Transcript: Part III of public comments on CDCR’s proposed new policies on solitary confinement – Feb. 11, 2014

Part III of V: Partial transcript of public comments CDCR’s proposed new policies on solitary confinement and prison gang or “security threat group” management. The joint informational hearing was held on Feb. 11, 2014:

Commenter #21 (woman):
…I’m with the Youth Justice Coalition. I’m in high school. I was arrested for a minor fight and truancy tickets, and was sent to…juvenile hall. For the first few days, I was very distant. I wouldn’t eat or go to the day room, which is a large room where you sit with other girls or people. I felt unsure and uncomfortable. But instead of trying to counsel me…they stopped talking to me. They even stopped asking if I wanted food or day room time. Even though I wasn’t on lockdown, it felt like I was in solitary confinement already. I guess the staff thought I was depressed so they put me on lockdown for real – no cellmate, no day room, no hope. It makes no sense that if you’re depressed they put you in a situation that makes you even more depressed. I felt completely unwanted and unnoticed. It made me think about petty things that other people are locked away for and how any little move I make could get me behind bars. I started to feel tense when any of the guards came close to my cell, paranoid that I had done something wrong when the reality I had been by myself for the last 23 hours of the day. It is by far the worst feeling I have ever experienced. Being locked down makes you feel that you’re worthless to society and you don’t even want to be yourself. You start thinking about ways to escape even if it means suicide. It’s traumatizing, even when I got home, I thought I had to change. My family cannot believe the experience, and it constantly made me feel like I was a bad person. That steady helplessness had only increased. I think everyone in the SHU deserves something better than a 23 hour cell. If we need to help them calm down, the best thing would be to create nature parks or have them work outside to grow food or take vocational training so we can start our lives over after release.

Commenter #22 (man):
…I am a person who has been previously incarcerated…I am now a member of the Youth Justice Coalition. During the time of my incarceration, I was put into solitary confinement for about two weeks. I was put into there because of health reasons that I have no control over. I have epilepsy and I’ve had a seizure. The guards were called by my cellmates and officers thought I was playing and put me into solitary confinement. From the moment I was put into the hole, I felt isolated and depressed. The room was freezing. It was dirty. And there wasn’t a bed, only a hard concrete seat attached to the wall that you were to use as a bed. The room was very small. I felt trapped. There was a small tiny window and a door that I would peek out of just to get out of the claustrophobic making of the cell. One day, the guard caught me looking out there and put something over it so I can no longer see anything. I just felt hopeless and trapped. They hadn’t let me shower for about three or four days. I was smelling myself and felt disgusted. After a few days in solitary confinement, I started to feel like I was going crazy. I started to make up stories, started talking to myself, and imagination was blasting. I look back now to see how creative but dangerous the mind can be. If a person wasn’t already insane or had mental health problems before coming into solitary confinement, spending enough time in there you would lose your sanity. Solitary confinement only creates more problems, not fixes them. It is cruel punishment to be treated like a caged animal. I never received a change of clothes but only about two times during those two weeks. I was ignored like I did not exist. I even had several seizures because sometimes they did not bring my medicine on time or not at all, and stress is one of the main triggers of my seizures. I kept knocking on the door after having passing out from having seizures a few times, but I was still ignored. I couldn’t do anything about it. This was one of the worst experiences of my life, and I wish this on nobody. The cruel punishment of solitary confinement must be eliminated. I had no books, no paper, no nothing to write or nothing to address the complete boredom in the hole. Being in there felt traumatizing. Only three or two days would feel like I’d been in there a week. I would never know whether it was day or night. Everybody deserves to keep their sanity and not be forced to become insane from lengthy times in solitary confinement. Last thing I just want to get across is people who have experienced this should be given the opportunity to present our observations and solutions for those such as myself and families who have been most experienced in solitary confinement…

Commenter #23 (man):
Hi. My name is Daniel, and I’m with Project What. I’m 18 years old. My dad is living under political asylum in the United States right now. He was arrested in China for corruption charge and was put in the SHU for five years due to his special identity. Later, he was deported to the United States for having aggressive political attitude. As a child of an inmate who was put in the SHU, I personally experienced how my father’s personality has changed. As a father and husband, he used to be really supportive. But now his aggression ruined his marriage and career. Solitary confinement is designed to stop aggressive behavior but somehow it actually stimulates the aggression by isolating inmates. So, please stop solitary confinement not only for their inmates but for their family members who are praying everyday that the person who get out of jail will still be the person they used to love. I can’t believe this wonderful nation who accepted my father when he had no where to go is doing exactly the same thing that the Chinese government is doing right now.

Commenter #24 (man):
…I’m with Project What, and I’m 17 years old. I guess basically when I think of the segregation method in jail I’m thinking of it to rehabilitate the person but really it’s just dehumanizing. And when you’re isolated by yourself, you look for ways to cope with where you’re at, adapt to an environment. And I just feel like it really socially destroys the person and dehumanizes the person, and it doesn’t give them a chance to rehabilitate. So I guess I’m saying I oppose this. Thank you.

Commenter #25 (man):
[Reading from a letter from a Pelican Bay SHU inmate] “I’ve been held in these harsh conditions for 17 years. As a human being, what do this type of punishment do to me and others subjected to it for long periods of time. Am I not a human being who craves a physical touch? Am I not a son who longs to hug his mother? Am I not a father whose heart pleads to hold his daughters in his own arms and hear their giggles? Am I not a brother, uncle, and more that needs the warmth and touch from all his family, friends, and loved ones? Am I not a man whose very being cries out to share the company of a woman, to feel that soft touch, a light caress, or a soft whisper to privately shares an intimate secret or to smell the sweetness of her favorite scent? I’m a human being. I’m a man. Without these very natural things which are our natural right, I am slowly dying everyday. I am slowly being castrated of my very existence and natural purpose in life. Here in Pelican Bay, amongst the living dead, where hope is just a dream, where dreams are non-existent to the already dead. Help give us back our humanity. Help give us back lives.” Thanks…

Commenter #26 (man):
[Remarks in Spanish]

Commenter #27 (woman):
…Mental health survivor advocate. I strongly support the fire core demands of the hunger strikers. We need to abolish the SHUs. We need to end solitary confinement in California prisons. This has gone on way too long. California is the outliers of the outliers. We have seen – and I hope that both joint committees have in your hands the report of Dr. Raymond Patterson, the court-appointed psychologist who researched suicides in this system and made recommendations to CDCR on the prison mental health system, which is still under federal control. Governor Brown’s bid last year to move that system back to California’s control was denied by a judge because of the atrocious conditions. 33% – there’s a 33% higher chance that someone will take their own life if they are in a segregated unit of any kind.

Commenter #28 (woman):
Hi. My name is Vanessa Gutierrez. I’m here with Project What. I’m 16 years old, and I’m a child with an incarcerated parent. I wouldn’t want my own mother to go through this. So I oppose. Thank you.

Commenter #29 (man):
…I’m from Oakland, California. And I have a parent that was sentenced to 66 years to life. And I just feel that he shouldn’t be like – he shouldn’t be persecuted even more after 66 years to life. That’s why I oppose the SHU. And I feel like that takes away a person’s mental psyche to have them in like a hole or something that’s considered as a hole. That’s why I oppose the SHU.

Commenter #30 (woman):
…I’ve been writing to a man who’s been in SHU in Pelican Bay. He’s been there for 25 years. For 25 years, he’s not touched another human being or seen the sunlight, and he writes about how difficult it is for him to retain his sanity. There’s no judicial oversight for this system of torturous incarceration, which is Medieval in its extent. And I really urge the legislature to assert oversight over CDCR so that the people will be treated humanely in detention.

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