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

Part V 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 #41 (woman):
Someone used the word “human real estate” earlier and yeah, that’s what this comes down to 500 years of human real estate. Mr. Stainer said straight up on the 9th of October that he hadn’t have data showing that ever since they instituted these hell-hole called SHUs that it had reduced any kind of prison “gang” activity. What is this about?

Commenter #42 (woman):
…I’m a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Support Coalition, but today I’m representing an organization that I’m on the steering committee of – international psychological and other mental health providers professionals organization called Psychologists for Social Responsibility. I have a letter for you and I just want to read the beginning and the end. We quote Craig Haney, who can speak for himself. We quote Juan Mendez who says that very clearly that solitary confinement is a harsh measure contrary to rehabilitation, which is the aim of the penitentiary system and the U.N. Committee on Torture that says very clearly that the purpose with solitary confinement is retribution in which case it constitutes, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment. But I want to read the final paragraph in our letter.

“Decades of psychological research have established the severe psychological effects of solitary confinement. Thus, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, which is an international organization, believe that solitary confinement should only be used as a rare last resort for periods of short enough to not cause psychological harm. We join the United Nations Committee Against Torture and the United Nations Special Rapporteur in calling for a total ban on prolonged solitary confinement.”

My organization is committed to staying with this as long as necessary to have solitary confinement abolished.

Commenter #43 (woman):
…I am concerned for the psyche of the prisoners but also the people that work at Pelican Bay. And I’d like to bring attention to Matthew Honeycutt, who was a correctional officer that in December allegedly stabbed another man of our community in the throat. And that, to me, I think is a result of working in a place like Pelican Bay. I’m concerned because correctional officers don’t stay in the prison; they come out here and they join us. I’d like to ask CDCR when you put somebody like him in a SHU cell who actually physically abused somebody for 10 to 20 years probably not because you have a love for him but because you realize he’s a person. I’d like to remind you guys that those people that are behind SHU cells are people also, and they have family members – they’re somebody’s son, somebody’s father. So I’d like to ask compassion for everybody.

Commenter #44 (woman):
Thank you for letting us speak. My name is Brenda. I have a son that start out with five years, and somebody found his name is a book, and now he’s in Pelican Bay. He’s been there for 20 years. He left home at 21; he’s now 43 years old. He hasn’t seen my three grandkids, his brother, and no one. And it’s just ridiculous. Thank you.

Commenter #45 (woman):
I correspond with a man who’s a brilliant activist. He’s incarcerated in Corcoran Prison in the SHU unit, and I want to share his concern about the mandatory journaling requirements since he couldn’t be here to do it himself. He alerted me to the fact that any form of mandatory behavior modification under coercive conditions is against Article One of the Nuremberg Code. So please do not let the CDCR put us in the class of Nazi war criminals. Thank you.

Commenter #46 (man from Youth Justice Coalition):
…I want to share my experience when I first got detained. I got detained at the age of 16 and I went to East Lake Juvenile Hall. And the moment when I was there, they put me in a unit there that was always in lockdown. Each time I woke up, all I got to see was just out through my window. They brought me my breakfast, my lunch, and my dinner. And I only went to school. After school we came back and we’re back on lockdown, back in our rooms. And half of the time when we went to go take a shower, we took a shower of cold waters. They made us sleep in our boxers, made us sleep in our cold room. And each time I would try to work out, I would look at the floor and the floor was very dirty and so I said to myself, “What do I have to do?” I don’t have no books, no papers, no pencils, nothing I could write to my family. No one else should go through this experience right here. So what we should do is to not let nobody ever go through this because it actually affects people and their minds mentally and it’s something that when they actually tried to do something fine, they actually end up screwing it up because of all the things that have been missing out because they have no human contact with nobody else. Thank you.

Commenter #47 (woman):
…My son is in Pelican Bay SHU, have been for over 18 years. When he was put in the SHU, his two girls were three-years-old and one-year-old. Today, they’re with me and one is 24 and the other one is 21. They’re upstairs in the balcony, listening to all of this that has gone on today. We are still in the same room – no, no the hearing room was changed. But it was the same stories, the same rhetorics from CDC – little R because there’s no rehab. What happens with that little R came to be a big R with the hearing taking place in the room for the rules and regulations when they put the rehab into the letter R, nobody went to the hearing. I think that was like, maybe 12 people, the public, that went. So anything that the rules and regulations committee sees fit to write in and whoever writes it, it always gets to be law. California Department of Corrections has always been a law within their self. They have prison guard union that has been their backbone for decades now. So I just wanted to say that I haven’t heard anything new, and I do commend Tom Ammiano, Loni, and Ms. Skinner…other committee members that are dedicated to do something. I really appreciate your efforts but unless you have more money than the union, nothing will get done. And that’s my honest opinion, and I just want to say my son and other sons are still languishing in the SHU. They’re still there right now in the cement box waiting for word from here to see what’s going to happen, will something happen, will they do anything about this. We just have a waiting game again. 2004, it’s still the same. I’ve sent packages to committee members, legislatures, governor, President; I get back standard letters – your son, he knows what he has to do; he has to debrief and then he can get out. Those are the standard letters that I’ve gotten from every warden and of course standard letters from government offices saying “Thank you for your interest”.

Commenter #48 (man):
…It’s time for a change, man. I mean, you know? CDC’s been getting away with long too much. Too long. We’re overdue for a change. I’ve been in prison seven times, man, but you know what? I’ve been clean, out for 11 years. It’s just time for a change, that’s all I’ve got to say, because they’ve been getting away too long – too long doing stuff they’re doing is wrong, man. What the taxpayers want is education, schools, schools for the kids, you know. Not prisons. That’s not the answer. But my mom said – rehabilitation – there ain’t no rehabilitation in CDC no more. It’s long been gone, many, you know? That’s all I got to say. Thank you.

Commenter #49 (woman):
…I’m here with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. And I just want to say quickly that this is an issue for the people in women’s prisons. The women and transgendered people too. That since the closure of Valley State Prison for Women, there has been an increased use of isolation as a way of controlling and dealing with the extreme overcrowding, and this has really got to stop. And the committee really needs to investigate what’s going on in the women’s prisons as well. And so I thank you for your time, and I hope you will take this up seriously. Thank you.

Commenter #50 (woman):
So this is just a little anecdote to give you an idea how easy it is to get put in the SHU. Good evening, state legislators. I stand here on behalf of my brother who’s serving time at Pelican Bay prison. He’s been incarcerated since he was 17. He’ll be 30 this year.

My brother was found with a razor blade in the privacy of his cell and without due process of law, he was placed in solitary torture where he’s remained there for the past three years. I could feel his overwhelming sense of accomplishment when he tells me how he makes clothing, socks, beanies, underwear, shorts, you name it. He didn’t get caught using that blade as a deadly weapon; his crime was using that blade as a tool to cut his material, but you don’t see that in his file. All you see is “found with a possession of deadly weapon”. Three years solitary torture – who knows when he’s going to get out. I do understand that having a razor blade is not allowed in prison facilities because of its potential as a deadly weapon.

However, if it is being used as a tool to do work, then instead of punishing a man by putting in the SHU for more than three years when his intentions were only to keep busy for the sake of mental health, that blade should have been taken away and replaced with a different tool that is acceptable for those who want to sew and make clothes.

A better idea would be to implement a workshop that supplies tools and proper equipment that allows prisoners to utilize them wisely. After all, it is the vital human instinct to find ways to survive by utilizing our resources in order to adapt to our surroundings and henceforth to continue that fight for survival.

The prison officials are taking this away from the prisoners – the basic human instincts of survival. These officials are taking away from their prisoners is their humanity. They place these prisoners in extremely unsuitable environment with very little to no resources, and instead of encouraging them to find ways to adapt, they are slowly taking away any of the resources that allows them to do so.

Please legislators, let’s implement some workshops, some vocational programs, something that gives our loved ones something good to talk about every time we get a chance to visit them. Thank you.

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