Transcript: Testimony of former SHU inmate Steven Czifra at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California – Oct. 9, 2013

Partial transcript of 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:

…Before I talk a little bit about my personal experience, I would like to make two brief digressions…

So I know the panel is filled with highly intelligent and observant people but I would like to suggest that Mr. [Robert] Barton as providing an accountable and transparent observation of the California Department of Corrections is – struck me as somewhat conflict of interests. He was very apologetic and supportive of the CDCR and this is the organization that’s supposed to be holding them accountable is somewhat like the fox guarding the hen house.

I want to make one comment about Professor [Keramet] Reiter’s comment about the re-purposing of the security housing unit, that it was designed for one reason and it’s being used for another today. So I read one of her articles recently, and in it she had interviewed numerous CDC – at the time CDC, there was no R, there was no rehabilitation in the CDC at the time – and she had interviewed numerous CDC officials who planned Pelican Bay and quoted them in her article…as the design and the purpose of Pelican Bay was to break people within 18 months. I would suggest that Pelican Bay is still being used for that purpose but it’s failing in the way that they intended.

And so having said that on the record…

So I went to – by the time I got to the security housing unit, I had already done 4 years in solitary confinement as a juvenile. And so I was a model inmate in the California Department of Corrections for about 4 years. I was days from parole, and I got in a fist fight with another inmate.

And a committee who is responsible for classifying inmates determined that it was orchestrated and I was trying to incite a larger event – a larger race event because the two of us involved were of different races. He was black; I was white. I still am, actually.

So I was given a year in the SHU for that. This after about 4 years of being a model inmate. I was a teacher’s assistant. I taught inmates how to do office work – things like that.

It was a fist fight. You know, it happens. It’s a tight, tense situation. “What are you looking at?” “What are you looking at?” We got into a fist fight.

The very next day, I spit on an officer, who was taunting me in the administrative segregation.

For those 2 incidents, I spent 4 years in the SHU and I was given a new felony charge – assault and battery on a peace officer – and another 4 years tacked onto my prison sentence, which I spent in the SHU.

The conditions of the SHU…[cries]

Okay, look, I want to say this in the most professional and –

So the SHU is torture, okay? The SHU is a torture chamber. Okay? It doesn’t serve.

When I walked into California’s torture chamber, I was a whole human being. And when I left there, I was deeply fractured human being. Okay?

So it’s not helping. Let me put it that way.

My family’s here today and I kept my son out of school to come here today. And my son – he’s just a shining light of what humanity has to offer. And you know what? I don’t attribute that to my time in the SHU. I don’t attribute my presence at the Department of Corrections or at…the University of Berkeley – You know, these things that have happened have happened in spite of the SHU.

The California Department of Corrections, when I spit on that officer, they did everything in their power to take my life and to break me and to annihilate my spirit.

I would suggest that we stop asking the California Department of Corrections to govern themselves – that we hold them accountable.

…We don’t need to research anything. We already know – [Audience applause] – We already know without a doubt that long-term solitary confinement is torture.

Right now, somebody is on their way to the CDCR, and they’re going to serve a life sentence. They’re going to serve the rest of their life in prison, and they’re maybe 18 or 19 years old. And right now, as the policy stands, they – heaven forbid they’re Latino and they come from LA – they stand to spend the next 80 years in Pelican Bay.


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One Comment on “Transcript: Testimony of former SHU inmate 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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