Transcript: Public comments at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California – Oct. 9, 2013

Partial transcript of public comments at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California on Oct. 9, 2013:

Commenter #1 (male, Los Angeles):
…Another thing revealed in this hunger strike is actually who are the actual criminals. This system is a criminal system. It’s totally illegitimate and it needs to be swept off the face of the Earth. Any system that relies upon torture has no reason and has no right to exist…

Commenter #2 (female):
My name is Amber and my brother is in the Pelican Bay SHU…I just beg of you to please don’t fall for what CDC and the Inspector General has said. Go by their actions. In their actions, no real significant changes have been made.

Commenter #3 (female):
…In a court of law when an inmate is used to testify against someone else, they don’t – one of the questions a prosecutor will asked is “Have you been paid or given anything for this testimony?” And they usually respond by saying, “No. I haven’t.” That’s because it would be considered tainted – his testimony.

But as a debriefer, they can tell or say whatever they want without any substantial to back that up, and they will take it and run with that and keep somebody in solitary confinement for 7 years.

Commenter #4 (female):
…I just wanted to say that my brother has been in Pelican Bay for 23 years in the SHU. In solitary confinement for 23 years. And I don’t know how long more he can take it. He is at the end of his rope…

Commenter #5 (female):
…I have a son and he just went into the SHU. They gave him a 3-year sentence, and you know, he was always like very uplifting because I was able to visit him in a closer prison like Tehachapi. I’m from Los Angeles. And now it’s like – it’s impossible to go to Pelican Bay. And the last letter he wrote to me it seems like he’s breaking down. You know how they say that it’s like the SHU is made to break them down…Just do what you can to humanize my son.

Commenter #6 (female):
My brother told me: “You asked me to draw my dreams. My dreams. I think dreams right now is not a good idea. I know you will say not to do that but it’s hard in this place. CDC is not only stealing our life but they even steal the color of life.”

Commenter #7 (male):
My name is Beth, and I want to thank you for giving us hope because most of the time we don’t have any.

My husband has been in Pelican Bay SHU for 19 years, and if something isn’t done right away – even though he’s a youngster compared to my other friends – he could be there for a lot longer.

He asked me to ask you “Who benefits from the status quo? Who benefits from the lack of education and rehabilitation? Who benefits from the fact that it doesn’t matter how much these men have improved themselves, how much they’ve changed, it doesn’t matter in their review? That’s just eliminated.”

…Secretary Beard in his confirmation hearing said that there was $25 million surplus in rehabilitation funds. We’d like to see that money go into the SHUs. The Inmate Welfare Fund is also available. There’s an $11 million discrepancy in the last 8 audits and I’d like you to look at that.

Commenter #8 (male):
… The extent to which the SHU does exist, to the extent that one cannot show a nexus between its existence and a good outcome, it should be eliminated…

Commenter #9 (female):
My name is Marie Levin, and my brother is housed in the security housing unit…Sen. Hancock asked about how did they survive? My brother has survived in the SHU because of his hopes to get out and be with his family, his hopes to be free.

He’s incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. First crime, going into prison. Second crime is being labeled a gang member by reading a George Jackson book.

Commenter #10 (male):
My name is Randy Levin. My brother-in-law – this is my wife – Sitawa – he’s been in Pelican Bay SHU for 29 years. And I guess what’s really in my heart is I would really challenge you folks to go up there and make time with some of these guys, like my brother-in-law, that have been in there for a long time and they’re so – well, I’ll say this: The first time I talked with my brother-in-law was in 2011, and the first words out of my mouth was “I’m so proud of you for keeping your sanity.” Not only has he kept his sanity, he’s thought through things. He has compassion. He’s thoughtful. And I would really just challenge you to go up and meet with some of these guys.

Commenter #11 (female):
…I have a son who is in the SHU. He has been in the SHU for 16 years. My son has never committed a violent crime in his life and up to this day he still hasn’t. He was affiliated with a gang member only by a cousin who was validated, and because they exchanged a birthday card, he was validated that time and put in the SHU.

But he was on the hunger strike this time and he told me that if he had to die, he would die for the cause of human dignity and rightness…

Commenter #12 (male):
…I served SHU time myself. You know, it’s – the validation for one – you know, you’re put in the SHU. I was there for AG charge. And just being – up above me was a validated gang member, and just for associating with him, they wanted to validate me. I mean, come on, CDC puts us together and they wanted to validate me because I’m talking to him. You know? We’ve got to communicate with somebody, you know, and it’s just wrong.

And another thing too about – you guys need to really look into the COs. They’ve got a big black market going on there. Big, big time.

Commenter #13 (female):
…I’m with the California Statewide Coalition Against Police Brutality and care very much about this issue. And I’m also a voter. What I want to say is that what is happening inside of these prisons with the correctional officers is police brutality, and it’s state-sanctioned police brutality.

And the people in the state of California aren’t going to put up with it anymore. I think it’s very disrespectful that many CDCR representatives left when the families started to talk, and I think that it goes to show their unwillingness to really come up with a solution and sit at the table with us who are being affected by this.

Like that gentleman said, correctional officers – where this is going to end is when we start holding people accountable, including correctional and peace officers for committing crimes such as bringing contraband and doing illegal acts such as setting people up for fights or all the other illegal things that are happening in there. When we hold these people accountable, then and only then will we see change.

The last thing I want to say is that CDCR has, first of all, no rehabilitation whatsoever and so I don’t know why we changed the name…CDCR they will continue to do this and they will continue to use these excuses of gangs until you stop them.

[Audience applause]

Commenter #14 (female):
…My son is in Tehachapi in solitary confinement. And the one thing I would like to say – thank you, for one, for having this. But I really want to see some true – not more meetings, meetings, and meetings – but meetings with some substance of getting these people out of solitary confinement and making true changes.

…We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. There’s a lot of stuff that’s really already out there…Give these guys some hope. They’re smart people. They’ve made mistakes and they want to do better. So we just need to recognize that.

Commenter #15 (female):
…A lot of people are in prison for crimes of poverty and because of the war on gangs and the war on crimes and the war on drugs. And then a lot of people go into the SHU because of their political beliefs or they’re jailhouse lawyers or prison rights activists. These guys have been studying freedom fighters like Bobby Sands, like Nelson Mandela and they model their hunger strike after people the world considers the greatest fighters for human rights. So I think that their agreement to end hostilities is something we need to learn from on the outside and they can teach us. They can teach us a lot. We need to give them the access to their families, access to their communities.

Commenter #16 (female):
I’m Carol Strickman. I’m staff attorney at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a member of the Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. And we have a number of legislative ideas to share with you, and I just want to bring up one right now and that has to do with reinstating good time credit for prisoners who are in the SHU not for committing an offense but for gang validation reasons. We’ve brought that up for 2 years now; it’s been very difficult although it will save money, it will get people out of the SHU. It should be endorsed and we’d love to see some help with that.

Commenter #17 (female):
My name is Nancy, and I’m a psychologist and do prison visits for California Prison Focus and the coalition. And I’ve asked the men, “How do you maintain your humanity under inhumane conditions?” And they consistently say, “I keep myself impeccable and my cell impeccable. I work out. I read, write, teach others, speak. I do some sort of practice – a meditative or religious practice – or I pray. And if I’m lucky, I have family and friends that visit me, that keeps me whole that they love me.”

And they have meaning in their lives. Many of them say, “I don’t expect to ever get out. I’m doing this for my younger brothers. I don’t want them to be here.”

Commenter #18 (female):
My name is Kim and I do legal visits on behalf of California Prison Focus and the coalition.

And just to address a few things: Mr. Cooley, I don’t think we need more studies. I’m going to agree with Steve on that. The information is here.

To echo some of the things I’ve heard from people inside that we’re even having this discussion is insane.

Standards are meaningless within the CDC from what I can tell. And yes, the rules do change and they change mid-game and the people inside are the last to know about it. It’s quite frequently. For example, around family visits, all of a sudden people are having family members come up – after making an appointment, come 500 miles and then be turned away on the basis of they don’t have an appointment or their family member sends a form to their loved one, the loved one gives that to the visiting area, which was done for a long time. Suddenly, that doesn’t fly either.

Commenter #19 (female):
My name is Gloria and I have a brother in the SHU…I’ve traveled the 4 hours – thank God it’s not 8 or 9 – and I went for my appointment with even a confirmation number and they have turned me away – me and my mother, who is disabled. And I have to drive back home without seeing my brother.

On the first panel, Mr. Michael Stainer was saying that they report on how they discipline their inmates. My brother was caught with a cell phone. You know, like most of them get them from the staff there. The Sergeant was so upset with him that after he gave him a 6-month SHU term and he finished that, he threw him out with guards, emptied two cans of pepper spray to the floor – wet, burning, soaking, could not breathe – he’s asthmatic – and handcuffed on the floor. They do not report everything about how they discipline them.

Commenter #20 (female):
…I have a statement from [SHU inmate] from a letter. He said, “The health care department could actually end the torture tomorrow. The people who run the health care system absolutely know of the significant contribution that isolation makes to the physical and psychological deterioration of people who are subjected to it. All it takes is for the health care policymakers to have courage and to stop allowing itself to be subordinate to custody. It really is shameful politics and money. Each body in each cell represents a lot of money. Each body in each cell that is prescribed medication even more. There is no incentive to heal when you are rewarded for doing nothing.”

Thank you.

Commenter #21 (male):
I’m J.P. I think this entire discussion is insane. I’m confident that 150 years from now, we will look back – the people who are living will look back and they will shake their heads and go, “How on Earth could they ever have treated human beings like this? How could they possibly have allowed this?” So I simply ask you to think about that and whether you want to be part of the solution to the problem or whether you want to have people look back and say, “Yes, you allowed this to continue. You allowed this torture, this horrible horrible treatment of human beings to continue.”

Commenter #22 (female):
…My son is in High Desert prison and it’s taken me almost 11 hours to drive over there. You know, I depend on a ride. And that prison is always in lockdown. Lockdown, you know? Not for a month. More than a year. And sometimes I have to ask for a ride to see him through the glass for one hour. It costs me sometimes almost $200 or $300 to go there.

Dolores Canales:
I’d like to close with this letter from Lisa…she has two brothers in the SHU. Their mother would be here today but she passed away last year.

“I take at least 6 trips a year. I lose about $200 per day off, plus the kids have to take at least Friday off of school and be super tired from the long drive on Monday. I also have several physical problems which prevents me from driving more than 2 hours but even sitting in the car for the whole trip makes me be in so much pain. I’m not supposed to sit for more than a half hour so it really takes its toll on my body. With that being said, I have to beg someone to come with me to help drive, which is a pain every time. I hate bothering people to come with me and waste their weekend. But the fact is I won’t see them if I don’t. They sure knew what they were doing when they built Pelican Bay all the way in such a remote location. If they were closer, doing time would be so much easier for them and for us family members. We could visit every weekend or every other weekend, and friends would visit too if it wasn’t an 8-hour drive. Right now, no friends or other relatives visit because of the long distance. They are even more in solitary being all the way out there, especially with no phone. It breaks my heart that nieces and nephews say they don’t really know their fathers. It shouldn’t have to be like this for so many families. I have two brothers in SHU so most of this is doubled. To make it easier, the amounts below are for one inmate – estimated total of $8,000 a year per each inmate in visiting costs.”


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

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