Revolution #239, July 17, 2011
"The conditions at Pelican Bay may shock the public..."
The following letter, from a prisoner at Pelican Bay Prison, was sent to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, postmarked July 8, 2011:
Greetings, I write in concerns of the hunger strike that begun on July 1st of 2011 here in Pelican Bay Shu. And as I get into the current effort made at Pelican Bay let me give some background to what lead to this social protest from the viewpoint of one of the hunger strike participants and its important to see the Repression unleashed on the Barrios and ghettos that lead to being wharehoused in koncentration kamps like Pelican Bay throughout America.
The prisons in California hold the most prisoners than any other state in America yet many of the conditions are the same. Pelican Bay opened for business in 1989, taking a page from the Federal Prison system and what it was doing with its new ‘supermax’ concept of incarceration. California began a new dawn in its housing of those prisoners it felt unruly. Pelican Bay Security Housing unit or Shu as it’s known is a prison within a bulging state prison system and is the future of what is the supermax America.
Supermaxing prisoners is not exclusive to Californians as America has about 70,000 men and women held in supermax prisons nationwide! 70,000 people housed in supermax! This is unprecedented. Never in the history of the world has their ever been as much as 70,000 people housed in supermax prisons, not even in Nazi Germany was their 70,000 supermax prisoners. America has become #1 in supermax prisoners of all time.
The conditions at Pelican Bay may shock the public, the idea that American citizens endure torture daily, yearly and for decades may be a surprise to many, or the fact that many of the conditions for prisoners being held in Guantanimo Bay are really better than Shu prisoners in Pelican Bay is hard to swallow but its true. Shu prisoners here endure 22½ hours locked in their cell every day. Their cell is a windowless concrete tomb that includes a slab of cement for a mattress and a toilet and sink. Shu prisoners are held in solitary confinement with no cellmate and for some this solitary has gone on for decades. Its important to note that the United Nations has said that solitary supermax is torture as this is known to create a psychological disorder in what has come to be called ‘Shu syndrome’! The studies that have been done concerning the supermax has shown that after 60 days of supermax people begin to experience a wide range of symptoms from panic attacks to psychosis and even emotional breakdown.
There is no human physical contact between prisoners and any other human being ever in Shu. Everything from food to laundry to books or mail is passed through a slot in the door. The psychological effects from supermax cannot be reversed by rehousing into a regular general population in another prison, yet some have been here in shu for decades, this in a country that claims to uphold human Rights, even occupying other countries under the excuse of their citizens having their human rights violated. And all along people in its prisons have their human rights trampled on without a murmur coming from the ‘halls of Democracy’.The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the California prison system is over stuffed with prisoners to the point where it now has a couple years to reduce its population by about 30,000 prisoners. Indeed the Supreme court said about one prisoner a week dies in California prisons due to medical care thats insufficient. One prisoner a week! It should also be noted that California seems to be the epicenter for the prison boom in this country and thus the epicenter for the prison boom globally and so precidents set in California should be followed closely especially when it comes to supermax prisons.
So what does it take to get one sent to a Shu supermax? The short answer is not very much. I was corresponding with someone once who asked me if someone arrested for a drunk driving and sent to prison can ever be sent to the Shu, and that person was shocked when I said yes! The thing that would shock the public the most is that people sent to Supermax in California are not sent here necessarily because of a crime or physical violation in a prison general population, one can come to prison for a drunk driving and happen to be a ‘jailhouse lawyer’ helping other prisoners with appeals and tackling violations in prisoner rights and be targeted by guards for Shu. One can get on the bad side of guards or simply refuse to go along with their wrongdoing or refuse to provide information and be targeted for Shu, just being a rebellious or progressive prisoner gets one targeted and labeled a ‘gang member’ and sent to Shu. The Shu is made out as a big stick to intimidate the prison population into passivity, (think deportation threats to migrants or the whip shown to the slave). It doesn't mean its going to be used but the thought of it existing is enough to control a large portion of the prison population so it becomes a tool not used for rehabilitation but for social control. The fact that the Shu has no kind of self help program’s or classes such as victims awareness, narcotics anonymous, etc, or G.E.D. or college courses shows it is not a place designed to ‘rehabilitate’. One would think with the prison administration labeling those in Shu as ‘worst of the worst’, ‘uncorrigible’ or ‘the most violent’ in California’s prisons one would think there would be at least one anger management class available (even if it had to be done via mail) but no dice. Instead prisoners are forced to languish in their windowless cell for 22½ hours a day every day.
Once a prisoner finds themselves in Shu and if the prisoners has a life sentence, as this person goes to board to see if he or she is eligible to parole it will be denied because nobody has been paroled from Shu with a life sentence, as administrators see it as ‘if your in Shu, your not ready for society.’ Thus Shu becomes an even bigger stick a huge whip to those of us with life sentences as it is basically a Death Sentence once sent to Shu. Any psychiatrist would agree even the thought of this playing out in ones head while locked in Solitary 22½ [hours] a day must be indescribably cruel. And once here in Shu their is a system called ‘debriefing’ that demands one to snitch on others or even make stuff up in order to be released from Shu and back into general population. After years of torture many will make stuff up on anyone just to escape the mind numbing torture of this sensory deprivation, and unfortunately someone will fill his/her cell and the cycle of torture continues.Within this house of horrors of Shu that I have described lies an even more draconian existence (if one can imagine this) that within Shu exists what is called 'the short corridor.' The short corridor consists of about two hundred men here in Pelican Bay. This is where if prison officials feel you are a leader of sorts, you will be placed in short corridor where food is even less & worse, you have less movement out of your cell, less yard and mail is censored even more. It is these conditions where even reading material such as philosophy or history is censored. Pelican Bay Shu is designed to control, nothing more. We seen even Revolution newspaper being censored and banned from this prison at one time. Take a minute to think of living in a certain zip code or apartment building where city officials notify you that Revolution newspaper is banned and is not allowed in your neighborhood. How would you feel about these city officials? How would you feel about the system that upholds the actions of these city officials?
This Hegemony and Draconian existence has led to the non violent civil disobedience playing out in the Shu. Mao said where you find much repression you'll find much resistance! This resistance, although non violent is not expected to be met with a smile from prison officials but what other choice is there when you are left in your windowless cell in solitary for years with no recourse from the courts? But the efforts of the Pelican Bay hunger strike is more than the injustice unleashed on Shu prisoners. For vast swaths of the public this situation will call attention to the ills of not just the California Supermax but of the U.S. prison system in general. As I think of the whirlwind sweeping the Middle East that was born from a Tunisian street vendor and has now been called an Arab spring, I wonder in regards to the efforts of resistance from the Georgian prisoners, I wonder if the American prison system has developed a Georgian spring?
There are many demands, some of which are contact visits with family, the ability to make a phone call (some have not been allowed phone calls for decades). Shu prisoners are not currently allowed to use a phone ever so as long as your here you won't use the phone. Medical services, with the present medical system you can sign up for feeling ill and not be seen for weeks, by then you feel better but your still charged five dollars. Those with documented illnesses are denied pain medications and surgeries are put through a stringent review board, treatment is very hard to obtain here. Because of the sensory deprivation a TV/ radio combination is being requested. The T.V. we are allowed to purchase has no radio and radios are not allowed. Music has long been known to be therapeutic yet in Shu it is denied, the act of enjoying music is banned. The ability to obtain colored pencils and art paper are being requested as it is also a form of therapy to create art, this basic act of expressing oneself through art is being denied to Shu prisoners and colored pencils and art paper are currently forbidden. The ability to purchase two care packages a year are being requested as at this time only one care package a year is allowable, forcing some prisoners such as Muslim Prisoners who cannot purchase halal food items on the prison commissary as the prison commissary has no halal food items. Thus many are forced to simply eat the meager slop issued on the trays given for meals.
General population prisoners are able to purchase radios, colored pencils, art paper, use the phone daily and get contact visits, take photos and receive four care packages a year. The ability to take photos is being requested as those who have been in Shu for 20+ years have not been able to take a photo to send their family. Many families do not have the money or transportation to travel all the way to Pelican Bay for a visit and a photo would substitute a visit as at this time Shu prisoners are forbidden from receiving a photo. The ability to receive direct sunlight is being requested as currently the dog run yard has a sheet of blurred plastic so the sun is blocked out and the way the yard is designed the sun does not make contact with ones skin. It’s a known fact sunlight is essential to health and even bone density. Shu prisoners are withheld direct sunlight at this time. The dismantling of the ‘debriefing process’ is also being requested, the necessity to compromise another in order to leave Shu is a horrendous practice, one I suspect will be looked back on as incredulous as one now sees the selling of human skins in the day of slavery in America.
The whole process of 'validation' which qualifies one to be placed in Shu is faulty and without merit, for years it’s been known that some prisoners will make stuff up to leave Shu. Experts on torture have well documented that when one is tortured people will say whatever you want to know just so long as the torture stops. So as a result more people many innocent of the accusations will be placed in Shu. See Revolution issue #237 on Pelican Bay for the core demands. The issues that force people to seek redress by depriving oneself of nutrients is not exclusive to Pelican Bay Shu. The prison system in America is filled with the injustices that Shu prisoners experience here in Pelican Bay, and to deprive oneself of food is often the last line of defense, the last rock to hurl at a monster who makes life a constant state of torture, a perpetual waterboarding. Marx said in ‘On the Jewish Question,’ “We must emancipate ourselves before we can emancipate others”. I think prisoners are indeed emancipating ourselves and moving forward with a strong Revolutionary surge in seeking justice. Prisoners are tired of the decades long white torture that is often hidden from the public eye and which is now being heard nationwide with the strike – with nothing to lose and a world to win!
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