay SHU inmate:
…You know, there’s the severe sensory deprivation, the dehumanization. Bringing the aspect of humanity back.

I took my grandbabies to go see my son, and they were 3 and 2 years old. And the 3 year-old, JJ, the second day we were being driven in the van, he kept saying, “Why is he in a box?” And so the second day, he was looking at the tubes behind the prison, and he said, “They put my uncle Johnny in the pipes and they put him in the box.” And I said, “Well, how did they get him in the pipes?” He goes, “They fold him.” Just in that 3 year-old mind, you know, of the cartoon-like, trying to figure this out.

But one of the things is why should he not be able to hug his uncle?

The family members who we represent – why should we not be able to hug our loved ones?

The special needs yard? Visiting is closed once a month for the special needs yard, and that’s where they house the debriefers and the child rapists and pedophiles. And on this yard, they get visiting contact all day – 8 hours – for this yard. So if you can close it down once a weekend for this yard, why can’t you close visiting so that only those in administrative segregation and special housing unit can have some form of implementing contact visits. Implementing human contact. That’s not dealing with the thousands that do not get visits, though, but that’s just like one suggestion I’ve envisioned because CDC themselves has said that visiting is sacred ground – nothing happens in there.

Steven Czifra, former SHU inmate and student at UC Berkeley:
I just wanted to say as a solution that an emergency legislative dictate or whatever they’re called that anybody in long-term solitary confinement immediately be granted physical access to their families.

So I went all those years without touching anybody and I’ve been with my partner for over 7 years and it took 5 years before she could touch me without it hurting my skin.

And then oversight. A person or a small team of people to work out of Pelican Bay and report to this committee that has nothing to do with the CDC or the Inspector General’s office, that interviews allegations in a responsible and in an accountable way.

Because I wrote 602s when I was in prison. You could write one a week. I wrote one a week for 2 years about the food, and it was laughable. There’s this joke in CDC – it’s called “602 it”, and it’s usually perpetrated by the guards. So if something happens that’s unjust, the guards just say “602 it.” It’s a joke, and this is their administrative remedy…

Phone calls for anybody in solitary confinement. Phone calls to family members immediately. And visits.

And get these human beings – we are defined by this idea of human beings. We are a group, and we need people and the one thing that makes us people is other people. So saying that a person is not confined because they’re in a cell with another person who is being confined but they can’t see their child – like this program is ripping communities apart; it’s tearing families apart.

[Audience applause]

Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children:
My suggestion would be that absolutely do away with long-term solitary confinement. And if you’ve got to place people in that situation, then set a limit – an identifiable limit – 30 days at the max – that they could serve in there.

Even when he was designing Pelican Bay, I think the architect only imagined people being there for 18 months less alone decades.

And I think probably the longest held person in solitary confinement is Hugo Pinell. He’s been there, I think, 42 years and he doesn’t have a murder.

So at a certain point, when I say I know them to be bullies, is once you’ve spit on a guard or you crossed that line, they will wreck havoc in such a way that they will terrorize whole populations of people, and I think that it leaves them scarred when they come home.

In addition to everything that’s been suggested, I suggest that the oversight not rest within CDCR or the Inspector General. I think that somebody that’s responsible to the legislature should have oversight of the California Department of Corrections.

And here’s probably one of the strangest requests is that you all do some reform about who gets to contribute to campaigns. You know, I don’t mean to step on y’all toes, because some of this stuff is driven by – my inhumanity and the way people look at me in part is shaped by probably parallel contributions they make to candidates in a real way. So unless you stop the correctional guard association from making massive donations to a whole bunch of people, I don’t know if I have any salvation.

And I suggest that you actually look when you’re in this crisis and Jerry Brown is getting ready to actually send people out of state and actually introduce private prisons to the state to see if he’s getting any of that money from private prison makers.

So at a certain point, where y’all are allowed to feed for money could have a lot to do with them not recognizing my humanity.

[Audience applause]

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One Comment on “Transcript: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s Q&A with Dorsey Nunn, Dolores Canales & Steven Czifra at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California – Oct. 9, 2013

  1. Pingback: Alternatives to long-term solitary confinement in California | What The Folly?!

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