From Pelican Bay Prison, California

"No longer can we sit idle while we are dehumanized"

July 7, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


We greatly appreciate receiving these letters from prisoners and encourage prisoners to keep sending us correspondence. The views expressed by the writers of these letters are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.


To: Those with Ears and Conscious,

I'm a California prisoner in Pelican Bay's Security Housing Unit. I've been validated as a Member of a prison gang. I am also serving a life sentence for a crime as a juvenile but tried as an adult. What this means is I will likely die here, right here in this Cell. I'm thirty-two. I'm just one of thousands.

California's Prison franchise has in place here a systematic assembly line designed to funnel its prisoners into these ultra secure institutions called "Security Housing Units" (SHUs). They're institutions constructed specifically for long term Solitary Confinement. There exist an illusory six year minimum for each held here, However it's not as benign as this. SHUs are indeed designed for long term. California has three SHUs and in all thirty-plus prison's ad segs [administrative segregation] many await bed-space in the SHUs. What these SHUs equate to in truth and reality are human storage units. Where sensory deprivation is certain, emotional disconnect is inescapable and mental stimulation challenged and undermined at every turn.

Artwork by a prisoner, via California Prison Focus. "View From Within P.B.S.P. SHU Cell"

We spend 22½ hours everyday in windowless, poorly ventilated Cells. Cell mates are scarcely permitted and in the reality for those having a "Celly," changing "Cellys" or return to celling alone due to incompatibility is just not done. The other hour [and] ½ is for "yard" that is adjacent to our Housing "pod," 27 feet by 11 feet with 20 foot high walls on all sides, a camera to watch us, no trees, no dirt, grass or any signs of life. Only a small patch of sky, so no direct sunlight, therefore the lack of Vitamin D makes all sickly and translucently complected. Shower and shave 3 times a week. There are 8 cells per "pod," this is all you see and know. Your world is shrunken to 7 other people, no human contact whatsoever. To leave your "pod" for only medical attention or a visit you are strip searched and shackled waist and ankles. Pelican Bay is on the rural California/Oregon border, and all here are from the San Francisco Bay area, Central Valley or Southern California, literally 100s of miles and many hours away. Visits are non-contact, hour and ½ and not guaranteed. An expensive and daunting feat for mostly-impoverished families. Poor quality food and no access to Quality Nutritional Value. For a visual visit

So how did we get here at Pelican Bay [SHU] (approx. 1200 inmates)? Well according to Calif. Dept of Correction and Rehabilitation [CDCR or CDC], we are the "worst of the worst," members and associates of specific "prison gangs." Each of us have supposedly met their criteria of "promoting gang activity." But a true and honest look into this absolutely destroys that claim. You do not need to be found guilty of a single rules Violation let alone one of gang activity, But rather guilt by association, regardless how innocuous. The criteria is as ambiguous and arbitrary as tattoos and symbols which CDC refuses to identify as prohibited, association; which can constitute a simple "Hello" in passing.

Or a signed Birthday Card, confidential information; jail house informants with plenty of motive and can not be challenged, photos and visits; CDC may at anytime declare any of whom to be "associated" however unsubstantiated and innocuous. Just to name some of the Ridiculous standards established. We may appeal CDCs findings with Correctional officials. However, all classifications, reviews and oversight are internal and conducted by the same personnel and department who validated us in the first place. Furthermore the courts have chosen complicity in deferring prison management to the so-called "prison/gang experts." The two times in 30 years the courts recognized they could not justify their passivity (Madrid v. Gomez 889 F.Supp (N.D.Cal. 1995), Castillo v. Alameida NO.C94.2847MJJ (N.D. Cal.2004)) by still only reforming and overhauling the Validation criteria and process that situates us here. CDC has only gone on to ignore Court order w/o consequence and continue their underground practices in partnership with an intenable silence from the courts themselves. No injunction or contempt of court, an absolute mockery of the judicial process. Consequently each of us here and across the state in the SHUs and Ad Segs are in indefinite solitary confinements.

There are three ways out of the SHU, parole, debrief or die. CDC belies an "inactive Review" process after six years, which has become known as an urban legend to those of us affected. In response to peaceful protests in 2011 across the state where 12,000 participated to declare our repudiation of this program and practice, CDC, this year implemented a new "step-down program," which supposedly brings a minimum to four years w/o a debriefing necessary. What this entails in reality is a broadening of CDCs authority and dragnet: it will include street gangs [in addition to ”prison gangs”—eds.] as well as enlarge the criteria defined as gang activity to include gambling, delaying a peace officer and destruction of state property to name a few. Therefore the prior premise of isolating prison gang associates for alleged gang activity long term has been scratched for a much more intrusive and inclusive one that now includes street gangs and "behavioral" problems that were previously minor rules violations, will now constitute long term solitary confinement. This was the offensive piecemeal CDC presented. This flamboyant trojan horse maintains same internal classification, internal review and Supervision as before but with a larger armory. It's the equivalent of the genetically engineered fox guarding the hen house, as our complicit courts have their indefinite intermission.

This new program directly pinpoints an entire ethnicity for our ethnicity. Upon arriving to CDC, Hispanic inmates are classified as one of three affiliations; Mexican National, Northern Hispanic or Southern Hispanic. There are no alternatives or non-affiliations. The latter of the two constitute 75%-85% of all SHU inmates. No other ethnicity is subject to automatic, mandatory affiliation. Furthermore cultural expression, education, customs and interaction is subject to a full frontal assault by CDC. Indigenous language, art and history are also considered gang activity. Black inmates suffer to a similar degree regarding ethnic studies.

We find ourselves and our situation at the crux of our livelihood. The hardships and rigidity of our interment here are deceiving. On the outside amongst ourselves we are steadfast, resilient and enduring, however it's a bit more fractured from the outside. The cracks from our long term isolation and assault on all stimuli are much more apparent to those outside the SHU and especially in society. This crisis is twofold, the consequence of long-term Solitary Confinement; its social regression and psychological impairment permanently affects all those paroling from the SHU. These souls enter society they’ve been ill-prepared for and are overloaded with responsibilities, interaction and activity that's been purposefully suppressed and are now dormant: absolutely zero rehabilitative programs exist in the SHU aside scarce G.E.D. access, let alone preparation for parole. This inhibits reintegration into society, the work place and the homefront, ultimately undermining meaningful production in the free world, let alone CDC upholding its charge of rehabilitation. CDC simply discharges its "test subjects" upon society with no assistive obligation or responsibility. Success of any incarceration course is dependent upon the rehabilitation of those returning to Society and the humility exhibited to those still within it. Lets be honest CDC's behemoth budget is allotted with that reckoning and not for the exorbitant salaries of Correctional officers or the coffers for their union. An inmate held in the SHU cost taxpayers $70,000 per year! Mind blowing considering inmates housed in general population cost a "mere" $25,000 per year. That's a four year tuition of $280,000.

Here in Pelican Bay you have human beings who've been held in Solitary Confinement for 10, 15, 20, 25 even 30 years, and many have died in delirium in these Cells. While we're still capable to recognize and process the deterioration we’re enduring, its effects on us personally and our families and loved ones, we seek a change for bettering our situation. This social extermination the SHU endorses and manifests by executing such sensory deprivation on every conceivable level, has rendered many to a droid state indifferent to all sensation and social interaction. Fathers, Sons, Husbands, Brothers and Nephews have changed into such introverted shells, it's at times impossible to find them, their personality, character and ultimately their once distinct identity. Social interaction is ingrained in our DNA as social creatures, critical for our existence and well being. Not being able to call, hug or touch your children, Mother, Wife changes a man counter productively. Witnessing your body deteriorate because of poor medical attention, immobility and lack of visual exercise, to acquire insomnia, anxiety and depression, suicidal tendencies only detaches us further from reality and ourselves.

We Recognize CDCs denials of the SHU's impact and its indifference can not be accompanied with our contentment as the clock ticks on our well being. To hold on to our competence, sanity and drive to interact with people, be treated humanely, receive protection of the law, accountability for our custodians and awaken the conscious and realization of those similarly situated and suffering. Therefore many of us are attempting to echo our voice with a peaceful fortitude, a widely anticipated Hunger Strike where thousands will join to bring an awareness and constructive change to our depravity. Life here in the SHU is not living, only existing and no longer can we sit idle while we are dehumanized, our legal and human rights violated extrajudicially by CDC, a complicit court and governor turn a blind eye. Meaningful change is long overdue and the Call for substantive action is now. In 2011 three humans gave their lives, amid no media coverage, and many remain permanently damaged as a result. How many more have to die? How many hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands does it take to acknowledge a grave injustice? We call on all for participation, solidarity and acknowledgement. July 8, 2013 begins the first step in a long journey and we wish you to be there alongside us.

In Cognizance and Solidarity,


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